Dear Rock Stars: Please Stop Claiming You're Just Interested In Helping Up-And-Coming Artists

from the you're-not dept

Remember a few months ago when we noted that all the heads of the major Hollywood studios had changed their tune, in the light of reports of yet another record box office year, to start claiming that movie piracy was harming indie movie producers, even as many of them had learned to embrace the internet to do quite well for themselves? It seems the same basic thing has been happening in the music business as well. We've already noted how folks like Bono and Paul McCartney have been heard complaining to the press about how piracy was harming up-and-coming musicians (noting they couldn't really complain given their success).

However, Steve Lawson, whose thoughts on the music industry we've discussed in the past, has penned something of an open letter to all these rock stars, noting that the up-and-coming musicians don't need their help:
So, dear Rock Stars -- the problem here is not with the internet. It's not with how it 'hurts' the little people. WE LOVE IT! It's you. You and your expectations of wealth-beyond-measure are screwed. And I don't care.

Here's a headline for you -- in the 3 weeks since I made 'Behind Every Word' available for free download, I've sold more CDs and downloads that in any one month since 6 months after it first came out.

This a four year old album. I've done no gigs in that time, I've taken out no ads, I've not given away a single bit of physical anything that cost me money. I've just talked about it, and invited people to listen to it. And guess what? They listened, and those who really liked it THEN PAID. And they paid more for the 'free' download they they do on iTunes.

I couldn't possibly have done it without 'free music', without the internet, without sharing, without streaming. Nor could I have done it within the insanely restrictive copyright terms of a standard recording contract.
Shane Richmond, who pointed Lawson's post out to me, notes that (of course) some will respond (as they always do, every time we post an example of a success story) that musicians like Lawson are "outliers" and successes on the margin. But, Richmond, notes, the true outliers are the folks like Bono and McCartney:
Steve -- and the growing number of artists like him -- will probably be dismissed as outliers taking a path that works for a lucky few but not for everyone. The thing is, that's true of the record industry too. A lucky few artists get rich while the majority are hoping just to break even before they have to give up their dreams and go and get a proper job.
Indeed. This is the very point that we've been trying to make so long. So many of the artists that we highlight as success stories would never have been successful at all without the internet and embracing what it allows. Because the old system was entirely about outliers. The traditional recording business was a lottery ticket. A tiny few made it. And everyone else failed. With what technology allows today, plenty of musicians will fail to make a living. It's no guarantee that anyone can be a success. But there are much greater opportunities, and (the best part) musicians have more control and say in how their careers go, giving them a greater chance to actually be successful on their own terms, not the terms of four large (but shrinking) companies, and the very small number of rock stars they helped succeed in the past.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    James Wallace, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 10:18am

    Video Embedding ENABLED

    I have been cheerleading for enabling of video embeds(as it is in the best interest of the artist) for a year and a half prior to the launch of Vevo(change of video embed policy for the music industry(. I just happen to work with I'm Vivo! Vevo the domain name is just a little over a year old.

    Enabling of video embedding and free downloads may be synoymous.

     

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  2.  
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    John Doe, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 10:54am

    Best point yet

    I think you made your best point yet about the record labels and their harm to the current market. Look at all the sudden stars that pop onto the scene out of nowhere. Once you learn a little about them, you find out they have been at it for 10 years or more before being discovered. So their story is very similar to lottery winners. A few win, the majority lose.

     

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  3.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:02am

    "noting they couldn't really complain given their success"

    This is a hoot! As been said a million times, the biggest obstacle facing any up-and-coming artist is obscurity. The internet helps to solve that problem by allowing bands to have access to the world. (They still have to create music that's worth listening to or no one will bother listening.)

    So the copyright industry has argued in the past, "Oh sure, P2P helps up-and-coming artists in helping build fan bases, but it hurts established artists because fans will simply download rather than buy."

    Now they're arguing the opposite. That, for some bizarre reason, the internet hurts up-and-coming musicians while leaving successful musicians unharmed.

    It's almost as if the copyright industry does not care whether its arguments are valid or accurate. They're just throwing them out regardless of whether they stick.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:17am

    Re:

    It's almost as if the copyright industry does not care whether its arguments are valid or accurate. They're just throwing them out regardless of whether they stick.
    Yes, because "the copyright industry" is all one group of guys that meets on Monday morning to discuss the contradicting things they are going to say for the week. We are talking about hundreds of companies, thousands of individuals, and millions of statements that have been made, but it's easy to lump them all together as if it were one person, right?

     

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  5.  
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    Sergio, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:20am

    Outliers?

    They make it sound like before music piracy every musician who tried to make it big did. Good bands/singers will always get the exposure they earn, just as they always have.

    In the past, musicians would give their demo tapes FOR FREE to the record labels to try and get noticed. Now they do the same thing, but they can go to regular people instead of the middle man.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:34am

    Re: Re:

    Just like how all pirates are actually thieves?

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re:

    Yes, because "Music Pirates" are all one group who get together and decide what terrible music to download and which millionaire to steal money from this week. We are talking about hundreds of people, thousands of computers, and millions of songs downloaded, and we are going to lump them all together as if there were one person, right?

    You know the music industry is desperate when their shills are using the same arguments as "the pirates." Oh and about lumping "the copyright industry" as one group isn't realistic? Google how "the copyright industry" feels about this, and see how many DIFFERENT sources say the SAME crap (like what Mike has mentioned above), then come back and tell us this is silly.

     

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  8.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re:

    "We are talking about hundreds of companies, thousands of individuals, and millions of statements that have been made..."

    You seem to think that arguments can be correct depending on who spoke them. You're wrong. It does not matter who spoke the argument, if the argument fails, it fails regardless. Whether one person made it or a million people made it.

    And I never claimed that anyone contradicted themselves. I realize that there is more than one person defending the copyright industry's various government granted monopolies. My point is that the arguments are all over the fricken place. But that's because they're not concerned with being right. They'll simply do or say anything to keep those cash-cow monopolies.

     

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  9.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:46am

    Re: Outliers?

    "but they can go to regular people instead of the middle man."

    And that's one reason the labels are terrified. And here's the other one.

     

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  10.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:01pm

    Re:

    This is a hoot! As been said a million times, the biggest obstacle facing any up-and-coming artist is obscurity. The internet helps to solve that problem by allowing bands to have access to the world. (They still have to create music that's worth listening to or no one will bother listening.)

    Welcome to the modern day chicken and egg problem.

    As more and more unknown bands put stuff on the internet (videos, music, etc), the more the noise level grows and the less chance anyone has to stand out. It is actually a self defeating concept, similar to having a shopping mall with nothing but coffee shops and spatula stores. While both coffee and spatulas are useful and people want them, nobody has the time or desire to wade through many coffee shops or spatula stores to get the best price or find the best product.

    Now they're arguing the opposite. That, for some bizarre reason, the internet hurts up-and-coming musicians while leaving successful musicians unharmed.

    it's actually sort of obvious, no? Even as the noise level rises, the existing well known stars still stick up above the crowd. Trent Reznor could release an album of bowel movement noises, and get more downloads than your average garage band can. Trent is above the noise (and making his own) and the garage band is just lost in the noise.

    What record labels, radio stations, and the like have done for us in the past is to narrow the field enough that we didn't have to go wading through the noise to find something we like. They dealt with the noise and extracted some interesting stuff for us.

    I understand that some people like the noise, and like to go fishing. It's just not something you might do while you are listening to tunes at work, or when you are snowboarding and getting your freestyle freak on.

     

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  11.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The industry arguments would be less prone to this if any of them ever actually clearly defined what they want. Sure they want to help artists, but the statement is pointless without more specific criteria for who gets help. In the case of greed driven people this goes in their favour because if the argument is vague then it cannot be easily countered. For those like Bono who supposedly have a genuine selfless desire it does the same, the difference being he supposedly means well.

    Actually, Bono goes a step further in his Op-ed. Not only does he fail to explain his motivation but he leaves out any facts to back up his position, apparently they should be clear already.

    "A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators"

    It's horrible to see people readily agree with a guy who claims his argument is a forgone conclusion while arguing against the actions of millions of people.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re:

    I'd rather cut through the noise myself than be fed noise by a record label, thanks.

    Also, radio stations are immoral thieving pirates who are leeching off the artists. Get your arguments straight.

     

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  13.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Re:

    "While both coffee and spatulas are useful and people want them, nobody has the time or desire to wade through many coffee shops or spatula stores to get the best price or find the best product."

    Stop it, my sides are splitting. I hope you meant to be funny because I was laughing so much at this point I didn't read any further.

     

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  14.  
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    Modplan (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Re:

    As more and more unknown bands put stuff on the internet (videos, music, etc), the more the noise level grows and the less chance anyone has to stand out. It is actually a self defeating concept, similar to having a shopping mall with nothing but coffee shops and spatula stores. While both coffee and spatulas are useful and people want them, nobody has the time or desire to wade through many coffee shops or spatula stores to get the best price or find the best product.


    From the beginning of time people have speculated on "information Overload". At any point in history,looking forward always seems like it'll be a mess of too much information and too many things going on to be possibly dealt with.

    But this has never happened and never will, nor is it a self defeating concept. With more information comes better filters. From explicit products like Google search or Last.fm that provide helpful suggestions and search tools using a mixture of popularity and relevance, so too do humans themselves change their behaviours, or should I say their own filters, alongside the usual network effects that this entails from people sharing music with close friends (who might generally trust their taste and recommendations more). Any artist who strikes a chord (ba dum chsh) will inevitably be shared out with strong recommendation, who will then gain better footing from search products, from there getting further and further.

    Do you realise how much noise there already is?

     

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  15.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Re:

    Huh? How is this different than ANY job market. If I work in IT, I'm competing for the best jobs with tens of thousands of others. If I want the job I have to find a way to stand out.

    If you are an artist, YOU MUST MAKE ART THAT PEOPLE WANT TO BUY.

    And, by the way, the noise argument fails because you included one assumption but excluded its corollary--which is as more bands become connected through the internet, more potential fans are too.

     

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  16.  
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    Free Capitalist (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re:

    "What record labels, radio stations, and the like have done for us in the past is to narrow the field enough that we didn't have to go wading through the noise to find something we like. They dealt with the noise and extracted some interesting stuff for us."


    I found the "we tell you what to like" service somewhat useful while growing up in the 70's in the country, in a town with 1 bar and two country cover bands, without Internet.

    Today I prefer the choices I get from any of the myriad computerized record company executives available to the masses. Maybe its because I tell the 'bots what I like... not the other way around.

     

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  17.  
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    Richard (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 1:08pm

    Re: Re:

    nobody has the time or desire to wade through many coffee shops or spatula stores to get the best price or find the best product.

    Except that if you need a coffee you just go into the nearest one that looks reasonable. That way plenty of coffee shops make a living.

    The record labels just used to pick at random anyway and often got it badly wrong:

    "We don't like their sound, groups playing guitars are on the way out..."

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Come on Anti-Mike? Are you really saying that we need copyright because without it, we won't have record companies to tell us which bands to like?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    THEM CUSTOMERS ARE DESTROYING OUR RECORDING INDUSTRY!!!

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I thought copyright was to protect the artists and artistic expression?

     

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  21.  
    icon
    Sneeje (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, the DAM seems to be claiming that too many artists are clogging up the market.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 6:46pm

    I've predicted it for ten years now. Someday relatively soon, some artist will go from internet obscurity to taking home Album of the Year completely without the aid of the music industry and it will be the final nail in their coffin.

     

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  23.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 6:59pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oh child, once again trying to entirely misrepresent everything I posted. I didn't even use the word copyright.

    Sorry, but you fail, I'm not taking your stinky bait.

     

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  24.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 7:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Not really clogging, as much as there becomes a point where there is too much competition for too little attention span, and then artists can't reach the point of critical mass.

    The "new" music business (you know, the one you can't sell music in) requires that the artists are performing almost constantly, attempting to make a living. One of the requirements of this is to have enough fans in enough places that you can play enough gigs to make that living. That requires a certain amount of critical mass.

    Now, if you are fighting with literally hundreds of thousands of other acts who all have access to the same internet distribution, the same home made music videos, the same t-shirt maker, the obligatory mysapce and facebook page, etc, then you end up with too much material and nobody has enough time to filter through it.

    So what happens? instead of record labels telling you what is good, you rely on websites, promoters, programming directors on web radio stations, complicated playlist algos, and all sorts of other things. No matter what, since you don't have the time to figure it out yourself, you are still relying on someone else.

    In the end, I just think there will be too much noise (too many bands on essentially an equal footing), and no real way for very many of them to differentiate and break out widely.

     

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  25.  
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    SeanG (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 7:54pm

    Re: Re:

    But if you're an artist in a smaller niche, the internet makes staking a claim on that niche possible. It can be noise if you're trying to play in an already crowded field. But there is also opportunity to specialize in a certain type of coffee or spatula, to use your metaphor. It's the 1000 true fans idea. Hell, about a hundred true fans can pay for a 1000 cd print run. I haven't actually liked a new song from a new band on the radio enough to buy their cd in about 15 years.

    Personal anecdote: About 12 years ago I discovered a band called Symphony X, thanks to the internet. I also could only buy their cd as an import from Germany (also, thanks to the net). After flipping through the booklet I find they are from NEW JERSEY! Over the years since then I have found so many great bands all over the world who've been utterly ignored by major labels. No, I don't expect the music I like to be popular enough to attract major label attention. But I don't need the major label machine to deliver the music to me either.

     

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  26.  
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    SeanG (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 7:58pm

    Re: Re: Outliers?

    Wouldn't it be nice if we really let our capitalist economy do it's thing for once? You know, like let a failing business actually fail?

     

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  27.  
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    SeanG (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 8:04pm

    Re:

    Would be nice but since the industry itself hands out the Grammys I doubt it could happen. The Grammy awards are just a bunch of self congratulating insiders. I think you're more likely to see the awards fold altogether.

     

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  28.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 8:51pm

    Re: Re:

    We are talking about hundreds of companies, thousands of individuals, and millions of statements that have been made, but it's easy to lump them all together as if it were one person, right?

    Actually in this case I think we're talking about four companies. Could be millions of statements though, you may be right about that part.

     

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  29.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 8:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I guess having too much art is a great problem for a society to have.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 9:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Too much art and too many artists is bad. That is why we have to protect artists and artistic expression.

    The people cannot determine what is good art for themselves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 9:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "It did give me an idea. For the next file sharing care, we close down the internet, and inspect every computer system attached to see who has the file. Then we charge the infringer $10 per copy, with no upper limit." - TAM

    You truly are the voice of reason!

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 10:49pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    With half of the statements contradicting the other half.

     

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  33.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 11th, 2010 @ 11:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Your bait is now up to rancid.

    Go to bed little boy.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2010 @ 1:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    They were your words. The bait wasn't mine. Stop trying to control things that you obviously cannot control.

    Like my bedtime.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 12th, 2010 @ 5:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "So what happens?"

    You rely on reputation, word of mouth, etc. Many, many bands have built up a massive cult following before ever signing to a major label (everyone from Metallica to Arctic Monkeys).

    Here's the real problem: to make it in this new era, you have to be GOOD. Not a model who won a glorified karaoke contest. Not a band who a label signed because they're a bit like current popular band X and they want to cash in. You actually have to have something to offer, and word of mouth should take care of a lot of the work.

    Programming directors on radio station? Great if you want mediocre crap, this new system should help the ones with actual talent rise to the top. It's typical of your corporate thinking that you can't see that this is a very good thing.

     

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  36.  
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    Dementia (profile), Jan 12th, 2010 @ 5:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Exposure is the key, because when someone hears something they do like, they tell two friends, who tell two friends, who tell two friends. Boom! Critical Mass in nothing flat. Your problem seems to be that you underestimate the average person.

     

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  37.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 12th, 2010 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You can take any quote out of context, and make it mean anything you want.

    It's just stink troll bait, and I for one am not biting.

    FOAD fool.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    How is the quote taken out of context?

    Did you just tell me to fuck off and die?

    Stay classy, TAM.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    The Anti Mike, Jan 12th, 2010 @ 7:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Out of context" means "I don't want to defend my own statement."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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