Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Don't Draw Conclusions About A Person Simply From Reading A New York Times Article About Them. Read Something They Wrote Themselves.

This was an interesting article, shared without comment by a musician friend.

Now I am a songwriter and musician (please imagine Star Jones parody voice), but oddly enough my main initial reaction to David Lowery, the protagonist of this article, went something like this: Boo-freaking-hoo.

In 2012 he only made $440 in songwriter royalties from his 1985 debut album while back in 2002 he had made $1,147. To suggest that, thus, the system is broken, struck me as ridiculous. I was all set to blog about how writing a song has zero inherent monetary value. It's the promoters - the people who mesmerize journalists and other strangers into believing your song has value - who really earn the money. You made deals with multi-national corporations to record, release, and promote your music to the point where it gets a million plays on Pandora and now those corporations aren't giving you enough money? Again I thought, boo-freaking-hoo. You're actually impossibly lucky to have gotten as far as you have. Get some perspective. Get a real job.

The music business is the system by which the vast number of people who would not inherently care about music (hereafter referred to as Z for Zombies) are all but forced to care about music by people who forcefully shove that music down their throats (hereafter referred to as F for Feeders). The F can not create the product and thus require people who care deeply about music and create it themselves (hereafter referred to as B for Brains). Sometimes a young, naive, excited B, full of love for their craft (think 1962 Bob Dylan), makes a deal with a hardworking, highly skilled F (think Albert Grossman), to get their music to Z. Later B is sad to learn that F expected to receive money for getting B the attention of Z. "It's all because of my genius that Z loves me!" thinks B, deluded. B sues F, etc.


Then I read David Lowery's original blog post and most of the indignant wind went out of my sails like Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Now I get it. Songwriters can't negotiate a rate with Pandora. The government sets that rate. That is unfair. Agreed. Nevermind.

Am I even going to post this? What would be the point? I guess the point would be don't draw conclusions about a person simply from reading a New York Times article about them. Read something they wrote themselves.

Which I knew already, having been myself the subject of 3 (three!) newspaper articles, all mildly or wildly inaccurate, over my twenty-four years in (actually mostly out) of the music business. Anyway, I woke up an hour early today with no hope of going back to sleep, thus blog post. Enjoy. Could have written a song, I guess, but what would be the point? I don't have an F and wish to avoid the attentions of Z.


  1. Sorry to repeat what I responded in another venue, but...
    I think you and I are in the same boat in that I'm simply giddy that anyone anywhere can actually play my song on Spotify, and while I'm a little miffed that each such play only nets me somewhere between $0.001-$0.01, I've long since given up the idea that my music will ever support me. And with my own best interests in mind, I too, can't fully align myself with the agenda of the displaced 90's rock star who wants a return to the tighter market of that bygone era --nothing has benefited me more than the eradication of the labelcentric distribution threshold. That said, I do think that services like Spotify, Rhapsody, et al. are somewhat exploitative of artists on a moral level, reflecting a similarly apathetic cultural shift towards prolific free music as the norm. Is one tenth of a cent per play a fair share of the profits to go towards the originator of the product?

  2. "Fair" is unfortunately whatever the market will allow. Also unfortunately, the market is controlled by giants. Not just Pandoras, but ASCAP and BMI, all set up (understandably) to perpetuate the system which has allowed them to become bloated take-my-ball-and-go-home bureaucratic awfulness.

    Whatever "benefits" we small-time players reap (I feel your spotify glee, Cody), the cost is severely limited opportunity to perform and benefit from the the music that we love. If you can't fit a huge audience in your venue, it's hard to justify ASCAP fees. And if you don't bring in Zs, you don't get huge audiences.

    Wal-Mart doesn't have to stock specialty items because they don't care if 2%, or maybe even 20% of people want something. There's enough Zs going in for diapers and cheap shoes (The Eagles and Nicki Minaj) that Sam Walton's progeny will do just fine.

    Big players don't want competition so they legislate protections. I can think of examples in music, brewing, education, agriculture, timber... I imagine 18th century Colonial Tea Merchants felt something similar.

    More and more I despair of fixing this within the system. The system itself is co-opted and broken. When 'globalization' fails through plague, famine and extreme solor radiation, all markets will be local, and once again we can play for enthusiastic local audiences, because there'll be no one else. Except for actual Zombies.

    Maybe I'm just co-opted and broken. I should be working on a song for Christmas, but I think I'll go home and grill some burgers. Such is the life of a would-be revolutionary.

    1. A market in flux is a moving target. And what's more, its direction can be influenced. I don't think it's futile to debate fairness because I believe those reimbursement rates can change and should change, and I respectfully don't agree that they're wholly market-driven. Specifically, I don't believe we've reached the limit of what the advertising market will bear or what the listening public will endure re: advertising on Spotify.

  3. Yeah, I think you're both right. I agree with Karl's general hopelessness for the big picture broken business. It is the water that "Z" fish swim in that they don't even feel because they've never known air. "Air" in this case being the glorious awareness and appreciation of the music of Great Uncle Helmer, Flip Nasty, et al. Ha ha ha!

    In this specific instance, the gubmint is interfering with the free market by setting rates without allowing artists to opt out. Cody is right when he says we haven't "reached the limit of what the advertising market will bear or what the listening public will endure re: advertising on Spotify."