There's only one type of person who makes money in the music industry. A savvy, wily, businessperson. Whether this person is a lawyer, manager, a&r person, record company executive, promoter, DJ, or the talent, as musicians
are called, they all have business smarts.
A friend of mine did the math. A major concert hall will hold 20,000 people. At an average of $100 a head that a major star can command, that's $2 million per night they sell out. Any time you're dealing with that much money you're going to have a lot of people who want to have their hand in it. I know I wouldn't mind getting even 10% of that money, and I haven't even gotten into record sales.
An Open Letter to Musicians Everyhwere, or How to Take Down the Music Industry
Extremely few bands get signed. I would put it at less than 1%. I've known enough bands, and can multiply the number of bands I know by different neighborhoods and scenes that I'm not involved in. Less than 5% of signed bands ever sell more than a million records, most of them flop. Die in obscurity.
So if you're a musician looking to 'make it' the numbers are against you when you start out. Forget about being an artist too, when you're dealing with that few people generating that much money it's not your art the record label wants, it's your ability to sell records. Whether it's stripping at the MTV Music Awards, or working with producers you hate on songs you hate, and working relentless hours, dieting, working out, rehearsing, touring, promoting, doing TV and Radio at 7 am, record signings at noon, sound check at 3 pm, a show in the evening, and then a 'party' afterwards, which is really just a slimy industry political shmooze-fest just to get on a bus and sleep while you're going to the next town to do it over again. You're owned by the record label.
It's like the Lottery
Seriously. This is how I believe musicians approach the Music Industry. I was buying a snack from my local bodega and the guy behind the counter said "Do you want to buy a lottery ticket?" "Should I?" I asked. "Oh yes, it's $57 million. It will change your life." "No it won't," I replied, "because I won't win and tomorrow my life will be the same."
It will change your life. Think about it. This is exactly how musicians
view a record contract. It's a one in a million chance, and it will change your
life. What's even more insidious is that unlike the lottery, what you do has
a significant impact on your chances. Think of how superstitious people get
about their lottery numbers. Now imagine a system where what you do can actually,
must, influence your odds of winning.
Of course, getting the contract is just the first step. Most artists, even apparently successful ones, declare bankruptcy. All the money spent recording your album, videos, promotion, tours, makeovers, etc. is loaned to the artist. If all of that cost $1 million, by the time your album hits the stores you owe the record label $1 million. You'd have to go platinum just to break even, and this is assuming you signed a decent contract and your label's being honest with you about how much money you made for them.
Remember, the record industry is in the business of making money, not making
you fat, lazy, and unproductive. Back in the 50's and 60's label owners gave
their artists Cadillac cars. The artist would walk in demanding their $100,00
and walk out with a Cadillac. Happy. The Cadillac cost 10% of what
the artist was owed, but it was prestigious and they didn't complain.
We Don't Need No Education
Payola was proven back in the early 80's.
Pink Floyd is one of the few bands that can sell out concerts without having a hit single. When The Wall came out they planned a tour with an elaborate stage show. So elaborate that they only did the tour in a few cities. New York and Los Angeles among them.
The label owner decided to try a little experiment. He decided not to pay for
airplay - a process known as payola - in Los Angeles. Records still sold and
the concert sold out, but their hit song Another Brick In the Wall wasn't played on the radio in LA at all. Having learned what he
needed to know from his experiment - that it's impossible to get airplay without
payola, he paid up. Two of the three rock stations added the song.
The interesting thing is, this independent promotion process started innocently.
I can't be everywhere, so I pay someone to promote my song to radio stations.
Eventually the major labels started competing against each other and the amount
of money got bigger and bigger. In the end, all the major labels were on the
same footing, though they were paying massive amounts of money in 'promotion.'
The net effect of this is to make it extremely expensive to break a new act. Once upon a time a small record label could come along and record a hit song in the basement. If it was good, it got played. Now you had to lay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to get enough radio station to play it to make a difference.
You're Just Another Brick In The Wall
Artists are constantly complaining about how unfair the system is. I mean, I'm sitting here writing about it now. With the advent of the Internet and File Sharing (peer to peer, napster, etc.) this has become a very popular topic. Heck, even the Record Industry has been talking about it.
The system goes something like this:
- If a million people buy something for $20 that costs $2 to manufacture, we
can make a lot of money.
- If we get the people to give us a product for free, and to pay for promoting
it, we won't have to pay to develop the product.
- How can we get these people to give us this product for free? We convince
them that by giving it to us, we can fulfill some basic need, such as desire
for approval, desire to not have to pay your own bills or wipe your own ass.
Essentially, fulfill an escapist fantasy.
The Music Industry is still around because we still buy albums - album sales are doing just fine despite the Internet and file swapping.
The Music Industry is still around because musicians are willing to sign over their lives on the off chance that they'll become rich and famous.
How To Fight Back
Courtney Love is fighting back and doing an amazing job of it. She deserves all the support she can get. In a nutshell, she signed a contract with Geffen Records. Saw very little of the money she made for Geffen. Then when Geffen was sold to Universal, so was Courtney Love.
She's suing Universal because she never signed a contract with them. If she wins, there are a number of things that should change. You should read all you can about her case if you care about it.
Another way to fight back is to start low powered radio stations. The FCC recently changed it's ruling on this allowing more low powered stations. This should help release the stranglehold companies like Clear Channel & the Music Industry have over the airwaves.
But the way I really advocate in my day to day life is if you're a musician,
don't go for that record contract. If you don't play by their rules, they can't
screw you. If enough musicians opt for grassroots old school promotions that doesn't
depend on the current industry and prove it can be done, then it will prove
that musicians don't need the music industry to 'make it.'
Let's face it, you're not going to make any more money doing it their way, so you might as well go pave your own road. You'll make more money per CD on mp3.com than you ever will letting BMG do it for you, and at the end of the day, you won't owe mp3.com anything, so all of that money is yours to keep.
At the consumer level, turn off your television. Turn off your radio, or tune in to local or non commercial stations. Explore local, grassroots alternatives to commercial TV and Radio.
Commercial radio and commercial television is just that. One huge extended commercial. Your favorite television show, your favorite morning radio show only exists to keep you around so you'll listen to the commercials. I'm not kidding. Now more than ever every moment is programmed to keep you listening longer just so that when the commercial comes, you listen to it. And the music itself is a commercial for the album or the single.
Once upon a time music was a communal thing that happened when two or more
people got together and wanted to celebrate, or pass the time. Now music is
packaged and sold to us. We believe that only a few talented or skilled people
are worthy. We, the unwashed masses cannot possibly master the guitar or keyboard
or drum. GET OVER IT. Pick up a guitar and learn to play. It's not that hard.
Within a month you can learn a handful of chords and play some of your favorite
Don't be a lemming. Don't follow the crowd, the crowd's been brainwashed by
too much TV. Spread the Word.
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