Musicians have long criticized the recording industry for limiting the opportunities of the majority of artists. But for Jenny Toomey, battling the injustices of the recording system has become her all-consuming project.
“Eighty percent of artists are invisible: You dont hear them on the radio, you dont see them in the stores,” Toomey says. “The market is made artificially small.”
Like most musicians, Toomey was unable to get financial backing from a record label. So, together with Kristin Thomson, she started her own label. Their band, Tsunami, went on to sell 20,000 copies of its first album.
But Toomey found her true calling, sharing information, when she put together a 24-page guide on how to put out records and distributed it for the price of postage. She estimates she sent out about 10,000 copies.
With the MP3 revolution, Toomey fell naturally into the role of informant for the artist community, gathering and distributing information and speaking on panels. She now heads the Coalition for the Future of Music, a fledgling organization that gives artists a voice in the growing battle over how music will be distributed over the Internet. The organization doesnt plan to lobby Congress, Toomey says, but rather will serve as a sort of “think tank” to guide discussion of the issues at hand.
“I want to make sure that we look at the failures in the traditional structures and make sure theyre not replicated in the new structures that come down the pipe,” Toomey says.
The coalitions first big project was its first annual Future of Music Policy Summit, held in Washington, D.C., in January. Although the coalition had no funding, the summit managed to attract the likes of John Perry Barlow, former lyricist for the Grateful Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose rather anti-record-industry keynote address was widely reported; and Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America.
“My feeling was that this is an idea whose time is come,” Toomey says. “All we had to do is tell people we wanted a real free exchange of ideas and people started committing.”