December 16, 2011

Insultingly small amounts of money and the myth that we'll all get the money back at shows and in merch

Steve from 1-2-3-4 Go! Records on Spotify:

The more I think and find out about it the worse it seems. I used this figure elsewhere but I think people should see it. A band on my label got a check from me for digital that came mostly from iTunes for about $900. That was for a 2 month period. To get that same amount of money they'd have to get streamed 200000 times. Two hundred thousand! If they got a stream a day it would take over 547 years to make that same amount of money. Now you tell me why this should be the future for artists and labels and how it's just? All the while Spotify grows and reaps the real profit. Think about this when you support them. Even if you don't have a pay account they make money. They've monetized piracy by doling out insultingly small amounts of money and the myth that we'll all get the money back at shows and in merch. It's bullshit.
Posted by Dr. Frank at December 16, 2011 05:10 PM | TrackBack

I rarely use Spotify thanks to owning CDs & mp3s of the music I listen to, but are there any answers as to the best ways to support the musicians we like? Is the music industry simply a lost cause for anyone not named Justin Bieber? Buying albums and t-shirts and going to shows (if a band comes to town) just doesn't seem to be good enough anymore.

Posted by: ben at December 16, 2011 05:40 PM

Well, ben, every little bit helps, but the reality of the current market is essentially that songs and the recordings of them are worth nothing, or nearly nothing, and there's not much anyone can do to change that. There's just basically no way to make recorded music pay for itself anymore, other than fluke situations where some random thing goes "viral" -- and even there, you have to pay to play and only a tiny, tiny number of those lottery tickets pay out, so a lot of musicians won't or can't even enter.

People used to complain about how the "music industry" as it previously existed was unfair and rapacious, but that really was nothing compared to the service-oriented delivery systems of "free" content that we have now. But, the ship has sailed, alas.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at December 16, 2011 05:58 PM

What on earth is spotify?

The world is steadily turning to shit. I bet this is how real musicians felt after the rise of rock and roll and DJs. I'm not being sarcastic or making some kind of "bug whip manufacturer" analogy. It really does suck that so few people can make a good living as a great clarinetist or, as in your case, a great songwriter (I wonder if you could sell a song to Justin Beiber?).

The only thing I could suggest is to embrace amateurism. I consider myself a historian, even though nobody pays me to be a historian. It's kind of wonderful actually, though obviously I have to do something else with my time to pay the bills. This is a good blog post on the subject:

Posted by: josh at December 16, 2011 05:59 PM

While I agree that art should be supported and enriched, people respond to incentives. That's economics. If there's no incentive to buy, they won't. CD's are fragile and scratchable; legal downloads are restricted and expensive. There's no form of music that people want that isn't free. Pandora and Spotify have addressed this problem in ways artists haven't.

As it is now, the people who pay for music are the same fools who buy bottled water. I don't pay for visual art that has been reproduced, either (although some people might).

If you're worried about reaping profit from art, you're not an artist. At which point, why should I care about your artistic expression enough to support it?

Keep up with all the beautiful things you do. Your success is well-deserved.

Posted by: Devil's Advocate at December 16, 2011 11:39 PM

Thanks, Devil's Adv.

I guess all I can say to that is, unlike water, recorded music has to be created and produced, which means, it has to be paid for. When it is valueless, it's quite difficult to make this happen. I don't believe it's something any artist could address. People ask me all the time why I don't record albums anymore. Well, that's why. It was impossible enough to do it when people did buy things. It is what it is, though.

Posted by: Dr. Frank at December 17, 2011 12:35 AM

for what it's worth, I, and pretty much all the bigger music fans I know, buy all music I listen to. While I have played music for a long time, even putting out records and stuff on my own dime, I have never made any money at it. Granted part of that is because the bands that I've been in, we have other jobs and all that, and we know we'll never make it as musicians or anything. Oh well. I still hope to see more MTX stuff some day, because man, what a great band.

Anyway, my favorite thing that ever happened with our records: we played a show one time, and since nobody was interested in buying our stuff, at the end of our set we said we would be giving things away. Turns out that even after we said we were going to give the records out for free, someone came and swiped a stack of them. People just want free things.

Posted by: Jody at December 17, 2011 06:16 PM

I clearly don't know much about the recording industry. But now that it is all digital, I have to wonder why do artists even need to go through big record companies to get to iTunes, Spotify etc? Why not cut your own deals with those services directly (perhaps something similar to what 'Amazon merchants' do), and couldn't this change the economics? Or just sell your mp3s directly, via your own sites or whatever?

I would like to support the artists I like. I want them to keep making music and be able to live and pay bills at the same time just as much as you do. So for example, I would pay $X for a new Mr. T Experience album, sight unseen, for virtually any reasonable X (say, <$30). Different "X" for different artists perhaps, but the point is, I do buy 'albums' on iTunes (even if I can also call the album up on Spotify), thinking that this is a way to support the artists I like. But I have been told this is futile because they barely get anything from it. Your more recent $62 royalty post only confirms this.

So why can't the record company be cut out of the middle of that and why aren't they recognized as the main barrier to recorded music having reasonable economics? Serious question from someone wholly ignorant of music economics....

Posted by: Sonic Charmer at December 20, 2011 02:26 AM

I have an idea - fanbase patronage. Simply donate to a band as one does to bloggers (hit the tip jar) with the expectation that there'll be a certain level of creative annual output.

(This assumes that the band shows promise by releasing some good early songs.)

Posted by: TC at December 20, 2011 10:34 PM

Man Frank, your post really made me sad.

Paraphrasing "I don't make records any more because it costs too much and can't recoup it".

FWIW, I have all the MTX albums and most of those were bought directly from Lookout. The others (Showbiz Is My Life, Miracle of Shame, Alcatraz, 8 Little Songs and Yesterday Rules) were bought directly from you at shows or via your website.

Posted by: Zaphod at December 22, 2011 05:13 PM

One more thing.

If there are any more Dr. Frank or MTX releases and when your next book comes out, I will also be buying directly from you. I feel guilty for giving Lookout and Barnes and Noble my money. Plus I like the little "thank you" notes that you always put in as well as signing them when requested.

Thanks again for all the great music and books, Frank. Merry Christmas my friend.

Posted by: Zaphod at December 22, 2011 05:19 PM