Taylor: The perils of playing it safe

There was this rock star, see, who learned that playing it safe is the only sure way to lose.

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

There was this rock star, see. He started with an acoustic guitar and a mouth organ. But then his songs caught on. So he went electrical. He added a drummer, some backup singers, a brass section. Fireworks and lights. Enough amplifiers to levitate small children. And all the whizz-bang gimmickry a recording studio could generate.

He became rich and famous.

But then he decided to do a nostalgia tour. Just him and his guitar. So he called his managers in. He said he would be out of reach, out of touch. He divided the market up into zones, and told them they were on their own.

When he eventually came back, he called his managers into his penthouse office, one by one, to find out what they had done in his absence.

The first manager said, “I listened to all your records and read all your songbooks. I realized that you were a genius as well as a brilliant performer. So I tried to make your insights even more widely known than they were already. I encouraged writers to quote you. I made your songs available to church choirs and school music classes without charge. I sponsored philosophy forums where university students debated your concepts.”

“How much money did that make?” asked the rock star.

“None,” admitted the manager. “At least, not directly. But far more people know you now. You’re quoted more often than Shakespeare. And coincidentally, sales of your songbooks and CDs keep going up.”

“Well done,” said the rock star, and called in the second manager.

“I’ve been zealous about collecting royalties,” said the second manager. “If they bought sheet music, if they bought a CD, if they sang your songs at a school concert, if they quoted your words in a magazine article or a book, I made sure they paid you something for it. I didn’t threaten anyone; I just pointed out that using your words or music without compensation was like stealing from you. They always agreed that you deserved a fair return for your creativity. The royalties have been rolling in.”

“Well done,” said the rock star, and called in the third manager.

“I didn’t want anyone stealing your stuff,” said the third manager, “even if you did swipe some of your best melodies from Tchaikovsky and Verdi. So I turned down all requests for permissions. Nobody used your songs in commercials; no one quoted your best lines in books or editorials. Your creative efforts belong to you, and I kept them locked up tight until you returned to administer them yourself.”

“You stupid twit,” said the rock star. “Just who and what did you think you were serving? If no one sings a song, it doesn’t exist. If no one hears my words, they’re meaningless.”

“But I was just protecting your copyright,” protested the manager.

“Get out!” roared the rock star. “You’re fired!”

He gave that manager’s territory to the other two. And he sent a Tweet to millions of followers on Twitter: “Playing it safe is the only sure way to lose.”

I wonder who he intended his message for.