Punks And Puritans In D.C.—What Does It All Mean?
The Future of Music Coalition is an affiliation of independent musicians, netrepreneurs and others interested in pushing forward the digital-music marketplace, and the group's conference in Washington D.C. is the first Net-related confab to generate much interest since the starry-eyed IPO days.

This is in part because FOMC, rather than being a glorified trade show for me-too netcos and gizmo-slingers, gets into the nitty-gritty of the digital-music wars.

Outspoken big guns like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), RIAA chief Hilary Rosen and reps from major labels are among featured speakers, and the coalition's founders represent a much more grass-roots constituency than the usual cadre of venture capitalists and huckstering digerati. These include punk-rock artist and indie-label head Jenny Toomey, whose ideological fervor has reportedly helped set the tone of the proceedings.

"If the point of the FOMC was to take the dialogue to the next level," commented one attendee, "they have succeeded."

But these are strange times, and so the grass-roots, punk-rock point of view finds a huge ally in staunch conservative Hatch, whose remarks on Wednesday urged the music industry to opens the gates of change. "If the pipes are limited by the gatekeepers, a unique opportunity will be lost by music makers and their fans," commented the prominent pol, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been an outspoken critic of the entertainment industry's affronts to traditional values.

Indeed, his Committee has heard substantial testimony on digital delivery and he has used his pulpit to intimate possible government involvement if content providers proved an obstacle to consumers' needs.

Hatch's previous support of Napster in particular and consumer-friendly online music services in general (see hitsdailydouble.com, 9/19 and 7/18, for example) have been construed by some as an extremely canny way of courting young, traditionally Democratic voters. After all, as music fans, a portion of this group has come to regard the Dem-friendly music business as a sworn enemy of the digital music they've become accustomed to getting for free.

Hatch is a recording artist and songwriter, too—and though his Christian beliefs are reflected in his songs, they've been recorded by artists as reputable as his friend Gladys Knight. And as an independent musician, Hatch has even more incentive to take the industry to task. But is his support of file-sharing simply a ruse to advance his crusade against bodily-fluid sharing?

Meanwhile, Napster recently hired ex-Hatch aide Manus Cooney (hitsdailydouble.com, 12/6) as a lobbyist. Coincidence? We think not.

More to the point, will a Republican administration and that party's control of both houses of Congress result in a change in the balance of power in the digital wars? More than a few music netcos' Chief Execs are GOP supporters, while the embattled Democrats have come to depend on contributions from the Satanic record industry. Will the biggest cultural irony of 2001 find the rock ‘n' roll Democrats looking stodgy, while the MP3-happy kids flock to the revival tent of the Grand Old Party?

Either way, please pass the drugs. It's gonna be another freaky year.