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How The Music Industry Is Killing Music And Blaming The Fans
Wyndham Wallace , May 24th, 2011 11:06

While the industry continues to blame illegal downloading for its financial woes, it’s musicians who are paying the price while being forced to work harder than ever. But label inertia means culture itself is at stake, and even democracy could suffer, argues Wyndham Wallace

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For the last few years, most of the music industry – in all its forms, from record labels to artist managers, from music publishers to concert promoters – has been railing against illegal downloading, arguing that such activity is bringing the business to its knees, and pursuing those engaged in it, whether websites like The Pirate Bay or individuals, for every penny they believe they are owed. In March this year, for instance, the RIAA – the Recording Industry Association of America – and a group of thirteen record labels went to court in New York in pursuit of a case filed against Limewire in 2006 for copyright infringement. The money owed to them – the labels involved included Sony, Warner Brothers and BMG Music – could be, they argued, as much as $75 trillion. With the world's GDP in 2011 expected to be around $65 trillion - $10 trillion less - this absurd figure was, quite rightly, laughed out of court by the judge. The RIAA finally announced in mid May that an out of court settlement for the considerably lower sum of $105 million had been agreed with Limewire's founder.

But while fans have been warned that without traditional income streams investment in new acts will be harder, musicians have at the same time been told by the wider industry that there are still plenty of opportunities for them to make a living if they reverse long held principles: touring is now where the money is and records, cheap or even free, should be used to promote live performance. In addition, licensing music to TV, film and advertising, the prevailing opinions insist, is no longer a dirty business and can provide significant opportunities to claw back income while social networking allows direct to fan marketing that cuts out the middle men who previously took their cut.

All the time the industry talks of money: money it's lost, money it's owed. It rarely talks about the effects upon artists, and even less about how music itself might suffer. But no one cares about the suits and their bank accounts except shareholders and bankers. People care about their own money, and the industry not only wanted too much of it but also failed to take care of those who had earned it for them: the musicians. And it's the latter that people care about. Because People Still Want Good Music.

It's ‘Good Music' that is now at stake, however. The effects upon musicians of the downturn in income are far more complex than that they simply won't be able to, as Lily Allen put it, “go on”, and to blame filesharers exclusively is short-sighted. Things have now gone beyond that. Industry inertia, caused by a refusal to recognise a change in how people consume music – arguably provoked by greed on an even bigger scale than that exhibited by those who want their music for free - is causing substantial damage to the artistic process and may create a situation where only those with existing wealth can pursue the craft. It's also perhaps not too much to argue that a further result will be the silencing of voices that are vital to democratic society.

But if the industry wants to talk money, let's talk money, albeit the ways that developing musicians are encouraged to make up the loss of sales income in order to ply their trade. Someone's got to bring this up, because it's not a pretty picture. Consider, first, direct-to-fan marketing and social networking, said to involve fans so that they're more inclined to attend shows, invest in ‘product', and help market it. In practise this is a time-consuming affair that reaps rewards for only the few. Even the simple act of posting updates on Facebook, tweeting and whatever else is hip this week requires time, effort and imagination, and while any sales margins subsequently provoked might initially seem higher, the ratio of exertion to remuneration remains low for most. It's also an illusion that such sales cut out the middlemen, thereby increasing income, except at the very lowest rung of the ladder: the moment that sales start to pick up, middlemen start to encroach upon the artist's territory, if in new disguises. People are needed to provide the structure through which such activities can function, and few will work for free – and nor should they – even though musicians are now expected to.

In addition, efficient websites need to be paid for and marketed, and the companies designed to provide exactly this service usually take their cut. Bandwidth also needs to be paid for if up- and downloading become significantly active, product needs to be manufactured and sent out on time, and that's only after it's been created, meaning music first needs to be recorded and merchandise designed. If new artists can't find the readies for all this, then they need to find investors. So with music itself often available for free, the musician is reduced to little more than a merchandise broker. Records become just an advert and, consequently, either take longer to be written and recorded, or are otherwise made available without the attention and care that was once devoted to the process.

Still, if an act can find time to do these things, or has the necessary capital to allow others to take care of them on their behalf, then they can hit the road. Touring's where the money is, the mantra goes, and that's the best way to sell merchandise too. But this is a similarly hollow promise. For starters, the sheer volume of artists now touring has saturated the market. Ticket prices have gone through the roof for established acts, while those starting out are competing for shows, splitting audiences spoilt for choice, driving down fees paid by promoters nervous about attendance figures. There's also a finite amount of money that can be spent by most music fans, so if they're coughing up huge wads of cash for stadium acts then that's less money available to spend on developing artists. And for every extra show that a reputable artist takes on in order to make up his losses, that's one show less that a new name might have won.

Touring is also expensive. That's why record labels offered new artists financial backing, albeit in the form of a glorified loan known as ‘tour support'. Transport needs to be paid for, as do fuel, accommodation, food, equipment, tour managers and sound engineers. These costs can mount up very fast, and if each night you're being paid a small guarantee, or in fact only a cut of the door, then losses incurred can be vast, rarely compensated for by merchandising sales. Again, financial backing of some sort is vital, but these days labels are struggling to provide it. In the past, income from record sales could be offset against these debts, but with that increasingly impossible, new artists will soon find it very hard to tour. Everyone's a loser, baby.

Furthermore, touring, especially in the early stages of a career, is exhausting. It might be fun, but as anyone who's been on the road will admit, it can be a far from glamorous grind that leaves musicians drained, incapacitated and far from creative. It also seems off kilter that those gifted at writing and working in the studio should be sent out on the road rather than rewarded for just that, especially since records, in whatever format, are the ties that help bind fans to artists. There are also those for whom it's not viable, or at the very least a challenge: those suffering from stage fright; those – mothers, for example – whose family situation requires them to remain at home; those skilled at writing songs but not so adept at performing them. (It's notable that the likes of Jimmy Webb, who once made a comfortable living writing songs for others to perform, are now touring in a way that they never used to, largely out of financial necessity.)

Of course touring has always been a next to obligatory part of the job for most musicians. Some are even inspired by the experience, while many improve their craft by playing in front of audiences. But the daily rigmarole of playing the same songs over and over again can also render the process joyless for both musician and fan, and increased touring again means reduced time spent working on new material, conjuring up bewitching sounds, expressing the inarticulate speech of the heart. The romantic vision of the musician in their bus writing new songs is rose-tinted, to say the least. Most are simply too worn out from the tedium to do anything other than talk shit, watch films, listen to music and sleep. Insisting that artists earn their keep by performing the role of wandering minstrel keeps them from exercising the talent that brought them attention in the first place, rendering music valuable only when it's performed live.

Still, there's another well-publicised method of working around lost sales income. It's called synchronisation, and that's the licensing of music to TV, film and commercials. It was once a badge of honour to find one's music selected for a soundtrack, but these days everyone's at it so the benefits are fewer. It's interesting to watch films like Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation or Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now from the early 1970s and compare their relative silence – interrupted effectively but only occasionally by bursts of music used to heighten tension or enhance a mood – with the extended music videos that pass for Hollywood movies nowadays. The same could be said for TV, where shows like Skins are so song-saturated that numerous websites exist listing each track included in an episode (though notably these are not listed in credits). Apart from anything else, so much music often dilutes the drama by distracting from it, but more importantly it makes it harder for an impressive song to stand out, especially a new one dwarfed by others more recognisable, while those that do rise above the noise are often forever associated with a particular scene, rendering their own emotional substance next to mute in comparison.

More worrying too is the manner in which old school values with regards to the licensing of music to advertising have been eroded. To be tainted by association with a product, to ‘sell out' one's art to benefit a corporation, was once seen as an evil undertaken only by the desperate, the immoral or – on the off chance that the brand was ethically sound – those fortunate enough to claim that they remained very selective. Yet in record company and music publishing meetings around the world there are now hip young things declaring that, instead of a single, they can't hear a ‘synch'. Many have whole departments devoted to the placement of music wherever possible, and acts are expected to accept the offers. Often they're in such a financial hole that they simply can't say no. This has led not only to a complicit integration of music with product marketing, but also to lower and lower fees: agencies have realised that acts remain convinced that the exposure gained is in itself almost adequate compensation for the use of their music, and there's always someone else willing to accept a lower payment if the first choice demands too much. But whatever the financial reward, the price paid is always the same: permanent association with a product. How tragic is it that the man behind ‘Anarchy In The UK' will now be forever tied in the collective imagination with Country Life Butter, even though he used the cash to help fund the reformation of PiL? The argument that he has taken money from a corporation doesn't wash: the situation should never have arisen.

And if that's not compromise enough, what about the songs reduced to half minute edits, the songs that are used instrumentally, or the songs that are provided by soundalikes, thus debasing the art of those who first imagined the originals? What about the acts tailoring their music for use in these ways rather than focussing on their original intent, that of expressing something memorable? Is this good for our music? Is this how the magic should be rewarded?

It's debatable, too, how easy it is to secure such breaks, given that everyone and their sister is now after their small slice of the action. The growth of music supervision as a profession has meant that many brands turn to those who represent established acts and, if they fail to secure their music, take recommendations from these same people about others they represent in order to save time. It's an almost closed shop, and for a new act it's next to impossible to get a foot in the door. Moreover, those who are successful, but for whom it's their first public exposure, rarely make it beyond, tainted as they are by the connection. Simultaneously, the question arises once more as to whether acts should be devoting time to the pursuit of synchs at the expense of refining their craft, and whether they should only be receiving payment for the public use of their music as opposed to the private use.

It gets worse. The first people to give up will be those with the least money. This, some argue, will sort the wheat out from the chaff: serious musicians don't give up that easily. But this is clearly nonsense. Serious musicians might not give up, and some may thrive – if the cliché is true – because they have suffered. But if they can't afford to tour, record, build a website and pay those required to supervise their business, let alone pay their rent, then they won't make music their priority and potential stars will be lost to us. Their guitars will gather dust, picked up to fill quiet time or, perhaps, to be strummed for friends in small bars. Maybe they'll win fans, but most won't be able to do anything with that fact. A developing act can't tour anywhere unless it can afford to get there, and its products won't be bought unless it can tour, because these days that's one of the few ways to gain attention amidst the shrill shriek of marketing. The first hurdle any musician must now leap is financial: can they afford to pursue the dream?

The majority that succeed will be those well connected enough to receive funding, or those from financially comfortable backgrounds. This might explain the number of upper middle class artists that have made their mark recently, something which Quietus contributor Simon Price pointed to in an article for The Word in late 2010 about the ‘Toff Takeover', where he highlighted the rise of artists like Eliza Dolittle, Florence Welch and Mumford & Sons who have all benefited from exclusive educations. Price suggested that those who ”didn't go to a private school are no longer getting a fair shot at success”, and went on to state that, “it's bad for pop. If music – along with sport, the traditional ‘escape route' for the poor – is shut off, where is the next Johnny Rotten or Jarvis Cocker going to come from?”

It's a point well made, if provoked a little by inverse snobbery, and there's one further concern: those whose voices most need to be heard are often the ones least powerful, and musicians have frequently done far more than provide us with music. They've articulated thoughts that need to be heard. They've drawn our attention to injustices in the world just as they've highlighted the beauty of life. They have helped bring together communities and given them a common voice. They have spoken out and stood up for their principles, demanded change and sometimes achieved it. Our failure to find a satisfactory method in which their privileged situation – as commentators – can be protected could be very damaging. Though it inevitably sounds like a conspiracy theory, it may be more than coincidence that governments have taken so long to address the problems that the music business is facing. Music has provided a voice of dissent, and governments don't like that. By failing to ensure that musicians have the same right to be paid for their work as anyone else, they're helping to ensure that only the least controversial acts survive: those of independent wealth, often tied to the establishment; the ones that are happy to prop up the capitalist system with their advertising music; the ones who are happy to pander to the masses; the ones for whom business is their main drive and music simply a means to make their fortune. Failure to compensate those whose work is more specialist, more confrontational, more subtle, more challenging, is an act of complicity in the silencing of social and political debate. Though democracy won't allow for musicians to be gagged, it can still price them out of the market.

Illegal downloading and its methods are here to stay – foolishly encouraged by the industry's increasing practise of giving away music – at least until such point as people's appetite for music, delivered when and how they want it, can be satisfied in an affordable, unproblematic fashion. But making music is work, however prosaic that sounds, and the fact should be respected. The technology to monetise it exists: subscription models like Spotify are well established and increasingly popular. To date, however, Spotify is only available in a limited number of countries while the industry fights for higher royalty payments, and similar arguments continue elsewhere: in Germany, for instance, most legitimate promotional music videos on YouTube have been inaccessible for well over two years while the country's Performance Rights Organisation, GEMA, negotiates terms. The battle is understandable: Spotify's payments to rights owners are infamously poor, YouTube's not much better, and some artists might argue that they'd rather their music be downloaded by genuine fans for free rather than used to enrich a new breed of parasites getting fat off their work. But the longer the industry continues to cling to old-fashioned values, the more people gravitate to illegal sources that are reliable, uncomplicated and modern. It's an extraordinary situation: in a roundabout fashion, the wider industry is inadvertently preventing fans from legally accessing music in the manner they'd like to, and which technology has facilitated, while blaming them for stealing because they're not so wild about the systems that have so far been approved.

Whether the industry likes it or not, music is now like water: it streams into homes, it pours forth in cafés, it trickles past in the street as it leaks from shops and restaurants. Unlike water, music isn't a basic human right, but the public is now accustomed to its almost universal presence and accessibility. Yet the public is asked to pay for every track consumed, while the use of water tends to be charged at a fixed rate rather than drop by drop: exactly how much is consumed is less important than the fact that customers contribute to its provision. Telling people that profit margins are at stake doesn't speak to the average music fan, but explaining how the quality of the music they enjoy is going to deteriorate, just as water would become muddy and undrinkable if no one invested in it, might encourage them to participate in the funding of its future. So since downloading music is now as easy as turning on a tap, charging for it in a similar fashion seems like a realistic, wide-reaching solution. And just as some people choose to invest in high-end water products, insisting on fancy packaging, better quality product and an enhanced experience, so some will continue to purchase a more enduring musical package. Others will settle for mp3s just as they settle for tap water. Calculating how rights holders should be accurately paid for such use of music is obviously complicated but far from impossible, and current accounting methods – which anyone who has been involved with record labels can tell you aren't exactly failsafe – are clearly failing to bring in the cash.

The industry has also failed to acknowledge the fact that the concept of ownership is largely redundant: people want access on demand, and many no longer want to pay to own a limited number of records forever when they can move on to the next one in seconds. They don't want to shell out the same for a song that they once did because the music is now sadly disposable: they may never listen to it again so its value to them has been reduced. There's no longer any point in asking why this is: it just is. In addition, the question as to why a download should cost much the same as a physical product has never been satisfactorily answered and has further undermined trust between the provider and the consumer. The net effect of this arguably vulgar focus on cash is that people now expect music to represent better value for money, and far too often the music industry has failed to justify its prices. The fact that they've spent recent years brutally discounting their product underlines the public's opinion that they were charging too much in the first place, and the countless stories of artists trapped in dubious contracts have made people thoroughly unsympathetic to the business' complaints.

Perhaps the industry's in league with this too, its eyes on a more insidious long term goal: after all, big business doesn't work for the people. The people work for big business. If a world can be created where most musicians simply can't afford to exist from their work, then that'll leave the ones who do exactly what they're told thanks to the promise of fame and fortune. It's already happening on TV (especially talent shows), in movies, even in bookstores: the slow, pernicious silencing of alternative perspectives buried beneath a storm of loud, obnoxious yelling about nothing. When Bill Hicks berated the anaesthetising effects of cultural deterioration in the USA twenty years ago, the only thing he failed to warn us was that this would spread across the globe. “Go back to bed, America, your government is in control. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed, America. Here is American Gladiators, here's 56 channels of it! Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate yourself on living in the land of freedom. Here you go, America - you are free to do what we tell you!” Except next up, it's The Black Eyed Peas, Rebecca Black and – oh, let us briefly titillate you – Lady Fucking Gaga.

“When you're in Hollywood and you're a comedian,” another tragically deceased stand-up, Mitch Hedberg, joked, perhaps bitterly, “everybody wants you to do things besides comedy. They say, 'OK, you're a stand-up comedian. Can you act? Can you write? Write us a script?' It's as though if I were a cook and I worked my ass off to become a good cook, they said, 'All right, you're a cook. Can you farm?'” This is the position in which our musicians now find themselves. They're expected to multitask in order to succeed. Their time is now demanded in so many different realms that music is no longer their business. What we can increasingly expect is a conveyor belt of smug accountants living a pop star's dream, performing aggressively marketed, lowest common denominator, unchallenging dross.

The problem is, it's not really the industry that is being cheated. It's the artists and their fans. People get what they pay for, but – whatever the industry claims – most fans know that. They just don't want to hear the businessmen fiddle while the musicians are being burnt. Revenues are unlikely ever again to reach the levels of the business' formerly lucrative glory days, but in its stubborn refusal to recognise that both the playing field and the rules themselves have been irreversibly redefined without their permission, the industry is holding out for something that is no longer viable. Lower income is better than no income, and the industry has surely watched the money dwindling for long enough. Musicians, meanwhile, are being asked to make more and more compromises as they're forced to put money ahead of their art on a previously unprecedented scale.

The battle to prevent filesharing has been lost, rightly or wrongly, but there are still plenty of honest folk out there willing to exchange cash for music in one form or another, and it's not that they don't want to recognise its value. It's that record labels no longer know how to earn their money, and can't decide how to let them pay for it anyway.

Thanks to Paul Resnikoff (Digital Music News), Tracey Thorn, Ewan Pearson, F.M. Cornog, Mac MacCoughan & Jimmy Webb for their time while researching this article.

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May 24, 2011 3:49pm

as a musician who's been in the business for 25 years and done everything from running a record label to touring I thank you for your very astute observations of an increasingly impoverished musical culture :)

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May 24, 2011 3:57pm

Thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. Opened my eyes to an awful lot.

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May 24, 2011 4:51pm

Yes, absolutely.

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May 24, 2011 4:59pm

Sober thoughts like this I've kept returning to now for almost a decade. I'm 47 and I feel for young people today who suffer from an overly stimulating music consumption environment. I bought an album or two a week at best while in school and that limitation of availability gave me considerable time to digest and begin to understand what I was hearing. As I matured, I discovered both used record stores [where the dollar went a lot further] as well as increased earning which gave me greater disposable income for music. Still, at the worst I might have dropped $400-500 at a record show and returned home with 30-40 CDs and a dozen or so records.

Now that I'm older, this doesn't happen. But I get mentally paralyzed when I think about having a huge pipe of more music than I can comprehend available 24/7. The only thing worse than having no choice is having too many choices, and instant access to a vast body of recorded music [especially without payment] actually disturbs me. My listening habits revolve around CDs. I do not have to digitally repurpose them for playback on other platforms. I just use a common CD player. I do not use a digital music player. The work repurposing my collection for such a device represents to me, who has thousands of records and CDs obtained over the course of 35 years or so, causes my mind to come to a standstill. And there's still not an iPod® that can come within containing more than a fraction of my music collection. Adding the cost of the iPod® [fat better spent on actual music to my mind] plus being on headphones, cutting myself off from my environment, is unappealing to me. And the idea of making playlists just represents a huge investment of more work to me interfering with my enjoyment of music.

In all honesty, I have some download material. Artists I like are now, as you say, making rare material available for free. If I care about them, I try to remember to download any such files as I am bombarded by more and more artists mailing lists. I occasionally buy music on download seeing as that's now the only way some music is available. On a rare occasion, material that would cost dearly on record [if I could find it, plus crippling international postal costs] can be had for the price of a download. I can't criticize that very much. However, unless I burn it to disc, it just sits there on my hard drives. When I am on the computer, I am usually remastering from vinyl, so I can't listen to these files. I have no interest what so ever in stealing music for free; it has too much value for me.

The walled garden around music of which you allude to has the no doubt intended effect of sucking music into the ruling class' echo chamber that is dominating world social discourse more effectively than ever right in lockstep with television and print. The notion of artists needing riches and connections to ply their trade is surely a knife in the gut to the very notion of art. While seeing the labels collapse under the weight of their sins is on a crude level, gratifying, I am at a loss as to how musical culture can find its way forward again.

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simon number nine
May 24, 2011 7:49pm

Any band that moans about having to tour should be made to read Get in the Van.its a process of weeding out,theres too MUCH music now,hardly any of it worthwhile.The career path now seems to be,get signed,make record,play fifth down the bill at Glastonbury and if you're lucky get to have a "chat" with Jo Whiley off of the telly before disapearing forever

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Leeman Brothaz
May 24, 2011 9:00pm

WALL STREET bankers respond with music video "Greed Is Good" which blames Main Street for the financial crisis.

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Napo Kay
May 25, 2011 2:55am

Of all the particpiants in the model (artists, labels-indie/major, promoters, etc) as it used to be, it seems to still be the case that the greed heads, ie, corporate owned major labels, are suffering the most; it is their model that has been shaken to the foundation and it is them who have had to retreat into the posture of celebrating a number one record that can't break 100K...meanwhile the indies that many of us grew up on are filling to some degree this void (who would have predicted in the slack-motherfucker days that Merge would go on to sell literally millions of records or the label that dropped the Police Cat 7-inch would grow into what it has become)....despite all the truth in this article there is a fair amount to be optimistic about...when folks ask me what the record biz is like, "isn't it suffering, napster, pirates, lime wire, idol, oh my?") I often hear myself repeat: we are all suffering but at least the big guys are bleeding too, at least those assholes are toast"...or some variation on this it true? least for the most part they have been relegated to the kiddie pool furiously working away at making whatever Disney or Fox are pimping into something that lets them keep their jobs for another finincial year....5 years ago there were 2-3 festivals in the US worth mentioning, now there's 20 or 30; 10 years ago if an indie label sold 20,000 copies of a record it was huge, now it's commonplace and many acts are moving triple digit numbers with every release. And though there are sharks in all waters, I'm guessing that the artists on these indies selling these numbers are making something much closer to "a living" than Westerberg or Dando or those generations ever made after they moved up to the cash-advance world of major hmmmm, yeah the digital age is a drag no doubt, is there anything more soulless than an mp3, pitchfork and cat power selling luxury automobiles? No, not in my book, but I'll go another few years in this game and see how it pans out because somewhere out there kids are loving the discovery and artists are kicking over amps and we all know vinyl ain't going anywhere. So let's just be thankful for one minute that PJ Harvey made another record and hip-hop is changing the middle east, I mean, there's gotta be a few reasons to keep it positive right?

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John Pointer
May 25, 2011 3:52am

Here's the solution: pay-what-you-feel subscription patronage. Access to your favorite artist's ongoing stream of creative content for as long as you're a patron; for as long as you are engaging with them to make more of it happen.

And here's the platform that does exactly that:

"Patronism: Reinventing Musical Patronage for the Digital Age" - HypeBot
"Patronism’s novel goal is to enmesh the band and the fan so that the latter is a constant supporter of the former, a true patron." - Wired

Imagine if, instead of a single download, Radiohead had offered pay-what-you-feel subscriptions for ongoing access to a nearly fogless window into their creative process.

The fanbase is not one monolithic thing; it is made up of two distinct psychographics: 1). Consumers, who want to pay a little and get a lot (problem), and 2). Patrons, who only made up 20% of Radiohead's downloaders, but created 92% of their revenue from In Rainbows (solution). Why did they pay an average of $10 each when they could have gotten it for free? Because they care. Because they are engaged. Because they value what Radiohead does for them. Because they believe in them. Would they have subscribed to associate more with Radiohead and benefit from their continued creative output? Absolutely.

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John Pointer
May 25, 2011 3:58am

In reply to John Pointer:

And current bands using the platform are averaging over $10/mo per patron. 85% flows straight to the artist, and every 117 patrons represents $1000/mo. So even the relatively small, hardworking yet *compelling* artists using the site are engaging this way with the people who are moved by their work. That means they can finally take control of their musical career, and fearlessly share their music with the people who tell them every month with their dollars, "I value what you do."

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Mark Weiss
May 25, 2011 4:42am

The business of music definitely has problems, but there are other models to look at rather than just crying that the sky is falling. Check out

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Mike Greer
May 25, 2011 5:01am

In reply to John Pointer:

I have to say I agree with John. I recently became a Patron of several artists on the Patronism site. I have been most impressed by the way this model recognizes and values the nature of the relationship between artist and audience. Artists and other patrons I have talked to express a sense of both excitement and gratitude to be involved in this movement. Wired said "Patronism’s novel goal is to enmesh the band and the fan so that the latter is a constant supporter of the former, a true patron." In my own brief experience, that is exactly what is happening. Through this model, patrons are able to support, engage, and interact with artists on a level that is not possible under the current consumer model. I have talked with John about this, so I recognize that different patrons have different perspectives and motivations, but personally, I most value being able to support local artists that I can have the opportunity to see performing live fairly often. I look forward to amazing music for a very long time. I am grateful for Patronism.

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bret branon
May 25, 2011 7:19am

This article and many that read like it, are complete crap.
Step back folks we are talking about Music. An Art.
Made by humans.
Humans make all kinds of Art. The authors allude to water, lets go there. Talent. Water. Plumber.
How is an Artist any less of an Artist if his Art is sculpture, or drafting, or fluid mechanics, or plumbing. If you hear amplified music, chances are that there is some plumbing of some fashion or another happening near by. The plumber, doesn't have groupies. No one is giving him blow backstage, he got paid for his work once, he's not getting mailbox money. People do not know his name. But he is in every sense of the word an Artist. He is just as skilled with the tools of his trade as is the musician. How is a musician any more deserving of recognition, financial or otherwise, than any other human schleping a carcass on the face of the Earth? Get over yourselves and your so-called Art. If you are good, people will like you. You don't have to tour to make money. WE, and I me mean me, The Fans, we will support you if we like you. The Fans, and your relationship with us is all that matters. Bono could walk street to street in this country and get a free meal and a place to sleep, every night for the rest of his life. Can the plumber do that? Can the amazingly talented 14 year old Korean girl that made five cents by making his guitar strings do that? Granted Bono will still have a bunch of doors slammed in his face, but the guys that keep New York's drinking water clean would fare far worse on a similar expedition.
The heart of the matter here is FAME not money. If you are not a savvy enough human to convert even the simplest fame into money, then you will not survive or be able to provide for yourself in even the best of economic conditions. Record companies Trade on Your fame. If you are the songwriter they mention in the article, you need only be famous among people who buy songs. That is the fanbase he failed to cultivate which 'forced' him into touring. He could of course have gotten another profession, or made money plying a different Trade, but he Chose to tour. There are a thousand examples of people who make money in the music business without touring, and the chances are that you don't know their names. They have no fame to trade on. They aren't record companies, and yet they do more to bring you music than many musicians do.
Tech no logy. There is a lot of music being made right now. And most of it, kinda sucks. You know this. I know this. I go see my friends stupid band out of obligation as a friend, not because I like the songs. But yeah, more people can do more to get famous now, than ever before. And there is a HUGE proliferation of platforms and tools to do just that. You have chances at fame that nobody has ever had before. And it is guaranteed that in the future we WILL have bigger stars than Elvis, MJ, and The Beatles. So woe is the record company? Screw'em. Woe is the struggling lone voice that we might not here? Screw them too. When the Library of Alexandria burned down we lost tons of more meaningful writings, and ideas, and science that were more culturally valuable to the species than ever a ballad e'er was. Things like that happen.
I'm not trying to be discouraging here. Go get your Music On. Just please don't believe the hype or buy into the woe is me and my musical bard wannabe brethren. This idea and discontent are spread in articles like this one.
Content piracy, and more importantly the technological advances that enabled it, is what matters more. These advancements in computer science and communications tools are the true Gift for humanity, from humanity, to humanity.
At the price of the RIAA and MPAA getting all upset?
And some Artists not getting heard?
And having some musicians starving?
This is all a VERY SMALL PRICE to pay for the advancements this same technology is yielding to the truly poor dejected hopeless turd world souls on this planet. Maybe someday their water won't be so muddy and diseased thanks to the computers that allow people to steal your songs, and that allow you to record in your basement, you selfish prick. Why don't you write a song about that? I'd buy that. Be my friend and become famous. If I like you, I'll buy you dinner with my plumber's salary. Just don't bang my girl dawg.

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May 25, 2011 8:44am

"In practise this is a time-consuming affair that reaps rewards for only the few."

Just like recording and promoting an album in the mass media.

Would it be asking too much for a writer to just once give a date for when this golden age of the recording industry was supposed to have been so we can discuss the reality of its economics rather than the nostalgic fantasies of people whose careers stalled long before they were denied Napster's promised revenues.

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May 25, 2011 9:20am

The music biz is essentially a trickle down industry, or at least it was when it was successful.

There needs to be engaging, artistically and commercially interesting pop at the top that will engage the public enough to make them stick their hands in their pockets (it can still happen- the Adele record has sold a million in a month or so), and when that happens, the music biz needs to stick it's hands in IT's pockets and develop new talent.

And when I saw talent, I don't mean some skinny fucks who went to Eton/Bedales.

Much as labels want to sell 'product' that doesn't need to be separate from great art.

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May 25, 2011 10:38am

Played music, released music, gigged and toured my music for 20 years. Still paying the debts. This article rings true in many ways to me. The future? Release your music for free - like Odd Future and Death Grips. See what comes. Risk.

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May 25, 2011 11:15am

In reply to Asheq:

It's all very well for a super commercial hip hop act (which is what they are, ultimately, despite all the badass posturing) to give away their music, because they can sell blow up dolls of themselves and get all kinds of sync income on the back of their notoriety, but what about everyone else?

The upside from this 'black sky thinking' is that it's becoming more and more about the artistry. If there's no money to be had from music, then perhaps there will be a little less cynically commercial stuff pumped out there, and a few more people pushing the envelope on their own time.

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May 25, 2011 11:56am

So what. It's music. Only music. It's not penicillin or nourishment. If the music "business" dies people will do what they've always done, which is make their own music. The upside is we'll be free of ego-maniacs in Gulfstreams who mistake their trendiness for relevance. The whole industry can collapse in on itself and the world would be a better place for it.

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May 25, 2011 12:59pm

There's a few horrible generalisations that miss a point or two but I agree with a lot of it, though.

Download an album in MP3 for £8.99 or buy a CD for £8.99: makes you wonder about the pricing relative to physical product more than ever.

The other hilarious thing is a perfectly finished, artwork designed and ready to go album being held back until a certain date, even changing from country to country, "for marketing purposes" then spending the build-up telling people how much they really have to have it....even though they can't at that point even if they have a wad of cash to throw at it. Sounds like the recipe for people jumping on a leak, oddly enough. Release it for fans to buy when ready and put the marketing in for those floating voters who've not heard of it yet. You may not get a huge pot of jam on day one but better to have some jam now AND some jam later before somebody is driven to knicking your toast.

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May 25, 2011 1:44pm

Hi Wyndham,

Brilliantly written piece - as always. You won't be surprised to hear that I disagree entirely. Your argument is coming from the position of a musician/manager who grew up in a different age and whose aspiration, goals and expectations remain umbilically linked to the past. In the good old days an artist could sell a few CD's, get paid a fair amount for shows and maybe sell some tee's and all was sweet. That concept is now dead as a business model and no matter how much you may not want to dirty your paws with the filthy lucre even if no one was getting rich it was still 'business'. Why shouldn't it change? Why should artists not have to adapt?

Here's a concept - don't adapt. Do exactly what you want to do when you want it and how you want it. Are you no longer a musician because you're not inhabiting the world of artists who play 'the game'? Surely not.

If you want to be in 'the charts' or whichever marketing tool qualifies oneself as a real artist then there's a certain amount of non-songwriting and non-performing to do. Boo-hoo. It is undoubtedly harder nowadays to break through the grey goo that many of the technological 'advancements' have spawned but this just means only the most determined, most driven wade through the crap to a level where a 'career' with financial security is viable. I'm struggling to see the problem here. It's not like it's a secret is it? Are musicians 'duped' into thinking it's a fucking doddle?

You're rallying against an industry which largely revolves around pop music. If an artist wants to exist within this area but they're struggling with the water-boarding torture of which bandwidth provider to go with then I'd suggest they consider how they'll survive the rigors of the three week grip and grin tour of 45 regional radio stations the label has lined up for them. They don't have to do it of course and of course it's bullshit but if they want to sit alongside Black Eyed Peas etc then this is what that market expects. And here's the nub - this is exactly why the more discerning artist doesn't grace similar territory to BEP's, Gaga etc. This is why we're sat here reading The Quietus and not DigitalSpy. Without the online revolution of the past 10 years we'd still be reliant on the opinions of a handful of publicly educated, middle class white men. I like the fact that SBTV has more power than the NME. It feels healthy that power shifts.

You well know that for the past 25 years I have worked directly with artists, spent the majority of my working life within independent labels and now I work for a major record company so I'll certainly entertain the argument that I'm only interested in defending my position. But ultimately to the non-pop artist a record company is of less importance to them than at any other time. There are more, open and accessible income streams available than there has ever been previously and their music can be discussed, supported and celebrated in more areas than ever before. It's not all a misery fella!

I know that coming out against Bill Hicks is a crime slightly above child abuse but the argument about society consuming only what is fed is patronising. The simplest most unsophisticated forms of culture are the 'largest' across the globe in music, in film, TV, art and literature. Sorry, but the public don't want Faust. They want Jedward. Let them have it I say. It's not like the alternative is hidden.


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May 25, 2011 1:47pm

In reply to bret branon:

"If you are good, people will like you. You don't have to tour to make money. WE, and I me mean me, The Fans, we will support you if we like you."

Is that what you actually see happening? Art, created with no budget whatsoever and promoted with no budget whatsoever SOMEHOW finds its way into the hands of you, The Fans, who then "support" it. This is not reality. Also, plumbers get PAID.

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Douglas B
May 25, 2011 2:23pm

In reply to tenbenson:

Most of the contributors @thequietus know that *most* of the best popular music of the late 20th c. was not made by people making a terrible amount of money out of their work. The debut singles / albums, the brief blips of genius that still shine bright. The argument here is that we should be encouraging an environment whereby many more artists should be financially able to make albums seven, eight or nine when actually a tiny, tiny proportion actually make anything worthwhile past album 2 or 3.

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May 25, 2011 3:15pm

In reply to Douglas B:

I agree that the current model of record company signing artist on rising scale of 'options' per album creates an impossible to maintain long term career. However, how many bands have ended before achieving their best due to financial pressures? Is this 'financial differences'?
Maybe the government should fund jobbing musicians... oh fuck Alan McGee already did that one - can you imagine the mess we'd be in now if that had come off!

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May 25, 2011 4:29pm

In reply to mitch:

As much as we'd like that to be true - that musicians should all be able to make a living somehow the reality is that even people like THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN crashed. The Smiths even. Think about it. How could we expect some random buzzband to "last"/leave a mark/"develop" if they are not writing proper songs?

I have to agree with the person who mentioned there has never been a better time for indies. Merge does Arcade Fire's million sales, there have been countless successes. The majors have suffered a lot more because they have huge overheads and record sales - from the beginning of the music industry, NEVER contracted. This is the FIRST crisis.

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richard butler
May 25, 2011 5:01pm

In reply to mitch:

Mitch - at last someone talking sense, I felt all alone till I just read this > "The simplest most unsophisticated forms of culture are the 'largest' across the globe in music, in film, TV, art and literature. Sorry, but the public don't want Faust. They want Jedward. Let them have it I say. It's not like the alternative is hidden".


Artistes are always quick to dismiss output that does well commercialy. They love a Peruvian film noire yet cannot abide the blockbuster the masses wnat to see. They hate on Gaga, but love some anal naval gazer artiste singing about some self referncing life journey, the sort of person you'd find bashing away in any subway, 10 a penny really. They lack the killer commercialism that is far more difficult to give birth to.

My wife hears all the dance demos I check out online and to her, a typical, non specialist end user, it all sound the same, yet click on Chris Browns latest and without het having heard it before she's instantly hooked - and the ability to engage ordinary folk, bombarded with marketing messages, is what it's all about, if you want to make money and sustain it.

Give your customers good food and they'll come back. You cannot expect people to engage with you if you are producing something aimed primarily at your own taste as this is the height of self absorbsion and self importance.

Richard Butler

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May 25, 2011 6:05pm

I can't thank you enough for writing this. I actually do packaging reviews for a couple sites, where I encourage people to go out and buy albums. I record videos and show people what the album packaging is like. And anytime I upload a video to youtube that has that artists music in the video (not even the direct song, but rather the album I paid for being played in the background on my stereo system) - the major labels will pull my video completely down for Copyright infringement.

How ass backwards is this? I'm trying to encourage and promote people to buy the physical album by showing them that it's worth their purchase. And yet, the labels continue to work against me. It's shit like this that really tells me they have nobody but to blame but themselves, for having a backwards way of thinking.

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May 25, 2011 7:25pm

Again, wonderful article. It touches on everything. Literally. That being said....


The evolution of music.

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John Pointer
May 25, 2011 8:00pm

Compelling artists can already crowdsource a salary to make and share music at

Their patrons can engage in the entire creative path via pay-what-you-feel subscriptions, not just milestones like chipping in to fund a CD or buying it when it's done.

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May 25, 2011 8:13pm

I'd love to see the Smashing Pumpkins Teargarden project take off with great success, so that it might just spark a landslide of followers in its wake.

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May 25, 2011 11:55pm

In reply to dirigible:

Yes. Thank you. :)

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May 26, 2011 2:24am

In reply to richard butler:

Richard, brilliant point. There is something to be said about catchy tunes that are not pretending to be anything other than pop music. Funny I had the same reaction as your wife re: a recent Chris Brown tune. I know what he did to Rihanna and all but that was a simple brilliant pearl. I have never had any similar reaction to self-absorbed bands such as many of the buzz-bands music blogs rave about (animal collective, grizzly bear, etc..)
Musicians need to revitalize their practice, hipster culture and its ironic, detached stance has slowly crept into a lot of music. The Smiths wrote catchy tunes. Wake up people.

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May 26, 2011 2:55am

very good article, some of it exactly underscoreds the situation I'm in. Musician in London with a bar job. Struggles to pay rent if part time (to keep creative time)or full time means no time for music at all. A lot of musician friends in this situation, and I've already seen lots of potentially great bands split up
from being demoralised or starving.
Lucky enough to work with a small record company but most of them give no advance anymore,there is little or no tour support left and booking agents are relectant to take on and developp new bands on the road (they will take on a new major record label 'product' artist with big promo campain).
You now have to struggle and find the time to write good songs (it takes a long time now to make a record), you have to record it yourself and for free or almost, and spend your time online to try and sell it through social network which drive musicians mad. Multitasking.

I thing that the positive side of this situation is that more artists / bands will have to come back to spontaneity and raw music. Cheap and dirty recordings, starvation, despair will probably bring an new era of genuine and interesting artists.

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May 26, 2011 4:47am

In reply to bret branon:

Wow. You are a cynical person, bret.

And very correct on many things you said. =) Not everything, mind you. But it's refreshing to see someone take artist elitism head-on.

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Andy Halliday
May 26, 2011 9:20am

this is a well written article, I'd like to draw attention to a film I saw at the Music Connex conference called 'Press Pause Play' it addresses the issues inherent in music culture and the digital age. This article reminded me of it. I fear the Totalitarian Decmocritisation of Culture could be a bit of a boring time. Is it the cry of kids today lost in K-Holes and drone music even seeming a bit boring? Music in schools? Redundant to history lessons if you aks me - we're headed for a state resemblant of third world countries - the masses without any difference between the individuals. whats the point in working when theres nothing worth working for? Now even the musicians cant be bothered to reach for the stars cos they've all gone out. see ya later.

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May 26, 2011 9:21am

In reply to postpunkmonk:

how did u afford 2 albums a week!?

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May 26, 2011 10:47am

Wyndham's article doesn't add anything new to the argument (sorry).
Inevitably some musicians will be put off a 'career' in music, but maybe that's ultimately a good thing?
It would certainly be a shame if artists like Radiohead and PJ Harvey (who've enjoyed the bosom of good record label partnerships in order to support them through their first few years) would have given-up early. But for every one of those, there are 10 x the amount of self-sufficient artists who are out there just DOING it.

Thee Oh Sees, Ben Chasny blah blah blah, more power to them!

If the old model has to die, then maybe it will stop us being forcefed so much dross like Suede and The Libertines; those bands wouldn't have lasted past their first release without intense industry molycoddling.

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Martin James
May 26, 2011 11:26am

Excellent article mate... There is another aspect to the 'toffs' debate that you don;t mention though. In recent years universities have supported grass roots musicians through the creation of popular music production/ performance degrees. Within these courses musicians of all backgrounds are able to explore and expand, and to aim to create 'good music' with the limitations of financial constraint. Surrounding these artists are music, media and creative industries students who add to the value of the 'good music' through the creation of websites, promotion campaigns, record labels, live events, music videos etc. All of the various time and money expensive elements that make up the music industries are encapsulated within the structures of our higher education system and financially supported by them as well. Many new or up and coming acts have benefited from these kinds of courses and that level of university support - many of these people being widening participation students from less well off backgrounds.
In 2012 student fees will be going up to 7,500 - 9,000 thanks to a government that doesn't want to invest in most of the stuff taught at Uni - and certainly not the bohemian, or creative industries courses! Universities are hoping to plug the funding gap by linking to industries in the hope that the private sector will 'invest' in 'retraining and up-skilling'. Can't see any area of the music industries being able to afford to do this! So, in all likelihood many of the popular music courses in the country will close... thus shutting off another, rarely considered aspect of the music industries, ie education. With the uni courses gone (or totally privatised) the new music will only come from those who can afford to make it... or those people who don't eat.

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May 26, 2011 11:51am

this essay is spot on. why are bands (mine included) so reluctant to say that their actual quality of life suffers big time due to filesharing? how can this reality be communicated to fans without coming across as totally lame? for me personally, an ethical shift, when it comes, so people actually pay for music they like- this cannot come quickly enough

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Gary Baldwin
May 26, 2011 3:16pm

Good article, if a little romantic...

the main thing that will come from this is the destruction of the huge music machine and all the hangers on, the ones that will gain will be the musicians that embrace the direct access new technology brings to the table.

take a look at the software industry for an analogy, maybe the app store and 59p games (lower development costs but you are selling millions of them, almost directly into the artists pocket) means that albums are a thing of the past

if things don't evolve, they deserve to die, the king is dead, long live the king

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May 26, 2011 3:31pm

"The money owed to them – the labels involved included Sony, Warner Brothers and BMG Music – could be, they argued, as much as $75 trillion."

Clearly the hard times haven't stopped the industry from indulging in a metric fuck-ton of cocaine.

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May 26, 2011 6:32pm

Music will become like the art world, where there is money - for the very top and everyone else struggles. Having paid rents, materials, time, tuition fees via student loans (america) to continue to make art while holding down a regular job, I see music is headed in this direction. "fine" artists don't have really an audience, or rather, the "regular people" audience have no impact - it's about the collectors - who pay for the art directly - and the curators - who get to choose who's in or out. That's why the art(world) *can* be as empty and as opaque as it gets, because it reflects the values of the patronage ( a tiny amount of wealthy individuals). It bothers me that there are so many crap exhibitions when a fraction of what is spent could be used to fund the making of a great record. Maybe one day there will be music patrons to bankroll the making of music, kind of like how it's done sometimes in classical music. But the magic of music is how it connects to a largely anonymous audience.

I don't think music is "art" in the same way, music is in my opinion more important and more impactful **because** it has an audience of regular people and each one of these paying customers counts. Yet most music I hear chooses to ignore the fact that it's meant to communicate to an audience and enters instead the shortened life of the sort of empty pseudo-experimentalism that characterizes so much of current music production. File-sharing has depleted the livelihood of many musicians yet I see a lot of music that either ignores its potential audience or takes for granted what matters the most: songs, emotion, a sense of purpose.

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May 26, 2011 6:55pm

Add to this the recent announcement that RIAA president earned a salary of $3.2 million in 2009!
And this is the non profit organization who's supposed to be looking out for the interests of artists?

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Tiv Tee
May 26, 2011 8:07pm

OH I have a feeling they will get over it.

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May 26, 2011 8:16pm

THANK YOU for posting this and exposing the current state of the music industry!

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May 26, 2011 9:20pm

I think all these social-networking sites, video/audio streaming sites et all shud be monetised. It may be far-fetched. But wht if u had to pay a small sum to log in or create a profile at say myspace or facebook or youtube. Then the money can be paid to the bands on the basis of downloads or plays. The structure however has to be rigid n yet transparent to the bands. The sites however cannot hijack the money they owe the bands. Considering the amount of people using internet all over the world the % the sites wud hv to pay wont be that hard.

Bcz the only reason we download is cz we cant afford it and the record labels price it to profit from it. And yes people do want everything for free. But for ardent fans paying for it is just a tribute.

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May 26, 2011 10:20pm

excellent article and long overdue. finally someone speaking for musicians against pirates and the industry alike. good work.

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John Pointer
May 26, 2011 11:36pm

In reply to Syd:

That's what we do at = pay-what-you-feel, all-access subscriptions directly to your favorite band.

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A Clockwork Lozenge
May 27, 2011 12:07am

In reply to John Pointer:

Alright, John. You've made your point. At least pay for your advertising.

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Jeremy Graham
May 27, 2011 12:57am

There needs to be a complete shift in the social conscience when it comes to these types of issues and re-education has always been the key to changing peoples views and attitudes for the better.Instead of worrying about the lost money, these organizations should be focussing on the causes of the problem, not the outcome.

If you're a promoter, make sure you let your patrons know where that door charge is going, if your a musician, tell your fans where the money is going from your sales etc, this will not only help people understand what is involved but as an added bonus, include them into being apart of it too!

Music is a personal thing, not something you just click and listen to, then dispose of a week later.
If we bring the 'magic' back into the industry, then we will be able to head into the future with a stronger social and cultural conscience, but we have to start this second.

Jeremy Graham
BMA Commercial Music (Music Production)
1st Class Honours

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May 27, 2011 3:54am

Great read. I enjoyed reading this one, seeing as it encapsulates many of current frustrations working with a record label. Everyone is so quick to point fingers at each other, and yet we all sit idly by as the system collapses on itself.

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May 27, 2011 3:54am

Great read. I enjoyed reading this one, seeing as it encapsulates many of current frustrations working with a record label. Everyone is so quick to point fingers at each other, and yet we all sit idly by as the system collapses on itself.

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May 27, 2011 7:35am

In reply to bret branon:

Awesome buddy! I coulnt agree more! I played. I chose to play .
I failed to become "famous" hence "Rich". I don't fuckin cry . I don't
Complain that new music sucks. Most if it does!! But
Some doesn't . If i started playing music again so you would
Like my band than support me??! That's bullshit. Play to play . If you make
a living at it, YOUR LUCKY, . One thing I disagree on is the use of the word artist.
A plumber is not an artist. I am a hair stylist. I am NOT a artist no matter what some pretentious bastards
Want to say they are . Some paint, some play, some sculpt with there own poo! Art is what we label that
For which the creative brings us joy.

Art has no bounds. Plumbing does. It has to work . Someone has to wear my color or cut. The car needs to run. Art is what brings us joy without having to work ! That's what is awesome and kinda sucks about it at the same time!

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Jonty Skrufff
May 27, 2011 8:54am

A great article Wyndham, touches on many important issues (loved the Lydon synching point in particular). Must have taken you weeks to write though, was just wondering how much Quietus paid you- i hope a lot!?

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May 27, 2011 11:09am

fantastic article - thank you. maybe im not looking in the right places, but im not hearing enough new music that sounds really vital anymore, sad as that is. it doesnt feel essential anymore. its just *there*. this article seems to explain why.

for anyone interested in more about syncing and the licensing side of things, i found an interview with indie label music supervisors here -

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Toad Fish
May 27, 2011 12:23pm

Just go DIY.

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Jamie Sample
May 27, 2011 12:42pm

there needs to be more founding to Bands from lower back grounds. But by the way the industriy is heading if bands do the hard work get a great fan base and make a comfortable living with touring merch and self releases. Then why do the bands need the big labels anymore, cutting into there profits? the industries greed could be it`s undoing. we`ve seen big names cancel gigs because of no sale from over inflated ticket prices, from places such as live nation. Maybe the Future of the industry is in the hands of bands and maker makers rather than big labels

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May 27, 2011 3:04pm

boo hoo! It would be great to go back to imaginary age when artists were paid well and they liked their employers, but that has never been the case. To say that the big acts art straggling the life out of the good acts who are honest, hardworking, and sad, is not only snobbishly biased toward indi bands, but also nothing new. People have been making the same complaints since the music industry began.

By the way, this article has at least 5 sentence fragments, and the first sentence is a run on. I don't know if music in America is going downhill, but apparently writing is.

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A Clockwork Lozenge
May 27, 2011 3:29pm

In reply to DQ:

"To say that the big acts art straggling the life out of the good acts..."
"...indi bands..."
"I don't know if music in America is going downhill, but apparently writing is."

You probably regret that last criticism now you've displayed your own inability to spell.

And The Quietus is British.

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May 27, 2011 6:25pm

Most of what you write is sense. However, you make a error in your polarisation of 'The Music Industry' vs 'The Fans', as if these are two rival factions, rather than the symbiotic groups they are.

For starters, the industry is made up of fans. The accountants, lawyers, digital marketers, designers, photographers, even the people who work in the warehouse where CDs are put together - these are all members of 'The Industry' but you can bet that the majority got into their jobs so they could be part of putting out great music - even if they don't have the musical talent themselves. But they are often painted as being leeches, who should be cut out by the artist who should take on all their roles as well as making music. In fairness you do highlight this fallacy in the article.

Secondly, both are multi-faceted groups. There are those who lack respect for and undervalue the music and musicians on both sides. For example, labels and publishers who fail to account correctly (accidentally or otherwise) to musicians, and on the other 'side' those people who set up private forums, uploading and downloading literally hundreds of releases each day - consuming more than they can ever listen to more than once in the ceaseless quest for the new. Then there are those people who work damn hard to give great music a platform, and those genuine fans who spend significant proportions of their income on buying music and gig tickets. Then there is everything in between - on both 'sides'.

Your title is what really lets down an otherwise well-considered article. The music industry isn't killing music - get a grip. Some big mistakes have been made which can never be rectified, but the digital world and the new social values it is continuing to create are fast-moving, and some mistakes were inevitable in this unprecedented environment. But hindsight is a wonderful beating-stick. Likewise, the fans aren't to 'blame' - but how many now see music as having no financial value (on a personal level, whereas it's OK for corporations to pay for music so that it can be free to the individual) is an outlook in society that must be changed if music is to regain its innovative and exciting edge.

You came close to touching on this, but offered no solutions, instead choosing to simply paint a gloomy picture of the state of play and reinforcing harmful 'us vs them' stereotypes that in fact exacerbate the situation. What is needed is for both 'sides', and all those who fall in the shades of grey in between, to be show mutual respect and recognition of the value each brings the other.

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phil kelly
May 27, 2011 7:02pm

After spending my entire working career as a composer / arranger / and instrumentalist in many crevasses of the music industry, this is one of the best analyses of what has happened to the business over the past 50 years ( and in all musical genres besides the main one ( pop ) addressed here. ) Good Show!

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May 27, 2011 8:44pm

Look - the music industry was tough when I was first signed to a label in the 1960's. It was extraordinarily competitive and it was hard to get paid. 45 odd years later its even more competitive and still hard to get paid.

The more things change the more they remain the same.

This is not just about technology or greed. Its about markets and demography. The true reality is that we all got a bit smarter and a bit older and there are more boomers than anyone else. The boomers keep the record companies going because they still pay for music - in the form of CD's remarkably! They also have more discretionary income, so they pay for concert tickets at remarkably high prices etc etc.

As a result the dinosaurs of rock are still the giants of the concert halls of the world. The price of sync and the ability to get paid are all about market forces functioning efficiently. What all creative people need to understand is that the effect of the statutory royalty schemes have done over a lengthy period of time is to artificially determine value. This may have been useful at a time when musicians had no negotiating power and record companies, publishers and radio did.

Now what all of the participants in the ecosystem have to understand is that the marginal price point for any commodity - including music - is always going to be close to the minimum price point that people can opt to pay elsewhere. When the alternative is free, then the price point has to be near zero. So time to get over the fact that new artists don't get signed by record companies and that sync for advertising is a race to the bottom and start working with the system that surrounds us...

It is a different world, and it requires a different approach. Facebook and Google are the CBS and EMI of today. They facilitate distribution, and you don't have to sign away your life to them to get access to their distribution capability.

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May 27, 2011 10:54pm

the sad thing that most people dont realize is that the best recordings in history were made by teams of people getting together for months on end in one environment. this took money. hotels, flights, food....someone had to pay for that while the teams of musicians, producers, engineers and writers "lived" in a recording studio until they finished their masterpieces. This wont ever happen again unless recordings find a way to get funded. Even big bands like U2 do not recoup the monies invested in new recordings. How do you expect the up and comers to?

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David Letterman
May 28, 2011 6:05am

The copious amounts of pathetic ignorance within this article and the vast majority of people commenting is repulsive. This would be a moderately hilarious article to find as a back log from 1998 but sadly this is passing for a 'modern representation' of the music business. Times have changed, technology has changed the 'game' that is the business. 1000's of artists have found a niche (Some of them without even touring) to carve out careers and names for themselves all self made. This is the new direction, hop on or fuck off. And this is not talking about the 'lady fucking gagas' (a quite ill deserved remark) These are the home grown acts, the industry is getting tougher-if you cannot make a product that suits the needs of your customers you will fail-THAT. IS. LIFE. You wouldn't pay a bad cook to make you dinner even though "he's really passionate..cares deeply...and didn't get to be on top chef so the mans" If your music isn't going to touch a number of people-don't expect to pay your bills by keeping a small fan base happy. That isnt to say you should give up, The ability to create a well made recording in this modern age is dirt. cheap. find your niche-it may exist, if it doesn't well...too sad...maybe your rendition of black bird really wasn't that good despite what your mother has told you.

And another thing.

"its hard for small acts to get their foot in the door"

are. you. fucking. kidding. me.

Seeing as this article seems to have a hard on for the days of huge bands (60's 70's) how many god damn musicians were there that couldn't grab the attention of the majors. Billions. What did you need to get big? a label. why? they have the resources. Again, Technology has changed, you no longer need them too hook you up with the best photographers, recording studios, designers, album pressers, etc etc. These all exist for cheap online.

This is the future of music.

Bands will be forced to become more creative in marketing themselves to the masses, this is becoming easier and easier which causes an issue-how do you stand out in a sea of people will all of the same resources available?


...musicians *create* right?

get creative fuckers. We'll wind up finding more interesting music this way.

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david letterman
May 28, 2011 6:07am

In reply to bret branon:

you sir, get the tip of my hat.

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Anthony Cox
May 28, 2011 7:05am

I couldn't have said it any better. Unfortunately musicians have been reduced to being a commodity where talent and artistic expression is secondary. I think we will experience in the very near future,interms of the artist,drastic conditions that will force even more performers to consider music as a secondary career or totally give up. It doesn't help that our music education system totally ignores what is happening in the industry, giving students the false hopes of being a "star". Once again, great article!

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May 28, 2011 9:22am

In reply to David Letterman:

dude, you need anger management therapy. it's only free music that's at stake. i think you have bigger expenses to worry about.

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May 28, 2011 2:21pm

In reply to bret branon:

cheers to what bret said. there's a lot wrong in this article. thanks to technology and downloading, it's now much easier for outsider artists to get their work out. no one is beholden to 5 large corporations to get their work out.

if you were in this to sell one song and live off the residuals, you weren't in it for the right reasons and our culture is better off if you choose a career in banking or some other parasitic business instead.

there is music coming out right now that is better or as good as anything before it, and there is a ton of it.

you pretend with the headline as if you are coming from the outside criticizing the music industry, but your ideas and theories are completely mired in their old, insider based philosophies and assumptions.

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John Doran
May 28, 2011 4:34pm

In reply to mike:

Spoken like a true middle class indie wanker. If there's one thing that links Aphex Twin, David Bowie, James Brown, Public Enemy, Kraftwerk, Prince, Slayer, The Fall, Miles Davis, LCD Soundsystem, Wu Tang Clan, The Belleville Three, Arthur Russell, Gil Scott-Heron etc etc etc it's the fact they all wanted to get fucking paid and they wouldn't have been able to develop if they hadn't got paid.

Only an idiot wants a future in which middle class hobbyists with money can make and release music. What a fucking repugnant idea.

If you think I'm wrong name all the artists who recorded purely for free. I'll grant you Moondog but this is going to be one seriously one-sided argument.

Your trouble lies in mistaking art and commerce as binary opposites. Picasso - got paid. Shakespeare - got paid.

Your tedious mate's 'Freak Folk outsider art collective' don't get paid. Why? Because they're shit.

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May 29, 2011 9:31am

When someone like Trent Reznor (nine inch nails) comes along as posts his last three albums on the net for free, you know that the older folks have made thier money. They have more money than they know what to do with and good for him for removing homself from a label and distributing it for free. Also his arena gig tickets, £20-£30, a generally well priced.

I had never though about the 'class' arguement, until Price bought it up. It's very true. Mumford and Marlin, as great as they are, have the financial backing and the business nouce.

It's just greedy. It's not often I go to arenas to see gigs but last year I went to see Kiss. Arena Tickets £30. Great show two hour, lots of pyro. Must be expensive to put on.
The merch stands are over the top, but you only buy if you like.
On their american tour, they gave profits from each show to the US equivalant of Help the Heroes.
Aerosmith on the other hand. Same size venue. Tickets £60 - £130.
No big 'show' to pay for. Just a row of amps and money greed wallets.
And then there's the t-shirt prices. I happily by t-shirts, even cd's for £10 at small gigs, as I know that the bands and friends are manning the stands and getting the cash.
but there is no way on earth, i'm going to be spending £15 - £30 on a t-shirt at a Live Nations/O2/HMV venue or £50 on a hoodie.
Costs of cotton is high and so chance is, suppliers are sourcing on the cheap. The official t-shirts end up being no better in quaility to the knocked off stuff on the pavement outside.

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May 29, 2011 11:45am

It's a joke. As a previously signed musician it always got me how the people working for us on tour earned more than we did. We never got payed for a gig. Doesn't bother me now but surely somethings wrong there.

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May 29, 2011 12:00pm

In a way i think this could be great. The great rain that washes the scum off the street. This should be our DIY moment. Musicians have to accept that unless they are willing to sell their ass/compromise their sound then their not gonna be earning big money.
They must remember that they can now distribute whatever they like for free. All i'm saying is it's a great time to be an artist.

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May 29, 2011 5:23pm

In reply to chris:


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May 29, 2011 7:21pm

This is a really huge topic covering a really complex area. Lots of really good points have been made, but what I really wanted to add is that: People who play music do so because they love music. Some of them get famous, most do not, but they play music because music is part of them and, well, they can't help it. I have known people who drumm better than I do who play as a hobby, and people who don't play very well playing music for a living. There is no guaranteed route into making a living from music and going to university to study Performing arts or whatever, certainly doesn't make anyone a musician. My point is, I guess, that you can't kill music! It is, and it will continue, end of story. Whether the industries built around music continue, change or refuse to change; music is and will continue to exist as long as rhythm, melody and harmony exist - and I can't see them going away any time soon!

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May 30, 2011 7:09am

I for one have never really accepted that you could simply remove an industry's primary source of income and expect to simply regroup and carry on.

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Stefan Herwig
May 30, 2011 3:02pm

I am not quite sure what the article has to do with its headline.
Its record company bashing all over again - but if the author would have really put many of the correct conclusions that he made together properly, then he would have ended up somewhere else than to blame record labels.

It has been done over and over again, but all the alternatives artists were promised, are working even LESS than anyything else.

So, is continuing to bash record companies the right conclusion out of all the intel gained? I dont think so.

Stefan (who struggles to run an indepdnet record company in Germany, and paid his last tour support to a band less than a week ago).

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Miss FD
May 31, 2011 2:39pm

Fantastic article. Thank you for presenting to a wider audience in such clear terms the issues that musicians are currently facing in the background.

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May 31, 2011 9:26pm

My friend and I were discussing this trend when it was rearing it's ugly head back in the early to mid 90's.

The media industry's big wigs are only out for a quick buck and don't really care to devote time, money and artist development to new or underground talents who's music will stand the test of time. That's why we got The Spice Girls, The Pussycat Dolls, Lady Gaga and other trendies who nobody will or care to remember in a couple of years from now.

It's a truly sad situation for little musician with big dreams and big potential, as well as the music industry industry in general. It's about damn time someone said something about this and did it so poignantly and eloquently.

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Jun 1, 2011 7:23am

i like the music very much, it makes my life more beautiful!

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Jun 1, 2011 5:53pm

Just found out from a friend recently that his band doesnt get paid by clubs some instances he must pay to play! The clubs view this as "we are giving you opportunity to be heard and sell your Tshirts and CD's.- Its despicable! The club is making money off the cover charge and the sweat and artistry of the musicians. Its sad ....pure greed....the clubs are rolling in the cover charges, over priced weak rot gut drinks, and overpriced microwaved food.................. So I will continue to play and home.............and record for my own pleasure

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Jeremy Sroka
Jun 1, 2011 6:25pm

Thanks for writing this. It is probably the most well thought out and eloquently written piece on the current state of music that I've come across yet. I think most of the negative comments on here have missed out on the true intent of the article, which was —I think— to show how complex and layered the current music situation is for everyone involved. The internet is littered with too many articles that just skim the surface of what sometimes feels like a bottomless pit. Props to the writer for diving right in.

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Jun 2, 2011 4:45am

In reply to A Clockwork Lozenge:


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Cameron Molloy
Jun 2, 2011 1:21pm

If the art is genuine it will flourish. Art that is new, exciting, honest, well crafted and pure will succeed most of the time. Obviously circumstance will not always have it that way, but i truly believe that most of the time these people, or groups of people will find their success and will find fans that will respect what they have been offered and want to give something back in some shape or form. Whether that shape or form be money, food, a place to stay while on tour, a show or festival.

I know this all may sound very optimistic, but you either have it, or you don't, and if you aren't getting anywhere with what you create, then it has probably been done before. People like hearing things that are new. It is pretty simple.

I think Warp and Anticon are good examples of a perfect balance between business and artist. They are communities that recognise talent and have obviously done something right.

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Cameron Molloy
Jun 2, 2011 1:25pm

It is an exciting time. A lot of shit has happened, but something will work out. Things take time to develop towards a positive outcome, it is far too easy to be negative. We are all aware of the situation which is the first step, so why not do something about it instead of just reminiscing about how it used to be.

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music lover
Jun 5, 2011 6:46pm

Here's what an industry friend had to say when I sent him this article:

I am so tired of these articles.... but you asked for it:

He outlines correctly for the most part the difficult road musicians face today. Especially developing artists.

That he seems to lay the cause of all these problems at the feet of the industry (given the title of the piece) cracks me up.... again.

He, like all these guys, breezes past 'file sharing' and 'digital copying'. He says blaming them is 'short sighted'. I'd say the reverse is true. Not blaming them is short sighted and comes close to mass self deception. People like him always say it was the industry's 'greed', it was the 'bad music', it was the industry mistreating the artist that killed it for the music business and it got what it deserved.

My response to that is this: Those things may have been - may be - true (although I've never agreed with the bad music theory), but (stay with me) They Have Always Been True And It Never Affected The Bottom Line. Not until the technology arrived that allowed anyone to download, copy or share THEIR ENTIRE MUSIC CATALOG WITH SOMEONE ELSE AT THE DROP OF A BUTTON.

Does anyone really believe that in a make believe world where the music industry respected artists, paid them what they deserved, put out appropriately priced product that was all artistically top notch that consumers would not have still availed themselves of free music if the technology existed?!? Of course they would have... And to the same degree...

Asking consumers not to avail themselves of free product is as stupid as expecting big business to act with sensitivity to the artistic community it's selling. You've heard it a million times, but I'll say it again: It's the music BUSINESS. It's the same as any business: It tries to get over, it tries to make a profit, it tries to cut costs, it tries to do more with less, it doesn't care about the product except to the degree that it affects the bottom line, and it certainly doesn't care about the consumer as long as they keep buying. I have always said and still believe that the concept of a 'sell out' is ludicrous. As soon as anyone who considers themselves an artist takes what they do and puts it on the market for purchase they have sold out. There's no degree to selling out in my book. You're either selling your art or you're not. If you are then all bets are off because you've just turned your art and yourself into a commodity. To expect business to respect you for being artistic is a delusion. You have to come into the game prepared so you don't get fucked. Just like ANY FUCKING BUSINESS...

Do you see people 'en mass' refusing to buy Nike, Adidas, Apple Computers, Ralph Lauren, Levi's and just about anything made in China because the evil retail industry is fucking over their workforce with shitty slave-like conditions and third-world wages?? Hell no, they want their fucking kicks!! Do you think that if tomorrow there was a way to get your Nikes and Adidas for free and in the same numbers as your record collection (ie. sharing your whole collection) by pushing a button that people wouldn't do it? Of course they FUCKING WOULD... and the retail industry would dry up and blow away just like the music industry is....

What is ironic to me is just before the shit hit the fan (in the early to mid nineties) the 'product' was becoming smarter about record deals, touring and publishing deals. Because the history of all the shittiness was being revealed. I really believe if the technology had not evolved artists would be doing better under the old system because they would've learned not to allow themselves to be ripped off so badly like others had in the past. At least in the old system given whatever leverage an artist could acquire, EVERYTHING WAS NEGOTIABLE. Try negotiating with file sharing, or digital copying. Ha, Ha. That's funny.

The problems he discusses as if they were some new divine revelation (loss of development budgets, music synchs only going to larger acts, smaller acts - and labels and stores - were going to be the first to go, pretty much the whole article) were all predictable in 1998. I know because I had these discussions with friends who either felt that what little copying or sharing they were doing was harmless (my father was one of these) or that in someway they were giving it good to the evil music empire and they felt great about it. "Throwing The Baby Out With The Bathwater" is a phrase I've used for more then 10 years in my discussion both with musicians and fans. No one wanted to hear it...especially not from me. I was an industry head so obviously I was not to be trusted, I was a liar or a con man or something..

I remember people saying that the internet was gonna level the playing field finally and the little guy could DIY his way to success. But no one ever really could explain how that was gonna happen. And for the most part it's not proven to be true. If you look at online sales they just seem to reflect what the offlines sales used to: Major label acts sell the most.

I'd say given the amount of grand standing, finger pointing, denying, and now given this article (and frankly a million others) 'whining' about this situation, the music business, record industry, etc. are not the only ones getting what they deserve...

...but maybe I'm just bitter because my career evaporated.

Other things (sorry but you got me started):

Another mistake he makes; He incorrectly states that the new advice is for the musician to rely on touring and merchandising. The truth is, and I know because I've been telling musicians this since 1991, that labels have always served as a way for most musicians to survive on the road. Only the most successful of acts made their money through record sales, the rest used what success the labels provided to bring in audiences to their live shows where (once the act found it's audience) labels historically took little if any money and the acts were able to sustain themselves on whatever they could earn. Also, the road served as a way to attract more consumers, and if initially the act didn't sell millions of units perhaps after they toured for a few years the big success might come and then they could really reap the benefits through sales. This was a mantra for me at ASCAP especially in discussions with HipHop artists because they so often thought that a record deal was gonna make em rich. It rarely did... but touring would.

What is new regarding touring and marketing is that now labels with these new "360" deals are taking percentages of these income flows because their own profit margin has flatlined... why? they don't make money because consumers are sharing and copying music.

Publishing was also historically a place where artist/writers (if they were BUSINESS savvy and didn't sign it all away) might earn good money. He says some other things about publishing that show that he is not really as 'inside' as he sounds. ie. The 'stigma' of a successful artist and even developing artists using their music for a movie or commercial died quite a while ago. I think it's a generational thing. Most young bands would love to have their stuff used that way. He's correct when he says now its very hard for an unknown band to be so lucky....

He blames the music industry for going after the consumer by suing them, but he also chastises the industry for 'devaluing' music by encouraging artists to give it away for free. Stupid. Because giving it away for free is exactly what people like him told the industry to do early in the 2000's in order to keep up with the way people were getting music. And the truth is: Artists themselves are the ones who FIRST began releasing free music back in the day in solidarity with the fans against the industry... hello?

His line: 'the businessmen fiddle while musicians are being burnt' is ridiculous and naive. Who's burning the musicians now??

In fact the whole thing is naive. It's just these type of articles: Music Industry - EVIL, Artists/Consumers/Technology - GOOD that create an atmosphere of distrust, and ignore the truth of the problem - like all problems - nothing is that cut and dry.

And his conclusion: " labels no longer know how to earn their money and can't decide how to let them pay for it anyway" sounds like what a frustrated 12 year old might say trying to find some weak excuse for why he ate the cookies that someone else stole from the cookie jar...

But I'm doing what I didn't want to do... This is way too long. And it's depressing me.

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The 50 Something Indie Kid
Jun 5, 2011 8:45pm

There is an awful lot of "willy waving" going on here in both the published piece and some of the responses to it.

The music industry has changed not because it wants to but because it's been forced due to technological innovations that have moved so fast that even the foremost futurologist, Alvin Toffler head is still spinning. The major's late 20th century main revenue stream, the invention of CD's and the cash cow they provided as a disposable income rich generation of music fans "back catalogued" their collections from vinyl to CD had dried up. Whilst those industry business leaders patted themselves on the back for a job well done they took their eye off the ball as the second industrial revolution took over and the technological tsunami that is the internet changed the world as they knew it.

Whilst Labels fought a King Canute style campaign against file sharing, insisting that music content was to be paid for this in fact only inflamed the situation and a lot of young music fans, who do not have the disposable income that their parents have or had took RATG at their word!

postpunkmonk makes the point that today’s young music lover doesn't have to save up their allowance or Saturday job money to buy music, therefore treasure it a bit more. They can get a lot of it for free through P2P or free stuff from their newest favourite band, which they will dispose of next week when their new favourite band appears. Here is were the education battle lines need to be drawn and the new consumers of tomorrow understand that they do need to pay for their consumption of “art” and ensure the makers get paid for their efforts. Or are tomorrow’s working generation going to give their toil to their employers gratis? Didn’t think so.

However, the wider music business has changed as a lot more bands can put out their material with or without the help of the majors or managers. And can even get themselves gigs without agents.

The Independent label sector is thriving under a number of different models where labels such as 1965 Records run by former Rough Trade staffer James Endeacott with back office, P&D and marketing done a major label or Wichita Recordings run by former Creation staffers Dick Green and Mark Bowen with distribution via a major label and the many so called “bedroom labels” such as the Leeds based Dance to The Radio who have brought us some great new bands from their local markets to greater audiences. The are also Artistic-centric investment vehicles such as Power Amp Music, who bank rolled Madness’s recording costs of “The Liberty of Norton Folgate” and have done finance deals with other established artists such as Libertine’s front man Carl Barat and former child singing sensation Charlotte Church for future recording.

These new model labels aren’t stuffed with hundreds of staff who all need paying in large buildings, catering to a host of egotist’s and “willy wavers”, they are run far leaner in staff terms and more flexible to the change in the music business driven by artistes requirements, technological innovations and evolving business models.

The old industry models are changing. Some artists and independent labels see major labels as nothing more than Venture Capitalists and distribution networks for their artists. And some of the more savvy major label executives are now working with these kind of new business models, therefore allowing major labels to reduce their risk, staff levels and overheads. As the old Proverb goes, “Change is the only constant”. And woo betide anyone in any business who forgets that.

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Jun 6, 2011 4:51pm

This IS a very interesting and insightful critique but it fails to recognize that the music industry is a hell of a lot more than just a handful of coke addled executives peddling their absurdly rich, questionably talented artists forgettable ditties. The truth is, that even in their heyday, the Major labels only ever helped a tiny proportion of musicians anyhow. The good news is that the modern music industry is become a giant multi tentacled behemoth encompassing manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, educators, etc in every different kind of genre imaginable, the gross turnover of the total music industry today is higher than ever and employs more people than ever before. Take Fender for example, who would have guessed that a little factory in Fullarton California could become the massive company it is today, or look at the sheer might and international muscle of Yamaha Corp.

Someone said earlier that the music industry is a "trickle down" affair, I don't think that's true. I believe that the true measure of our industry is the level of participation and the support it has at the grass roots, and let me say that today there are so many smoking young players out there ripping it up it's mind boggling. Million of aspiring young bands, every college an orchestra, every team a marching band, every school with vacancies for music tutors.

It's not all gloom and doom, we can fix the shortcomings of our industry; we must go back to our beginnings, get out and see live music, buy discs and merch from the bands themselves, patronize your local venues, get involved, it has never been easier to support quality acts than it is today. We WILL prevail, we have the numbers and we have time on our side, music is not going away anytime soon. The big losers will be the majors who never did much to help anyone but themselves anyhow :)

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Jun 7, 2011 7:50am

In reply to John Doran:

Christ, I know here at pseuds corner Doran's response to anyone not agreeing with the general line is usually to get all angry, shouty, sweary, but you really should trying calming down and paying attention. I don't think Mike or anyone not buying into the henny penny view of future is suggesting that people 'play for free' or that that future is last 30 years status quo slightly tweaked vs middleclass hobbyists.
It's funny that you've managed to chuck in the ultimate British insult 'middleclass', but you might want to reaslise there's a world beyond who don't get a a shit about your dull class obsessions and you're presenting an entire false choice. For starters where the evidence artists with a global following aren't going to get paid? They may well get paid in a different manner, for some it may be tougher but there's still plenty of ways of making money. And for everyone of the artists you mentioned there's 50 who aren't just shite 'freak fokists' and either haven't or very much struggled to make a living directly from music, always have and recent changes haven't made much difference. The idea that there was once some golden age when all people with talent easily made a living just from music is bollocks. Every who's creative but doesn't just makig their living from it are all middle class hobbyists are they? Did John Darnielle fit that description whilst working as a pysch nurse? Does all the members of Lambchop bar Kurt who work in parks, recordshops, floor laying businesses really fit that description? Most published writers have never made a living off simply selling books, they're all 'middleclass hobbyists'. I bet most electronic artists, don't make a living directly from the music they create, DJing maybe, but not their own music. Is Kode9 'fucking repugnant' and less creative for having had a dayjob? Given there's more music being released than ever, and amongst the usual mediocrity just as much brillance, often by people who manage to balance a creative life with the knowledge they'll have to do other things as well to make ends meet sorry for seeing a pretty positive future. You can get angry, shouty and indignant all you like about it, but it's reality and has been for a very long time.

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Jun 7, 2011 8:04am

Oh just thought I'd add 'culture itself is at stake', hahahha.

That's what we love from The Quietus, prententious, self important bollocks.

Oh, and plus what Jez said. There's scores of passionate independently mided people, plenty of immensely talented young people who are their doing it, making music, setting up labels, finding ways to distribute their music around the world. Not sitting around navel gaxing about 'culture itself', they're getting on with, the future lies with them.

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John Doran
Jun 7, 2011 10:44pm

In reply to Andrew:

So you're saying that all the people you mentioned were happy to not get paid for what they did? Bullshit.

Of course we're supporters and fans of independent music. Look at most of the albums we review, most of the gigs we preview, the gigs we put on or promote for like minded souls. It's nearly all completely independent. Look at any of the festival stages we have curated this year - left field and independent, and, in some cases, artists who wouldn't have been able to make it to the UK to play gigs without our help. We're part of 'the culture' whether you like it or not.

I feel that artists should be able to receive a fair wage for what they do - no more, no less. Anyone arguing that music would be better off with all artists having to give their music away for free whether they like it or not is obviously not a gigging band at the stage of looking for a record deal.

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John Doran
Jun 7, 2011 10:48pm

In reply to Andrew:

Of course music culture at many different levels is at stake - you'd have to be a fucking idiot not to see this. Ask anyone who runs an independent music venue, a recording studio, an instrument retail/hire shop, a vinyl cutting plant, a music listings magazine, an independent record shop.

Ask them how they feel about the long term prognosis for the industry in general and then get back to me.

Of course people are still going to keep on making music - no one's saying they're not. This is not what we're talking about.

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Jun 8, 2011 7:19am

While there are a lot of great points in this piece I don't see any way forward by the writer. Maybe I'm missing something. You're saying that illegal downloading is NOT the cause of the industries downfall. Then what is? Corporate greed? Really? You correctly point out the flaws in the theories that pseudo music bloggers present, in that indie musicians need simply tour, sell merch and get their music in commercials. These are all easier said then done as you point out, and most are a source for false hope for many starting out. All the flaws you point out in those 3 approaches can also be traced back to the start of illegal downloading.

Moving on to streaming services like Spotify. That sounds great, but remember, while the consumer gets a great service, the artist is paid considerably less. Artists get 3 cents per stream as opposed to 69 cents per DL on a service like iTunes. This is a rather large elephant in the room that no one wants to address, and it will only become more complicated now that iCloud has been announced by Apple.

I do also take exception with the premise that "everyone" wants music on demand. Many people are still interested in actual music ownership and control over their own files. Many people aren't comfortable being limited by what Spotify or iCloud feeds them. They want their own choices and will seek out indie artists on sites like Bandcamp.

Just as someone in my position has to accept that "The Battle against Illegal Downloading, has been lost". It also has to be accepted that Illegal Downloading has indeed sunk the music industry. And the baby has been thrown out with the bath water. Along with bringing down the corporate titan major labels, many independent lower class working musicians have been forever damaged as well (as is pointed out above).

I would have liked to have seen more about the indie struggle and possible solutions instead of more kicking of "the man" and hope for penny paying streaming services here. But it was a good piece.

I don't want to be that dude, but check out my piece on the issues with "legal streaming" here.

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Jun 8, 2011 7:30am

In reply to music lover:

Everything this guy says is true. Just read this instead of the post. I'm so in line with this comment I even unwittingly used the same exact "Throwing out the Baby With the Bathwater" expression he did in my own comments below.

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Jun 8, 2011 6:29pm

In reply to bret branon:

Exactly! To the word!

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Jun 10, 2011 3:02pm

A very long-winded and outdated statement of the all too obvious on the one hand, and a load of bollocks on the other. While I decry artists losing revenue streams and the traditional music industry's complicity in that reality, the fact remains that if you don't love music enough to work a full-time day job, look after your family and wash the dishes, yet still find the love, time and energy to write, produce, perform and promote it, then you should probably find something else to do. That's what my band started doing ten years ago and we're about to start recording our fourth album. We are certainly not rich, and haven't come close to breaking even on the hard-earned we've invested in it. And that's only the money!  We just have no other choice but to do it and while we'd love to get paid for it, that doesn't mean we expect to. That's not idealistic pap, but the truth of it - if you can't keep making music for no money then stop pretending and most of all, stop complaining. 

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Hilary M Jones
Jun 10, 2011 7:52pm

I enjoyed this intelligent and well-written article up to the point where the writers suggested that the only people who could possibly want or need to stay home with their families are 'mothers'.

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Jun 12, 2011 2:05pm

A generally well written article, with many good points. However your sweeping generalisation of "record labels" tars all of them as big evil corporations run by money grabbing fools.

We all know this is not true and that there are many many small to medium sized labels that battle on, losing money, with little more than the will to propagate new music and the bold ambition of being able to do so whilst making a modest living and not pissing away money.

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Jun 14, 2011 5:58am

This would pass for a thesis.

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Jun 15, 2011 9:28am

That John Doran is a bitter testicle, and about as smart.

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Jun 22, 2011 10:39am

The music industry has always wanted people it can control, and those people are not usually the ones with talent and intelligence or an independent spirit, but those who are too young to understand their situation (eg Justin Beiber) or those who are desperate to be famous and will do anything to achieve that however briefly, or those who are friends or relatives of people already in the business.
The only entry point for anyone who has no money or contacts in the business these days are the Talent shows. Record companies don't go looking for talent to develop, and even actively discourage people from sending them unsolicited recordings. I have heard stories of record executives hearing a now very famous talent show contestant singing in a bar, and deciding that even though they knew he was brilliant singer did not even consider him for a contract because it would be too much trouble to bother with. Leading him to eventually be forced to enter a major talent show in order to get a contract. He said himself in an interview he eventually realised that in order to get signed an artist needs to have built up a substantial fan base to even be considered. KD lang recently said in an interview when asked a question about talent shows that people who are talented will rise to the top anyway even without to shows, but that is not true anymore even if it ever was.
The record companies have always been greedy and have always tried to make as much money as possible from musicians and fans for as little outlay as possible, and radio stations collude with this with very resticted playlists promoting the very commercialised music that the record companies are trying to push on us.
The sad thing is that most people don't even realise it's happening and worse don't care.
DJs and radio stations in fact need to take a large portion of blame for this as they are the main outlet for people to hear new music, and even those who consider themselves 'real' music fans can be so concerned with their 'coolness' factor that they can overlook genuine talent if it doesn't come looking downtrodden and depressing.

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Jul 3, 2011 1:16pm

Music and dance were part of our social fabric, the glue that held our communities together. Many could play, everyone had time, and time had quality. Those who wished to could live from their music.

An investors whisper in the musician's ear and a technogical wall reared between us and our music. Copyright was claimed on every last variation on our rich, ancient and common heritage. Our culture withered to mono, we were herded between steel barriers, patronised by zeppelin-sized egos, and screwed at every turn.

Listen? Pay. Eat? Pay. Drink? Pay. Shit? Pay.

Profit and loss, schall und rauch. A way of life was destroyed, the yearning it created characterised by shallow, catchy tunes known to every last dumb fuck.

And now? Work can no longer be taken for granted. Live, self-made social music and dance is in full revival. We have our local bands, our local heroes, our jazz, our gypsies, irish, balkan, mahala, bluegrass, our rai. The world is our neighbour. We don't bother asking for the name of the tune, we just play.

For what they have done, may the music industry -self-interested, superflous, destructive hypocrits all- rot in hell.

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Jul 11, 2011 7:10pm

In reply to bret branon:

Did you even read the article? Totally missing the point...

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Mulligan B
Jul 12, 2011 8:26pm

In reply to :

These are valid points but really if an artist really loves the art they are producing then they will continue to create whether famous or not. if a person doesn't believe in their art (or anything they are doing for that matter)then they will never go anywhere. Be who you want to be, do what you want to do, no matter what anyone says there is always a way

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Jul 17, 2011 1:33pm

In reply to Mulligan B:

What you say simply isn't true now unfortunately - and that's largely what this article is about. I'm a musician myself, who's been deeply involved in the industry for the last 10 years, as a signed artist to two well known indie labels. I know many musicians who are some of the most passionate and talented people one could meet, but they are simply being ignored. I think the way things are currently, are good for many artists and bands - mainly acts who are already established or ones that are more commercial in their sound. But bands/artists that create more subtle or challenging music are finding it extremely difficult to be heard. Quite often these are musicians who can't or don't want to spend time devising PR campaigns and building online awareness. Also, more challenging or subtle music generally doesn't work as well on social networking sites as it isn't 'instant' and therefore won't grab people immediately. To me this doesn't mean they're not passionate enough and therefore there music shouldn't be heard - it's just that they're a different breed of musician. For example, can you imagine an artist like Nick Drake (if he were born 20 years later of course!), spending hundreds of hours working on PR and business management? I can't, and I think he would've been lost to us...especially as he refused to perform live (one of the ways in which a musician is expected to make their income to live). Admittedly his success was very limited in his lifetime but if he hadn't had the financial backing and business support at the time we probably wouldn't know of him now. It's these kinds of musician's that are without a doubt being lost today, the one's that create lasting, impactful and essential music, and I think this article articulates this very well. There seems to be a lot of negative reaction to the article though, which makes no sense...I don't think Wyndham Wallace is saying everything is lost and the industry has gone down the pan - he's just saying that for all of us as listeners and fans to truly have a chance to hear everything that is out there (not just the current limited spectrum) something more needs to change, and I think this is true. Interesting that most musicians (and real independent labels) react very positively to the article...

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Beg to differ
Jul 17, 2011 3:40pm

Sorry Sally,
Having Bono get a cheque every time I watch a TEDTalk isn't much of a solution in my view. Furthermore, the assumption that someone should be paid by the state to do the activity of their choice, when nobody is willing to pay for the is self serving and reeks of Marxism. Why shouldn't a tax on Visa and MasterCard be used to pay me for my socially valuable contributions that I'd are be doing than my paying job?

It's just possible that if you can't earn a living doing your art, that you should consider another line of work. Thats what those of us with a less developed sense of entitlement do. Or you cold go on welfare...that's what other desperate people with no marketable skills do. There's no reason that society should have special rules to favour musicians over anyone else. grow up.

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Jul 28, 2011 3:34pm

Art and commerce have never been easy bedfellows and never will be. Van gogh sold almost nothing and is the most widely reproduced painter. Musicians in the 30s struggled to eat on their paltry wages even as their recordings sold well as many were just paid a one-off fee. Technology is causing growing pains but also lots more opportunities. Music is indeed like water - hard to suppress and liable to find ways through where least expected. The old system relied on vast sales of boy band rubbish to subsidise more interesting acts. A lot of music was just as throwaway and piles of unsatisfying cds must have told fans of westlife etc that they were wasting their money so it's no surprise mainstream fans won't pay or bother with albums. People who prize new and less mainstream stuff tend to see themselves as proudly countercultural and against paying for anything unless it adds kudos in the way giant record collections and limited editions once did. The chaLlenge now is to make it desirable to pay for and take time with the recordings artists create -that means valuing slow appreciation not just soundbite judgements and actively championing bands and indie labels as a fan rather than feeding the current too-cool for school culture where it's all about free access and mates rates where only the unconnected losers still pay for things...

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Evonity (Ben)
Aug 2, 2011 10:03am

My head says: "I love music, so I have some responsibility for the prosperity of the artists I love". But my heart says: "I just want to enjoy the music, not getting involved in their business matters".

There's more great music freely available to my soul than that I can possibly pay for. The last thing I want is feeling uncomfortable about the amount of money I spend and to who I spend it. An artist's pay check is the concern of the artist and the artist alone. I have a very modest income (which is ok - my life has other great assets that compensate for this) forcing me to think about every Euro I spend. My head says: "You should think of ways to free up more money for music", but my heart says: "It's ok. They're street artists. They play their music anyway." By which I mean to say: "Hey artist: if you're not making the money you need, you still haven't got your business plan right."

One other thing I want to say: Music is (like) a universal language, but does that mean that you need a global audience?

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Danny Groenland
Oct 3, 2011 5:35pm

Great article. That is depressing in the same way the Zeitgeist films are depressing. The message is sad yes, but the fact that someone is writing about it and explaining it is uplifting. For me anyway. What has happened is inevitable in the monetary system. We are at the medieval stage, where artists can only make their art if a patron is supporting them financially. It will probably get much worse, for a generation or two, before there's a backlash.

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Nov 13, 2011 12:59am

In reply to bret branon:

that's obviously a passionate comment, and I'd hate to rain on it, but the more important issues that you mentioned are what a lot of aspiring musicians actually want to sing about, and want to raise awareness about through their music - michael jackson, one of the most famous people who ever lived, used to his fame to sing about racial hate and homeless people in america and abroad, and make a difference. The idea for a lot of people is that one day they can stop the water of others being fatally muddy and diseased, but you can't stop that on a plumbers salary. (you're right though, there's a lot of musicians out there who are crying 'woe is me' because they're not getting fame, and a lot of record companies crying the same thing because they're not making as much money, and pretty much every musician hates labels for this.)

obviously there is a hell of a lot of musicians out there whose primary focus is fame for fame's sake, but there are many out there who want to make a difference. I, for one, would still make music even if nobody knew I made it, even if nobody knew my name, because music is my passion - but what I also want, like most people, is for other people to hear what I have to say, to hear about what I think is important.

I hate to pick bones because I agree with the next statement, but a plumber is not an 'artist,' because art is expression - plumbing is done for a practical reason. but I agree that a musician does not really deserve any more recognition than a plumber, because both may work just as hard.

"That is the fanbase he failed to cultivate which 'forced' him into touring. He could of course have gotten another profession, or made money plying a different Trade, but he Chose to tour." again I agree, but I also think that's like saying that a person who has spent their whole life training to be a teacher, and failed, should just go and work at a supermarket for the rest of their lives instead. I think its kind of unfair to say 'he could have just quit the profession,' because this is a site and article about the music industry in particular, and the idea of someone giving up a job they love and doing something completely different if things don't work out is a pretty bleak philosophy for getting through life. the plumber could have chosen to be a musician if he wanted, and followed fame - he chose not to. pop stars will likely have had jobs that they didn't want to do so they could fund following their dreams.

I also think that the last bit about the library in alexandria is true, but the problem is it operates on the principle that as long as something worse is (theoretically, in that case) happening, nobody is allowed to be upset about another situation. again, this is a site about music and the music industry, so it is irrelevant to bring up a completely unrelated situation in comparison.

the problem is, as the writer explains, that the fans won't hear about music and support the artist if they haven't seen or heard anything from the artist in the first place. the catch-22 is that labels are a platform for art to be heard, but have a different interest than the artist, i.e. money, so the art often gets killed for the sake of profit. I appreciate that there are way more platforms now to go on, but they are ridiculously saturated - all them comments on youtube flagged as spam? under them is thousands and thousands of people saying "I know how annoying this is, but I'm not like the rest, just visit my channel/listen to my cover of this song." Not to get all soppy, but for a musician who actually wants to make a difference in the world through their art, the choice is either to join all the musicians trying to shout over each other about how unique they are on the internet, try and get signed by a label - the large ones of which just want to make money off you, the smaller ones of which won't get you noticed enough to have an impact - or get a 'regular' job that leaves you uninspired. no, it might not be the most horrendous situation in the world, there are people with no home and no food, but there are people who, as hard as it is to believe because of most current 'stars', would like to use their influence to benefit other people.

about some of your last points, most parts of life that make it enjoyable are 'art.' books are art, films are art, fashion is art, tv programmes are art, photography is art, and so on and so forth. you've pretty much said 'screw your art,' but that would imply that the right way to live life in your eyes is to just get any job, make enough money to get through life and then die. I'm not saying you have to agree with the article but I think its a bit presumptuous to come to this article and say "This article and many that read like it, are complete crap" and "Maybe someday their water won't be so muddy and diseased thanks to the computers that allow people to steal your songs, and that allow you to record in your basement, you selfish prick. Why don't you write a song about that? I'd buy that."

some of us do write songs about that. but you haven't bought them, because you haven't heard them, because we're not funded by a label.

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Dec 11, 2011 3:49pm

If there was a HUGE wave of people deciding they didnt like the prices and/or quality of the crap, cheaply processed/produced food in supermarkets and then went home, bought seeds and grew their own or traded for free amongst themselves.. There would be outrage amongst the supermarkets.. "WHAT...??? theyre NOT getting their food from us!?","we can't have that... What about our enormous profits and bonus's? We must work together to stop this!" ... It is no different in the music industry... ALL the big industries are interested in at the end of the day is the £ & $ NOT what people want or what is good for them.. the more crap they can pump out for less then the more they can get back longterm.. if that means turning a tour into a mobile sweatshop then so-be-it.. These companies are run by businessmen and NOT music lovers and they definitely do not prize quality over quantity

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Jan 8, 2012 8:10pm

This is an extensive and high resolution focus on the conditions that exist for Musicians at present time.
It serves to explain in minute detail the ugly world of Label Moguls and the filthy practices we can attribute to the Industry.

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May 11, 2012 9:59pm

In reply to GunsnRoses:

My name is Mario Lynn, I started to DJ when I was 13, but before then I had grown accustomed to hiphop when i was like 5. I been in love with this type of music my whole life. Little did i know i was destined to become an artist. I did not grow up in a broken home, I wasnt affiliated in gangs or got in trouble. I was raised well and I have always been ambitious, wanting to stand out wanting to be great at things. I've many successes and failures in my life. When i got to the age where you start to find yourself and find out why you are here. I found that my reason for being here is to make music, play music, do anything with music for people. Becuz i love it and it makes me happy. The feeling i get from a crowd who is loving the way i play the music gives me the best feeling the in the world. I cant describe it. I've took those passions and discovered a talent i never thought i had. I put together music. I wont say producer because a producer is not someone who just makes music. There is a very broad definition for that. I believe I represent the hiphop culture of its original state. Originality is key for me to buy music. If its original and stands out. I will buy it. I love music, whether it gets old, you never know who's music will end up being an investment. You dont know. Music to me is like playing the stock market. Who knew Whitney Houston would die so early. All of her music was worth millions after she passed. Michael Jackson the same. So you never know who is the next big thing. I say ppl should invest into music. Music is always playing whereever we go. Maybe if artist only put out so many songs and let only so many downloads happen. That will build up people getting to it first. It will feel like competition, because after all, thats all everything is anyway (a competition) I believe it should be that way. People will be more creative and come up with things that will top other things. There's so much you can do with music, its endless. I believe artists should be compensated for their hardwork. It isnt easy to make music. otherwise everyone would be doing it. with that said everyone can do it, but do they do it for the right reasons, is that their true purpose for the earth, did god put them here to make music. I can pretty much tell who cares about what they do and who doesnt. I am a DJ and being that i feel i have alot of say of whats hot and whats not. I have to know whats hott because my crowd trusts me to play whats popping right now or what was hot a few years ago and still likes to be heard. I am 24 building on my music career becuz i love it, i'd do it for free most definitely, but i remember back in my earlier deejay days, when i would buy equipment, records needles and stuff and it was expensive. I would go to deejay a party for 200 hundred dollars really cheap but i was getting experience and my ear was constantly growing better for music and how it should sound and be played. I now make my own music and its great. I've only been making my own music for a year. I've scored a distribution deal and got my first album on Amazon and Itunes and a ton other websites. I dont project to do wonders becuase no one knows who i really am yet and i have just been perfecting my craft. Whether i make money or not this is still me. I'll die being known for what I loved to do. I do it to be remembered like Michael Jackson, Elvis or anyone that is famous for doing something particular. to inspire someone else to follow their dreams and be remembered. To live forever is my goal. If you took the time to read this thanks. And if you like the way I represent Check me out at DOURPRODUCTIONZ.COM My name is MaRRLLY.......

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May 12, 2012 9:58pm

despite your laments, the music fan has greater access to a broader range of music than at any time in history, both live and recorded. Yes, the old model is dead, but that doesn't mean that people aren't willing to pay for music. It means the business model is in transition. Recording and distribution used to require millions of dollars in equipment and a global manufacturing and distribution system. Now all you need is a laptop. I listen to musicians from all over the world. Some will never make a dollar off their efforts. Some may achieve fame and fortune. I am more than willing to support independent artists. I am not willing to support a corrupt industry that has never given musicians a fair shake and that has fought innovation at every level. The record industry is going broke. Count me among those who doesn't give a d%$n

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May 14, 2012 5:48pm

In reply to bret branon:

This response is total crap. Unclear, unhelpful, and seemingly mentally unsound.

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May 18, 2012 3:00am

Wonderful collection of ideas on the industry. Please, though, get an editor. Many of your sentences are unnecessarily difficult to parse: "More worrying too is the manner in which old school values with regards to the licensing of music to advertising have been eroded." Ouch. Don't take offense, the intelligence is all there but let pro writers have a crack at the final product.

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Oct 5, 2012 2:07pm

i like this stufff very much. i wantmore !!!!

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Nov 25, 2012 7:39pm

Oh bloody bullshit.

1. It is possible to track downloads. Whoever says that is impossible isn't keeping up with technologies such as digital fingerprinting and watermarking. It's a Radar Gun and Radar detector curve.

2. Rights that aren't recognized by the customer create criminals. Rights that aren't enforced by government don't exist. If the FBI begins to enforce copyright by the same means it chases child pornographers, the piracy fights will begin to dry up.

3. Illegal downloading is theft. What the IP pirates say about copying digital resources is bullshit. This isn't about Mom's making wedding videos on youtube with an mp3. RIAA Is Us blew their feet off chasing these folks. This is about the Kim Dotcoms, Las Zetas and La Familia shoring up drug profits with copyright thefts by filing false DMCA information while simultaneously reaping ad revenues.

4. This is about Google with opaque algorithms for paying the genuine artist sites while paying millions to the criminal download sites and funding lobbyists to confuse the lawmakers.

Quit bitching whining and accepting the "inevitable". It's technology first, and that can be fixed, and perceptions second and those can be changed.

Get off the floor and fight. Demand transparent accounting, demand standards for digital watermarking and fingerprinting and vote for representatives that promise both to mitigate the fees collected in the small and prosecute the property ripped off in the large up to and including blowing the russian and mexican mob download sites off the internet. It can be done and will be done.

If the ad industry refuses to pay, hit them with the kinds of fines that make stockholders weep. Otherwise, pass legislation that creates user fees for cultural material and figure out a way to pay artists from that. THAT will give you a renaissance in music unlike anything since radios first began to pay performance royalties.

Music has never been an easy job. If you love the culture, quit bitching and pick up a pitchfork and take down the bad guys.

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Jun 24, 2014 5:41pm

It's funny how the execs in the country music industry are kicking the crap out of the rock and pop management teams. Come on guys get with the program. Many artists now how to go indie because of the short shortsightedness of the pop/rock labels and music companies. you deserve to lose money. Start investing, producing and promoting again. Need to take some risks.

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