LOS ANGELES — Not too long ago, before she was a Grammy nominee and performer, Kelly Clarkson lived on ramen noodles, slept on an air mattress and waitressed to support her recording sessions.
And for that reason, on Monday afternoon, when she could have been collecting swag or relaxing by the pool, she was at Newman Hall on the University of Southern California campus, joining Chris Brown, Common and MTV News' Sway on a panel to discuss downloading and the future of the music industry.
"We're not necessarily fighting for ourselves," Clarkson said after the What's the Download Rap Session round table, where she revealed to the high school students in attendance that at least 15 people had some sort of hand in "Since U Been Gone." "I'm fine and very blessed and thank God I don't have to worry about the financial part any more, but there are a lot of people who work on my records who are living paycheck to paycheck."
Clarkson, like the other panelists, maintained a neutral stance on downloading (legal or illegal), but offered a passionate plea for more young people to experience going out and buying actual records. "Even when I was a kid, I loved reading the liners!" she said.
"Liner notes are like studio musicians' résumés, and you only see them when you buy the record," she continued afterward. "People say they're tired of hearing the same formulated thing, but you're not paying newcomers the means to where they [have the financial freedom to experiment] because of the [illegal] downloading."
"A lot of people get that misinterpreted," added Brown. "They look at them like, 'He's living like a millionaire,' but it's not all glitz and glamour. There's a lot of hard work put into it and then you got all the producers working on your album and you've got to recoup that. You get your cut, but it's not like you're crazy paid and have one album and can buy five cars and a house."
Monday's discussion — sponsored by the Recording Academy's What's the Download panel of young music fans, formed last year to open up lines of communication regarding downloading — also touched on how digital music could make albums obsolete. According to moderator Shirley Halperin, West Coast editor for Teen People, 90 percent of downloads are singles.
"When I go into an album, I definitely want it to be a whole movement, a whole spirit, a whole movie," Common said, asking the crowd to give entire albums a chance. "I approach each song like it has to be the most incredible song. I grew up in the age where albums were great. You had classic albums that from front to back had stories to them and that's what the audience deserves. It's not fair to give people an album with one or two good songs and the rest garbage."
Backstage, Common said he became an honorary member of What's the Download both to teach and to learn.
"I'm an artist that's been doing music for years and it wasn't a big problem when I first started, but now that it's become an issue it's important for the youth to hear someone who's been involved for so many years," he said. "And for me to listen to them and get their perspective, I'm learning a lot because I'm not Mr. Computer Guy. It's not a perfect world, but I think we can get to a place where at least we have an understanding."
Clarkson, for her part, also felt enlightened after the panel.
"I didn't know there were albums streaming online. That's amazing," she said. "It's like a taste test, and that forces artists to be musicians and not bank on being one-hit wonders."
Along with streaming music, the panelists said there were other pluses with digital music, even illegal downloading to some extent.
"When my album got leaked, it created a buzz, so it worked in a positive way," Common said.
"It's definitely a double-edged sword," added Brown. "You want to sell records, but you want to build a fanbase. You want to be able to go out on the road. But I guess if you can afford concert tickets, why can't you afford record sales?"
The What's the Download panel is in Los Angeles this week drafting research on downloading that they plan to present to Congress in March.
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