Friday, December 13, 2019

Music Is Free For Everyone...Except The Musicians!!


When I worked in music retail, I saw a guy attempt to shoplift a Ministry cassette. I was just about to nab the dude when he saw me and took off running out of the store and into the mall concourse. Adrenaline kicked in and, rather than haul-ass after him, I took what was already in my hand and chucked it at him.

That pricing gun flew hard, fast and true like one of Thor's hammers and...POW!

The minute I let go of it, I knew it was a perfect strike. From that moment, it was like watching a super slo-mo replay of a Nolan Ryan fastball beaning a batter except, in this case. the baseball was a pricing gun that stunned a shoplifter from twenty feet away.

I immediately wished all the coaches that had told me I wasn't good enough to pitch in Little League could have seen me then because suddenly my ability to hit batters, even those who were running, was coming in quite handy.

My perfect strike to the back of this shoplifters head sent the designer White Sox cap flying to the ground, where I immediately picked it up.

As he held the Ministry tape in his hand, I now held his beloved ball cap in my hands.

The long and tense stand-off that I had momentarily envisioned completely evaporated when I noticed that he'd scribbled his name and phone number on the inside of the ball cap.

Game over.

Fast forward to the year 2019 and we now live in a society where artists now PAY for the privilege of giving their music away for free under the guise of "exposure" that rarely, if ever, comes from the streaming of their art.

Apparently, after you've spent countless thousands of dollars on equipment, countless hours honing your craft, and countless sleepless nights recording your masterpiece, the only thing left to do is then pay DistroKid $20 a year to upload it all to the streaming services.

All for the honor of giving your art away for free.

I say "free" only because the current royalty rate per stream is less than a penny, which, where I come from, is nothing. I mean, if you offered to pay someone less than a penny for their music, they'd have every right to slug you, as far as I'm concerned, but in today's musical landscape, "FREE" is the new "$9.99".

That's the price at which I, and countless other indie artists, used to sell thousands of CD's until the top tier of the music industry decided that all music - even that music which they do not own - was free.

At that exact moment, they also decided tat your music would be used to sell ad space and that this would be the way that your music would be monetized for the industry's gain.

It's funny...for those of us who would have given our left nut for a big time record deal, quite frankly, the fact that the same major labels that shun us like toxic waste also want to profit from our music while giving us nothing in return is a complete travesty.

Does it not seem just a wee bit wrong to be able to stream an entire album that cost millions of dollars to record and master and press and distribute and still rest comfortably at night knowing that the artist received "less than a penny" in return?

Those of you arguing that artists should be happy with the fraction of a penny that they receive for doing nothing, did it ever occur to you that music, much like the movies that you still PAY to watch, does not make itself?

The rationale for music being free, of course, is that we artists will simply make it up on the back end, which is now touring. That's right, the major label system that used to rely upon touring to promote the sale of music is now saying "We're just here to sell more concert tickets."

Need I remind you that it was never the job of Epic Records or any other label to sell concert tickets?

Funny thing is, with less money coming in from music sales, more and more labels are signing artists to 360 deals, wherein the label does, in fact, receive a cut of the band's live money.

Can you believe that shit?

Labels went to the artist ad basically said "Since we suck at actually selling music, in exchange for access for our antiquated way of doing business, we're gonna need a cut of the money you make from live shows and merch.

That's brazen.

So brazen, in fact, that a mobbed-up music exec like Morris Levy didn't think of it first.

That should tell you something when even the mob refuses to go there, but, unlike the label execs of today, Levy was actually good at selling records.

Like the labels of today, however, he sucked when it came to paying his artists.

Why is that, I wonder?

If the industry had only been able to scale back its boundless greed, driven in part by increasing pressure from shareholders, it is easy to see how this whole mess could have been avoided.

Instead, when the S.S. Major Label Titanic hit the Napster iceberg, not only was everyone on the ship (a.k.a.. artists signed to major labels) left in a state of flux, every single artist on the whole fucking planet suddenly had an entire storage unit full of product they could never hope to sell in a million years.

It would be one thing if this had been dictated by market circumstances, but, in fact, music sales were in a state of growth at the time that Napster came along.

Even though the industry had killed off the single (thanks to Tower Records) and refused to budge on that insipid $19.95 list price for new CD's, we consumers were still willing to pony up the dough in higher and higher numbers.

Meanwhile, those of us that the major labels wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole catered to our audience by charging half that and moving twice as much. They didn't mess with us, we didn't mess with them.

Major labels sure as hell wouldn't have put up with us dictating the way that they do business, that's for sure, yet, when they shat the bed for their artists, they shat the bloody futon for us all.

In the meantime, the price of music gear remains the same. I am still not able to walk into a Guitar Center and walk out with a Les Paul for free. Even plug-ins still cost money. How the fuck does that work?

Some nerdy little programmer gets paid high five figures to churn out code at Spotify, but the bass player gets NOTHING?

Where is the Netflix for music?

I ask only because every week, I hear about some comedian I've never heard of signing a lucrative Netflix deal wherein they get paid for their art and then we as monthly subscribers get to feel like we stole it because we didn't actually pay to watch their completely forgettable comedy special.

I am suddenly reminded of the brief yet remarkable existence of MP3.com, a website that was a pioneer in music streaming and downloads, as well as the sale of on-demand physical CD's.

Unlike the streaming model of today, the artists actually got paid quite well. Granted, there was always some lounge pianist from Vegas topping the airplay charts month after month, but if yours truly could pull down four grand every other month, to each their own.

Despite a massively successful IPO, as with all good things (for the artist, that is), MP3.com got greedy and was eventually sued out-of-business by the music industry organization NARAS after introducing the "mymp3.com" service, wherein a consumer could pay for the privilege of uploading and have access to their own physical music collection online in digital format.

It's been downhill for songwriters and musicians ever since.

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