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Businesses Music The Almighty Buck Entertainment

An Artist's View of the Modern Music Biz 210

Posted by kdawson
from the viral-no-more dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A member of the band OK Go wrote an interesting open letter giving an artist's perspective on the current state of the music business and how labels finance producing, distributing, and marketing music and music videos. A very insightful perspective of 'both sides': the argument that music and music videos are meant to be heard and, in the case of the latter, seen by a wide audience; and the argument that the money needs to come from somewhere. Unfortunately, the letter doesn't address the perspective outsiders have of outlandish salaries in the music labels, but it is interesting nonetheless." Their new video is not bad either.
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An Artist's View of the Modern Music Biz

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:29AM (#30830922) Journal

    So what’s there to do? On the macro level, well, who the hell knows? There are a lot of interesting ideas out there, but this is not the place to get into them.

    So where is the place to get into that sort of brainstorming?

    ... the smug assholes who ran labels, who’d want a system where a handful of corporate overlords shove crap down our throats?

    Ah, that's where it will be decided. I have low expectations for what comes out of that.

    I also don't understand why he thinks that artists 'need' record labels. What they 'need' is to grow organically to the point of extreme popularity and along the way you are the one deciding the terms of contracts and you are 'the boss' whose accountant and manager work for you and pay everyone up the chain. If you need an advance, you go to a real bank and get an advancement. I personally think that Ok Go are talented enough to sit down in a barn somewhere with basic recording equipment and I'd buy it. Their music video with them on treadmills fly them to success, not EMI. The obvious answer is that's a harder route for the big acts. It takes more work, like you actually have a job forty hours a week. And the attitude toward that option is:

    We're a rock band, and it’s a great gig. Not just because we get to snort drugs off the Queen of England (we do), but because the only thing we are expected to do is make cool stuff.

    But in the end we all suffer from bands 'selling out' to labels. I personally think no one suffers more than the bands. Some fans can comply with the ridiculous terms but you lose a lot. I would point to this small milestone in Ok Go's career as something of note to new musicians. If you believe in yourself, don't rely on a label to grow. If it doesn't work at least you weren't artificially installed singing someone else's music putting together an executive's vision.

    If only Ok Go could decide that their new video is embeddable, most would have watched it on Slashdot right now instead of the 1/2 of us that clicked on the link. Unfortunately they already sold their soul to the devil so it doesn't matter what they think is good for them now. The funny thing about this is that I'm vacationing in Grand Cayman right now and while I own every single album and EP and even vinyl records from Ok Go, I can't see this video on account of what they wrote in their post:

    This video contains content from EMI. It is no longer available in your country.

    Good luck guys. I think you traded early growth that would have came naturally for some control over what you love. It's sad but it's the way it is now.

    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:35AM (#30830968)

      What they 'need' is to grow organically to the point of extreme popularity

      And it's Just. That. Simple!!

      • by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:17AM (#30831382)

        What can labels & conglomerates provide that can't be provided by other already-existing companies or persons?

        Studio time isn't necessarily done by the labels; there's tons of independent and in-home studios out there. Ditto on mixing.

        Marketing? There's tons of marketing agencies.

        Advertising? See above.

        Pressing CDs? Although the technology will likely be obsolete in the next 20 years, all the labels do is make the order and pay for it. I don't doubt an artist with sufficient money could make the order themselves.

        Music videos? Look at the work, say, Monty Oum does by himself on his free time. Imagine what a single man employed in that field (or a small company) could do.

        In short, there's nothing labels do that artist couldn't contract out themselves. Labels will collapse under their own weight soon enough, I'm sure.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:27AM (#30831512)
          I think what you left out is exposure on radio (whether it be classic FM style radio or internet radio such as Pandora, etc.). I think the labels pretty much control what music can be played on mainstream stations don't they? I agree that stations managed by a high school or college can play independent stuff - but they generally have low power and fewer listeners.

          The other thing you cover - but sort of miss on - is the money. Marketing? Yes - tons of agencies. Just give them a check that won't bounce. CD's - sure, again that check that won't bounce. These things would be very expensive for me to attempt. I don't know about others. I guess you can incorporate and take out a small business loan? Maybe? Anyway, if you just want to be a band that has day jobs and puts some free stuff on the internet - sure - cheap. No problem. But "it takes money to make money" and the labels give them a way to do that (hate them or not, that's what they do).
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by icebraining (1313345)

            I think what you left out is exposure on radio (whether it be classic FM style radio or internet radio such as Pandora, etc.). I think the labels pretty much control what music can be played on mainstream stations don't they? I agree that stations managed by a high school or college can play independent stuff - but they generally have low power and fewer listeners.

            That's the thing: Youtube and other social networks are now _way_ more important now for promotion than classic radio, especially for a band that

        • by rhsanborn (773855) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:28AM (#30831538)
          Labels write checks. That's what no one else does. They are very much like loan sharks, the interest rate on the checks they write are terrifying, but if you are a small band, or a young band, many times you can afford tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to do all those things you mentioned above.

          As someone mentioned above, the alternative is to "grow organically" which really means grow very very slowly. In many cases, these bands have grown slowly. They have had regular jobs to pay for their equipment. They play tiny gigs at small bars in their home town, and they've probably worked really hard doing, essentially, two jobs, for a long time to get to the point of being recognized by a label. They have barely enough money to buy guitars and a car to get to the next gig, much less move their recording and promotion to the level that a label can offer.
          • CAN'T afford tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars...
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by HeckRuler (1369601)
            Uh, the price to produce a decent music CD is approaching zero, especially if you already have the instruments and a PC.

            Buy a mike, some foam, learn to be an sound engineer or get one to join the band, pay someone for hosting your website or pull out a 486 and learn how to host it yourself. Sell yourself to everyone you know, and give your music away for free.

            OR, promise 90% of all revenue you ever generate, give up ownership of your works, sell out to a label so they can deal with all that business
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            Labels write checks. That's what no one else does. They are very much like loan sharks, the interest rate on the checks they write are terrifying, but if you are a small band, or a young band, many times you can afford tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to do all those things you mentioned above.

            There's one other difference. They forgive the loans if the band can't pay them back. This may seem like very thin gruel if you're working on what seems like indentured servitude for years to make your act

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        In a way it is.

        If people have X disposable income that they're willing to spend on music then you'll likely not see much of a decrease in terms of the industry as a whole. But that money will be far more spread around, and more of it will be going directly to the artists.

        The problem with his thinking is that the money doesn't "come from" anywhere. It's a person's, potentially a fan's, money, and as long as you don't try to sell them more music than they can reasonably listen to they will pay for it.
      • That's the great thing about free market capitalism: if the better way is really just that simple, then someone will do it.

        Of course, the contrapositive of this statement is that if someone hasn't done it already, then it's really not just that simple (but some people find this view a little challenging).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MRe_nl (306212)

      One of the replies to the article sounds like a record company person, and i think part of it sums it up quit succinctly;
      "Need" is obviously contingent on your band wanting to achieve certain things, none of which are *necessary*. To achieve those things, you needed some money you didn't have, and decided to sacrifice some freedom with your music, in exchange for the advance money.

    • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@@@devinmoore...com> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:38AM (#30831004) Homepage Journal

      Ironically, as a musician or band, you won't get a major label offer until you are successful enough to attract the attention of a label. That means you're making enough money that they could make money off of you. So at that point, why sign? If you're not that successful yet, no one will offer you a deal anyhow, so it's not even a problem for you.
      Your choices in summary:
      1. sign and get slightly better promotion for a huge reduction in your personal profit
      2. don't sign, get the promotion your music warrants on its own and keep all your own profits

      If you're all that good, you're gonna make way more money at #2. If you're terrible and somehow you get a big advance because of #1, believe me, the label will find a way to claw that money back from you.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by slim (1652)

        When my beloved Decemberists moved from Kill Rock Stars to Capitol Records, I wondered what the reason was.

        Whatever their reasons, the result was hugely more ambitious records - in terms of production values and sheer number of instruments - and more ambitious live shows. I suspect that with all the extra gear, these were expensive shows to put on. Kill Rock Stars probably couldn't have handled that much cashflow.

        But, they left it late. Colin Meloy of the band said:

        We felt that in some ways, if we continued putting out records on [Kill Rock Stars], we'd totally be fine. But we also felt like we needed to kind of up the ante a little bit. One should only move to a major label when one can pretty much call the shots.

        It seems as if being handled by a major be

      • by javilon (99157)

        Ironically, as a musician or band, you won't get a major label offer until you are successful enough to attract the attention of a label. That means you're making enough money that they could make money off of you. So at that point, why sign?

        Well, now there is no reason any more. The reason used to be that labels owned the distribution channels, so you couldn't sound on radio or TV without them, even if you were a huge gig. Without them, you would not sound on TV or radio.

        Now things are different, but labels still pretend to own the media and some bands fall for it, like OK go did.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        1. sign and get slightly better promotion for a huge reduction in your personal profit

        More importantly, personal CONTROL. Reel Big Fish made some kick-ass CDs before they signed. The one with the clown on the cover sucked. It was their first major lable CD. An artist who has someone telling him how to make his art is like a scientist with a guy with an MBA telling him how to do science. The good, effective ones aren't led by the nose by someone whose only goal is to make money.

      • by tthomas48 (180798) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:05AM (#30832032) Homepage

        I highly recommend the movie Anvil before you make these kind of ridiculous claims again. The problem with these claims is they assume that bands have the time and skills to be marketeers, travel and booking agents, and accountants. Oddly enough it's possible the musicians might NOT be good at one or more of these thing.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dr. Evil (3501)

          When the music pays for 100% of your time to work on the music... what are you signing up with a label for?

          I know at least one band who does everything on their own. They're happy doing what they're doing, and as long as they're happy together, make enough money to pay for their touring, their rent and their groceries, they consider themselves to have "made it".

          If the "product" doesn't have that kind of demand, the only thing a record label could do would be to change your image, change your sound and

      • by grumpyman (849537)
        All sounds logical, though if #2 really works out the way it is, all big/medium/small bands should have all flocked to option #2 asap. I don't see it happening currently - why?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Croakus (663556)

        For the same reason a politician aligns himself with a major political party. Would Obama be president right now without the backing of the Democratic party? I assure you, he would not. Likewise, no artist could possibly reach the levels of worldwide fame that people like Beyonce and Taylor Swift enjoy without the backing of a major label.

        As to your argument about a "huge reduction in your personal profit," that simply isn't true. While the percentage is certainly lower, 40% of a million dollars is far

    • by slim (1652) <john@nOspam.hartnup.net> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:48AM (#30831060) Homepage

      I also don't understand why he thinks that artists 'need' record labels. What they 'need' is to grow organically to the point of extreme popularity and along the way you are the one deciding the terms of contracts and you are 'the boss' whose accountant and manager work for you and pay everyone up the chain. If you need an advance, you go to a real bank and get an advancement.

      Meanwhile, the band across the road gets a record deal, grows faster than organically, and is playing stadiums while you're still growing a fanbase into your 30s.

      The difference between a bank loan and a record company advance is that the record label is taking some of the risk. They can do it because they aggregate it across many acts, most of whom will fail, a few of whom will succeed well enough to fund the rest. Unfortunately we see that bands typically build up a debt to their record company, and that's a shame.

      I personally think that Ok Go are talented enough to sit down in a barn somewhere with basic recording equipment and I'd buy it. Their music video with them on treadmills fly them to success, not EMI.

      But without EMI, would you even have been exposed to that video? There's hundreds of thousands of bands out there that are good enough for you buy their output. It's record companies' promotional efforts that typically make some of them more commercially successful than others.

      I guess there are some organic successes out there (Jonathan Coulter?) - but they'll remain the exception rather than the rule.

    • by alen (225700)

      if it's that easy why haven't banks pushed into lending to musicians before and instead poured money into RE? reason is that most music acts lose money and banks like stability with a lower interest rate than lending to 10 acts and losing money on 9 of them. banks also want something called collateral in a lot of cases. a lot of rich people like Annie Lebowitz who borrowed a lot of live in luxury put up a lot of their works and property as collateral. same with Michael Jackson. He signed over a lot of prope

    • by dangitman (862676)

      I personally think that Ok Go are talented enough to sit down in a barn somewhere with basic recording equipment and I'd buy it.

      You say that, but you probably would never have heard of them if it weren't for marketing from a record label.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I also don't understand why he thinks that artists 'need' record labels. What they 'need' is to grow organically to the point of extreme popularity and along the way you are the one deciding the terms of contracts and you are 'the boss' whose accountant and manager work for you and pay everyone up the chain.

      There's an assumption implicit here that is all too common: That music needs to be a business, or even that record sales, radio play, the stuff record companies are seen to be good for, are a viable source of income for a large portion of musicians these days. Most of the bands and projects I listen to are far too obscure to make any significant cash on sales of recordings. They don't get any radio play worth mentioning. They know selling music is not, and never will be, something they can rely on as a sign

    • I also don't understand why he thinks that artists 'need' record labels.

      You need a label to get phonorecords* of your work into stores because the labels have relationships with the stores' buyers, especially if your genre is more popular among people with no PC, people with a PC and no Internet, or people with PC and dial-up. (Country music and pop standards come to mind.) You need a label because the recognized experts in record marketing work for labels. In certain genres, you need a label to help clear the samples you may have used. You may even need a label to help make s

    • I have never understood why bands spend months recording 30 minutes of music when they perform the same music live ALL THE FREAKING TIME. I myself would rather hear live music than stale perfection. How many takes do you have to splice to make one single recording -- how can you even call it your music any more when it is the recording editor who does all the hard work of listening for pointless variations in takes to make a recording which is going to be heard thru earbuds anyway?

      I know why. It's becaus

    • I also don't understand why he thinks that artists 'need' record labels. What they 'need' is to grow organically...

      Well I'm sure that at least part of the problem is that you "need" the labels because the labels exist. Ok, that's a weird way of putting it, but here's the thing: to some extent, industries also need to grow organically. They need to develop business models and trade organizations and conventional ways of doing things and bla bla bla. Right now, record labels are filling that void, and we won't develop real alternatives until there's nothing filling that void.

      Imagine your a musician. You're not a busi

  • by sean_nestor (781844) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:30AM (#30830928) Homepage

    David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) did a fantastic article for Wired [wired.com] a few years ago about this. He discusses (with details!) how the music industry works, some of the "models" of releasing music, and the economics/incentives to each one. Great read.

    On a semi-related note, it's also worth looking at Steve Albini's now classic essay "The Problem With Music [mercenary.com]", which showcases how horrible the modern music industry is to musicians. It was written before the whole "digital revolution", but it helps remind me why I don't feel sympathy for suits in the music business.

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:35AM (#30830966) Journal
      There's another old article going as far back as 2000 from Courtney Love [salon.com]. Although I find her and her music distasteful she sure does open up a lot of numbers that -- although larger -- probably work the same way today. If that isn't condemnation of the music executives milking artists like animals and then dumping them, I don't know what is.
      • by alen (225700)

        if Courtney Love doesn't like it she can record in her garage like David Grohl and just release to iTunes with no promotion and hope someone finds her music. then she can save up to pay the upfront costs of the tour and risk her own money and property.

        cry babies have people giving them millions of dollars up front with a lot of risk of the loss of investment and they think they deserve more but they don't want to risk their own money for their ventures.

        • by tepples (727027)

          if Courtney Love doesn't like it she can record in her garage like David Grohl and just release to iTunes with no promotion and hope someone finds her music.

          Unless that "someone" happens to be an incumbent music publisher, accusing you of copying a tune written by one of the songwriters managed by the publisher.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darth_brooks (180756)

        Considering that Love has spent most of the last decade in legal wrangling over the very copyrights she seems to decry (copyrights she's now apparently the sole holder of thanks to a heavy dose of herion, a shotgun, and entertainment lawyers that sided with her over the guys that were you know, actually in Nirvana, not thanks to her own work), then leveraged those evil nasty copyrights into a cushy 30 million dollar deal that lets us all enjoy Kurt Cobain as part of Madden...er...guitar hero 17 while she ca

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rschwa (89030)

      I found this [toomuchjoy.com] an interesting look at how labels treat their bands, and it kind of straddles the 'digital revolution'. It's a blog entry about an unrecouped band trying to get digital sales credited on their statement, to hilarious effect.

  • never had a Zune, but liked the Zune Pass idea. too much music out there to buy all the CD's i'd want to listen to. at some point it's wasted money having hundreds of CD's sitting around being listened to once a year or less often. I'd rather just pay $15 a month to rent the music. I wouldn't trust Real with it. Zune was just a crappy device compared to the iphone/touch. too much wasted potential of it being just a music player. Apple I would trust to pay for this service. Google is spyware.

    • Apple I would trust to pay for this service. Google is spyware.

      What? Seriously?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I get all the free music I need from the radio. Now excuse me while I go buy some bottled water...

  • Promotion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by whencanistop (1224156) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:34AM (#30830954) Homepage Journal
    It sounds to me a bit like the music video was always meant to be a product that Musicians could use as a method of promoting themselves so they could make money on the things that actually made money.

    This used to be selling CDs. Seeing as nobody buys CDs any more, this should be music downloads or live tours/merchandise. (I'm sure someone with a bit more time on their hands can dig out a link to that graph showing which people are making money out of music now).

    If your record label is spending a fortune on making your video and then not allowing certain countries to see it, then you're not going to be making money from those countries (or not as much as you could). It's not like there is an incremental cost involved in allowing it to go on other blogs/other country's youtube. It's just that the record label is being greedy because they think they can get some money out of them, at the cost of the band's image.
  • This article barely tells anything. You want a real close up perspective? read this : http://www.negativland.com/albini.html [negativland.com]
    It's a tell all by Steve Albini, producer of Nirvanas last album and member of Big Black and Rapeman .
    When you read this , you will see why I hate the industry soooooo much and am dedicated to its death.
    So read this and get out your p2p and help kill the industry to make the world safe for music and musicians.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:48AM (#30831056) Homepage Journal

    The notion that if you give data away you can't make money on it is a fallacy that has been disproven time and again. Libraries have been around for centuries; you can walk in, check out an armful of books for free, and read them, and go back for more. Even a small city's library has more books than one could read, and they're constantly updated with more.

    The music industry was sure that radio would kill record sales. Instead, it sold more records. The movie industry was sure that TV would kill the movie industry, but instead it got more people interested in movies. They thought tthe VCR would kill the industry, look what happened. The music industry thought cassettes would kill it, but like the VCR and movies it sold more product.

    The established industry is going about digital data backwards. They should use MP3s like thay use radio -- a free lure to get people to shell out cash for physical items.

    If giving it away meant that you couldn't sell it, Cory Doctorow would not have been on the New York Times best seller list. Besides libraries, you can get digital copies of his books for free on his website. The forward to Little Brother explains this far better than this slashdot comment; I urge everyone to read that book, or at least the forward.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jank1887 (815982)

      just a minor point: public libraries aren't free. they're a shared cost institution, getting their funding from numerous taxpayer sources.

      http://nces.ed.gov/FastFacts/display.asp?id=42 [ed.gov]

      Question:
      From what sources are state libraries funded?

      Response:

      Revenue

      Sources of state library agency revenue are the federal government, state governments, and other sources, such as local, regional, or multi-jurisdictional sources. State library agencies may also receive income from private sources, such as foundations, corp

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        just a minor point: public libraries aren't free. they're a shared cost institution, getting their funding from numerous taxpayer sources.

        True, but beside the point. You're paying taxes whether or not you use the library, and checking out a book costs you nothing.

        • by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:45AM (#30832584) Journal

          You're paying taxes whether or not you use the library, and checking out a book costs you nothing.

          If I give my local corner shop a thousand pounds a month, and they agree to let me help myself to sweets whenever I feel like it, I don't think those sweets are costing me nothing just because I don't have to pay him cash each with each transaction...

          • Your example is obviously flawed - libraries do not cost each person $1000 a month in taxes, besides the fact that it would be pretty difficult to eat $1000 worth of sweets in a month (by yourself), meaning the value proposition is so low that no one would take up that offer.

            It's not really necessary and I doubt anyone will even read my post, but I've always wanted to do a slashdot style back-of-the-envelope calculation... so here goes.

            Let's assume the previous post was correct, and libraries cost $1.1 billion a year. To keep it simple I'll use state taxes only, which is listed as $895 million. Wikipedia says total state tax revenue (in 2007) was $749,785,186,000 ($750 billion). So, 0.001% of state tax revenue was spent on libraries. Very likely there are local/city taxes that could be significant, but the previous poster showed that states provide the largest source of library funding.

            In 2005, at $38,206 per capita the average state tax rate was 9.8% (source [taxfoundation.org]). So, about $3,750 in taxes was paid per person, on average, to the state(s) where they did business (these numbers include taxes from states besides those the person resides in, such as sales tax on out-of-state purchases, but doesn't include federal taxes). 0.001% of that is 4 cents, and that's for the whole year... 0.3 cents/month.

            Let's assume my math and the figures I used are bad, and it's actually significantly higher. Say, one hundred times higher... $4 a year is still a heck of a good deal for everything that libraries provide to those who use them, and if you never ever use the library, you can write off the expense (pun intended), considering how small it is, as part of "buying civilization" as the well-known slashdot sig goes, just like you probably don't directly use a lot of the other things state, local, and federal taxes pay for (and you don't get to pick and choose what your money goes toward).

            Your sweets example is obviously different, because sweets can't be almost endlessly re-used like books and DVDs from the library can (I suppose you could try with sweets, but...) That's why, of course, such a pre-payment scheme as you suggest wouldn't work for food (although all-you-can-eat buffets are an interesting thing to consider), but why the original point stands... you are pre-paying for the library, but it's a minuscule amount that more or less equals nothing, especially when compared to the value it potentially provides to you.

    • by acoustix (123925) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:11AM (#30831302) Homepage

      I don't think you understand how a library operates. The books don't just appear out of thin air and Librarians don't volunteer their time. It all costs money. In this case, taxpayer money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dangitman (862676)

      The established industry is going about digital data backwards. They should use MP3s like thay use radio -- a free lure to get people to shell out cash for physical items.

      In an increasingly virtual world, what physical items are you going to be selling? Food and shelter?

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        In an increasingly virtual world, what physical items are you going to be selling?

        You could check books out from the library, why would anybody buy a copy? Because people like to OWN things. I hold no value in my digital music collection, which is far larger than my CD, record, and tape collection, but I value the physical copies. They're MINE. My digital collection is not.

        Having only digital copies does make sense if you live in a dorm. Otherwise, the valuable ones are the physical. Non-physicality is wort

        • by dangitman (862676)

          Because people like to OWN things.

          Yeah, people like to own things. Like a house, or a computer.

          Having only digital copies does make sense if you live in a dorm. Otherwise, the valuable ones are the physical. Non-physicality is worthless.

          Why? The song sounds the same whether it is being played from a physical CD or a rip stored on your hard drive. Nobody really cares that you own the CD case with its cheap artwork.

          Your money would be much better put toward things that people actually care about.

          • by 16384 (21672)

            Nobody really cares that you own the CD case with its cheap artwork.

            Why don't they sell CDs with proper artwork, booklets, etc. then?

            • by dangitman (862676)

              Why don't they sell CDs with proper artwork, booklets, etc. then?

              Why would they? Nobody wants it.

          • by slim (1652)

            Why? The song sounds the same whether it is being played from a physical CD or a rip stored on your hard drive. Nobody really cares that you own the CD case with its cheap artwork.

            I think this is a generational thing. People who grew up with vinyl, where some releases would come in very ornate packaging - gatefolds, embossing, inserts, tracing paper layers, etc. miss all that. Those artefacts were a complete package -- you'd listen to the music, and spend a lot of time looking at and experiencing the packaging.

            Think of those fetishistic Apple unboxing videos.

            Even when we were giving mixtapes to our friends, we'd make box art, to turn them into artefacts.

            With CDs, some of that continu

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by i_ate_god (899684)

      The notion that if you give data away you can't make money on it is a fallacy that has been disproven time and again. Libraries have been around for centuries; you can walk in, check out an armful of books for free, and read them, and go back for more. Even a small city's library has more books than one could read, and they're constantly updated with more.

      The music industry was sure that radio would kill record sales. Instead, it sold more records. The movie industry was sure that TV would kill the movie industry, but instead it got more people interested in movies. They thought tthe VCR would kill the industry, look what happened. The music industry thought cassettes would kill it, but like the VCR and movies it sold more product.

      The established industry is going about digital data backwards. They should use MP3s like thay use radio -- a free lure to get people to shell out cash for physical items.

      If giving it away meant that you couldn't sell it, Cory Doctorow would not have been on the New York Times best seller list. Besides libraries, you can get digital copies of his books for free on his website. The forward to Little Brother explains this far better than this slashdot comment; I urge everyone to read that book, or at least the forward.

      So, what you're saying is that you support DRM? Because that's what a library is. It's a place to temporarily get your hands on content, consume it, and then give it back. You have no rights to copy/distribute the work you BORROWED. That is what a DRM'ed DVD or MP3 is. You borrow that content. People really need to stop using libraries as some sort of "proof" that free access to content does not deprive money from the creator of the content.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        That is what a DRM'ed DVD or MP3 is. You borrow that content.

        I own the physical copy of the DVD. I can resell it, loan it out, set it on fire if I want. The idea of DRM is irrelevant to the subject. DRM or no, you don't own digital data.

        Even if you buy a book, you don't own the novel, you own the book. The only restrictions borrowed books have over bought books is you have to give them back.

        In the essay I pointed to, Doctorow mentions that nobody ever went broke from piracy, but many artists have gone hung

    • by alen (225700)

      in a library you have to wait for a new book or the one you want. i want to borrow some CD's but they are in a branch that's an hour away and i don't want to spend the time going there. all the kids want what they want NOW

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      The notion that if you give data away you can't make money on it is a fallacy that has been disproven time and again. Libraries have been around for centuries; you can walk in, check out an armful of books for free, and read them, and go back for more. Even a small city's library has more books than one could read, and they're constantly updated with more.

      That is a bizarre example to give.
      At least here in the UK, libraries are funded out of taxes, they don't make a profit; and yes, you have "free" acce

  • Sure, what the hell (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:54AM (#30831128) Homepage

    In the spirit of making it without a major label and needing a little exposure for my own work, here are four free tracks off the ambient album I'm working on: http://www.livingwithanerd.com/music [livingwithanerd.com]. These are 100% DRM and cost free. Enjoy!

    • by Myopic (18616)

      Awesome, good for you.

      If you make similar posts on other websites, I offer the advice that you hyphenate your last sentence: "These are 100% DRM- and cost-free." Otherwise the sentence has nearly the opposite meaning.

      Great luck!

  • After having watched the video linked to from OP, I have to ask: why did that video take a music label to finance it, film it, produce it, distribute it?

    It was a frigging marching band, for Grid's sake! They could have gone to a sizable local high school, recruited the cooperation of the band director, and done this entirely by themselves -- including distributing it on YouTube -- for only a few bucks. And they wouldn't have to worry about distribution restrictions, because they wouldn't be owned by a la
    • by i_ate_god (899684) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:28AM (#30831526) Homepage

      After having watched the video linked to from OP, I have to ask: why did that video take a music label to finance it, film it, produce it, distribute it?

      It was a frigging marching band, for Grid's sake! They could have gone to a sizable local high school, recruited the cooperation of the band director, and done this entirely by themselves -- including distributing it on YouTube -- for only a few bucks. And they wouldn't have to worry about distribution restrictions, because they wouldn't be owned by a label! And the band would be happy to cooperate if given credit, because they would be famous, if only for a little while.

      The video is decent, but there is nothing there that requires any fancy label support or financing. I have seen more impressive shows by high school bands, and I mean that quite literally and sincerely.

      Sorry, but the actual product does not back their arguments. I call bullshit.

      Others are doing it successfully. If OK Go can't... well... I won't lose sleep over it.

      1) Cameras, 2) Camera crews, 3) studio engineers, 4) distribution of video, 5) promotion and marketing and licensing of the video (which involves slashdot's favorite group of people: lawyers), 6) production of the song, 6a) studio engineers, 6b) hired musicians to complement some tracks, 6c) cd/vinyl pressings, 6d) distribution of album.

      Do you actually need a label to do all this? No, of course not. But you need money. You need capital to invest. Where will you get it? previous comments have pointed out that banks aren't going to loan musicians money to make an album, but labels will.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        1) Cameras, 2) Camera crews, 3) studio engineers, 4) distribution of video, 5) promotion and marketing and licensing of the video (which involves slashdot's favorite group of people: lawyers), 6) production of the song, 6a) studio engineers, 6b) hired musicians to complement some tracks, 6c) cd/vinyl pressings, 6d) distribution of album.

        Isn't the point though that if all you end up with is a mediocre YouTube video, then a huge chunk of the cost of that video was a waste of money, and you might as well hav

    • by argent (18001)

      Did you actually read the article? It was the six months producing the album that the track behind the video was taken from that cost all the money.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mbone (558574)

        It was the six months producing the album that the track behind the video was taken from that cost all the money.

        Basically all that money went to the label and their minions, it just had to be loaned to the band first to leave them in debt to the label. Steve Albini explained this process much better than I ever could [negativland.com].

      • by slim (1652)

        Cue lots of people claiming you could get the same standard of recording/production/mastering in a bedroom studio for $1000.

        Let's pre-empt them. If the band thought they could do it that cheaply, they'd do it. They don't think they can.

    • Especially if you are going to post critically about something, it will help you if you read the article first. It specifically mentions that they do their own videos so as to keep the costs down.

  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@ ... Dl.com minus bsd> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:59AM (#30831184) Homepage Journal

    If the music industry had people who could write like that speaking for them, they would be a lot better off. I mean, the whole thing with the music business isn't even the idea of copyrighted content. It's that, they are such jerks. How well you interact with the plug is indescribably valuable in an age where everyone can know how you really act. If they were making the soft sell, if they were leading out with "we gave Madonna millions of dollars and she's been a total bust since she got old", rather that suing college kids or octomoms, then, people would be more receptive to their arguments. I mean, Google's "Don't be evil", is nice and all, but for a lot of businesses, its really, "don't be such a dick".

  • Can't find server. wtf?

  • Music should be free (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rmorph (692035) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:32AM (#30831598)
    Speaking as an amateur musician who hosts his own music for free on the internet.

    If music is "good" (opinions will vary according to taste) people will listen to it repeatedly, word will spread, and people will become fans of the creators of that music - wanting to own something to demonstrate their fandom: A CD, an MP3, a t-shirt, a ticket to the next gig etc... This is what makes getting fans more important than "selling cds" to most artists. Fans are LOVE followed by INCOME (You're not going to stop a year old girl from buying the next Hanna Montana, for example).

    Distributors (most labels), on the other hand, are only interested in those revenue streams they can tie up for shortterm income - which creates one-hit-wonders, mediocre boybands, and starves out 99% of musicians - as well as actually alienating real fans and bands - driving a wedge between them. (for example: many record companies hold the rights to most full times bands music - and can override a bands decision on how they want to get their material out to fans, as exemplified in the article above).

    Now: If it's not "good" music to begin with -. people won't listen to it -despite whether it is freely available or not. People *might* check it out out of curiosity - but won't return, and certainly won't put money into it if the y have a choice. If they did already they will feel burned.

    Professional distributors promote very much according to a "pay-to-try policy: they limit access to the extra songs on albums, demand roylaties from indy web radio stations..control the airwaves and promote airplay for only the (most commercial track) single across any medium (radio, itunes etc) that will take it. This is why so much "Bad music" gets aired - in case you wonder why the charts are filled with shite (But you already knew that cos its a conspiracy theory and this is Slashdot).

    Anyway: The income generated from "good music" by fans is largely independent of this supersale effort by the labels.... so arguably the best model for these bands, as exemplified by bands like Radiohead and 9-inch... is to actually give the shit away for free: They can recoup the "first sale" profit by attracting more fans. Ironically most musicians have dreamed of "The record deal" since they were 5 years old... so usually they are actually the most reluctant to risk this sales model - preferring the safety of servitude to a label over the risk of pushing "valueless music" (if its free it aint worth much, right?).



    Also: as this model starts to become more popular.. a lot of smaller bands will get lost in the noise. Maybe less millionaires will get made, but in the long run this is a much better world to play music in. I like it anyway.. but then I found a day job.

    Shameless plug: My music (with money goes mouth) is available at Stabbing Pixies [stabbingpixies.com]/ it will never hit the Billboards .. but I'm happy to make music I like - which you are free to listen to and not have to like or pay for.
  • by Myopic (18616) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:35AM (#30831624)

    I completely agree that having a major record-label contract is the one and only way for a musician to achieve the highest levels of success. To that end, can anybody remind me of who the labels were for Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven? The thing is, those great musicians had it so much easier than musicians today. Back then it was just so much easier to get your music out to a wide audience. Today, that's nearly impossible.

    • by the Dragonweaver (460267) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:44AM (#30832554) Homepage

      Back in the day, musicians often had patrons. Bach, for example, was subsidized by his church, and Mozart got paid by various high muckety-mucks to writes pieces for them.

      These days, very few people have the funds to exclusively subsidize a musician or artist. But we can all subsidize artists a little bit by purchasing their CDs— a little more if we purchase them directly. For example, we buy CDs directly from Devin Townsend, from Canada, thanks to the magic of the Internet. I don't know if he makes a complete living from his music sales but he does well enough to make it more than a hobby. (He's also decently well-known from his label days, on his own and as a member of other bands.)

      Personally, I think individual sites or clearinghouse sites are the answer that will eventually come out on top, but I hope a little bit of the subsidizing sticks around.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      To that end, can anybody remind me of who the labels were for Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven?

      Didn't they have patrons instead?

  • by argent (18001) <peter@slasCOUGAR ... ga.com minus cat> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:42AM (#30831720) Homepage Journal

    In fact if I see an embedded video, I will frequently go through the gyrations to extract the link and watch it in a separate window in YouTube.

    Why?

    1. I get to see comments and related videos directly.
    2. If I want to share the video, I have to extract the link anyway.

    Don't do <embed>, do <a target=_blank ...>.

  • by mbone (558574) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:02AM (#30831986)

    I concluded 7 years ago that there was really no hope for the current music industry, and that the only rational thing to do was to wait for it to crater. Nothing has changed, except the smell of desperation is ever more palpable. Yesterday, I heard Steve Marks of RIAA talked about their graduated response [arstechnica.com] plan. He denied it was a "3 strikes plan," which of course means that it is. It is no more likely to work than any of their previous plans.

    Someone asked me afterwards why the industry continues to be so disastrously stupid. All I could come up with is that the people executing the stupidity are getting paid, and paid well, for continuing to hold out hope to the old men running the business that things can get put back the way that they were. As long as the people in charge have such delusions, and as long as they still have something to be in charge of, nothing will change,

    Of course, bands like OK Go are basically serfs in this process. As they admit, they have no actual power whatsoever, and are just along for the ride.

  • "We're only in it for the money."
  • No Paid Downloads? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SpaceToast (974230)

    The article bemoans the death of CD sales, and makes some decent points, but it's got a weird blind spot around paid digital downloads. Isn't iTunes the largest music retailer in the US now? Am I the last person who's happy to pay for music in a format, and with a level of convenience, that I like? I haven't bought a new CD in years, but between iTunes and Amazon MP3, I've got vastly more at my fingertips than any CD store ever sold.

    Lets check some Created On dates, and see what I've spent money on in the p

  • Jonathan Byrd... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Misch (158807) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:00PM (#30832850) Homepage

    Independent singer/songwriter Jonathan Byrd [jonathanbyrd.com] released his own financial statement for 2008 [jonathanbyrd.com]. (You'll have to scroll down to his 3/28/2009 update for it).

    I was amused by his summary:

    So, that leaves me about $9000 to spend on frivolities, such as my mortgage, pants, and lettuce.

    So, the next person who complains to me about CDs costing $20 is going to get strapped to a fire ant hill and tasered in the nuts. Can we all take a vote? All in favor, signify by saying "aye." All opposed?

    Very well, then. It's unanimous.

  • Bigger problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gurps_npc (621217) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:02PM (#30832872) Homepage
    There are three factors here.

    1. The music industry has become a leach. They started out as doing three things - producing, marketing and distributing. Distributing was the hard work and where the customers were willing to pay big money for (transporting delicate wax tubes was very dificult, vinyl was slightly better but breakage was still a big problem. Tapes and CDs were lighter and sturdier, but still heavy.) But a better producer and marketer made more money, so they THOUGHT they were being paid for producing and marketing. No. They were being paid for distributing, and that market has vanished the way the buggy whip and the horse drawn carriage market has. They still try to charge as if they are distributing, but they are not.

    2. Musicians still need Producing and Marketing, but those are worth only about 20% or MAYBE 30% of sales, not 80% that the big labels have. But the existing monoplies (that grew up charging 80% for distribution) make it hard to break in to the Producing + Marketing (no distribution). This problem will eventually go away, but it will take time.

    3. The old distrubution system was so big and powerfull that it evolved into THE methods of transferring money to the musicians as well as the way to transfer music out. The ease of distrubtion has created a ton of tiny producers and removed the old 'gateways' that funnelled money and goods to the succesfull ones. We need a new SYSTEM, not of distrubtion, but of funneling money.

    What we need is a breakthrough in marketing. Something that lets low level musicians earn a living wage, and gradually increases as they gain more fans. Note there may never be a band as big as the Beatles or Elvis or M. Jackson, ever again because of the greater range of music that should be available without the gateways. Also, musicians will likely never again be able to make money without performing live. People will always pay more to see live music than they will for a recording because honestly, recordings are commodities.

    Perhaps music clubs could form in large cities where people pay a set fee, similar to a gym membership. Each night the club offers live music performed. Membership lets you in for free AND lets you download the music for free whenever you want from any oif the club's bands.

    Or maybe somethign far better than what I can think of.

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