At the end of my little piece here, you’ll find a link to an incredibly insightful, well-reasoned, and well-researched article by former Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven man David Lowery. Who, as you can read, has been a virtual renaissance man with his hands in many facets of the music business for over two decades. Why am I posting it?
At the beginning of 2012, I made a little vow to myself. That I would stop ignoring all of the erroneous, anecdotal, and occasionally offensive remarks/posts/tweets I endured on a regular basis about how the music business isn’t as bad for the “average artist” as it used to be.
This came after two particular conversations. The first was with a member of a platinum-selling band who were getting ready to promote their new record. He told me that on every tour (tours which supposedly now take up the slack in lost recordings sales), they know they’ll have to play one or two shows that LOSE MONEY in between cities where they know they can make it back. You’ve heard this band in the mall, on commercials, and on the radio. I was pretty stunned, considering that this band had built their entire career through relentless grass-roots promotion and touring.
The second conversation was with a fellow producer/mixer/engineer. He was home last Christmas, opening gifts with his family. Somebody had bought an iTunes gift card for his young nephew. Upon opening it, the perplexed nephew said, “What do I do with this? I get my music for free anyway.” The entire room laughed.
My friend – a large part of whose modest income is made producing low-budget records for metal bands – said, “Hey thanks for that. You all understand that this is how I pay my rent, right?” And what he got back were stares of disbelief. From his family!
As someone who regularly works with artists from all levels of the business, I have a pretty good idea of what their economic realities are. Spending weeks locked in a tiny room with a group of people means you have a long time to get to know one another, and an artist’s financial situation is a pretty common topic of conversation. As someone whose livelihood is directly connected to the health of those artists’ incomes (and thus their ability to spend money on future recordings), I have some pretty serious skin in the game as well. To a person, not a single one of them has talked about how our new free digital model of music distribution has helped increase their revenue. Not one. Not the ones on major labels, not the ones on indie labels, and not the ones paying out of pocket.
So I decided to take my message to the streets. Or to Facebook, or Twitter, or social occasions…wherever the topic of file sharing being “good” for artists came up.
I have had a number of conversations in the past 5 months on this topic. Some in person, many more online. And I’m usually met with a pretty staggering degree of resistance to the idea that artists have a harder time eeking out a living now than they did in, say, 1995. Usually starting with the “music should be free” argument, and at some point directing me to a viral chart or graph that uses some sort of erroneous data to prove that things are indeed getting “better.”
And that’s where I ran into a problem. Because while I know that those charts and graphs aren’t correct, I don’t have the time to chase down all the facts and figures to PROVE it. Let alone put together a cohesive counter-argument. And while I surely know a damn sight more about the economic realities of the music business than the data analyst I was exchanging heated posts with on Facebook, everybody’s just as smart as everyone else on the internet.
Enter David Lowery. And bless his heart, because in this one article, he addresses every last one of the gripes, comments, and fallacies I’ve been exposed to. That “Pie Chart Of What Musicians Make?” Yeah, it’s wrong. The “Touring Revenues Are Up” theory? Well, that’s true in a sense. But only because artists are playing MORE SHOWS TO FEWER PEOPLE! So touring revenues are up in the same way your personal income goes up if your hourly wage gets cut, but you decide to work 80 hours a week instead of 40. And please don’t get me started on that “The Sky Is Rising” chart. No matter. They’re all covered in this one amazing article. Backed up with real facts, figures, and numbers by a guy with multiple college degrees to match his skill as a musical artist.
AND with the added bonus of pointing out how tech conglomerates (Apple, Google, Mediafire, et. al.) have not only replaced major labels, but have done so in a way that forces artists to GIVE AWAY THEIR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY! The very same intellectual property they fight for like hungry rabid Tasmanian Devils when it’s threatened.
We’re well past the stage of breaking down the old music business model. Congratulations. We’ve done it. The problem, as Mr. Lowery so deftly points out, is that we haven’t replaced it with anything sustainable.