A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Unsung Heroes

I Guess People In The Recording Business Don’t Like Change

The History channel morphed from running historical documentaries to scripted TV shows and unscripted reality shows. Home Box Office morphed from running licensed movies to creating its own content and renaming itself HBO.

Newspapers ran long form stories that people wanted to read. Then the goal shifted to profit-seeking click bait and we got news tainted by money and political agendas from the owner of the news outlet. In the end, the papers got rich by selling advertisements and re-printing PR stories. And the people stopped buying newspapers and took to the internet for their news. The urban boundaries of the traditional newspaper suddenly couldn’t compete with the worldwide boundaries of the internet.

Change is constant, because we get bored easily. The internet connected billions of people and almost 20 years later we take it for granted, the same way we take electricity for granted. We expect it to work all the time and god forbid if we have downtime.

Great buildings of yesteryear are being torn down as cities constantly reinvent themselves. Hell, my hometown is in the midst of converting from an industrial steel city into an innovation hub. So why should music be chained to the ways of the old.

Steve Albini published his 1993 essay “The Problem with Music”. You can find it at this link.

Here is a brief summary of the figures found in it;

These figures are representative of amounts that appear in record contracts daily. There’s no need to skew the figures to make the scenario look bad, since real-life examples more than abound. Income is underlined, expenses are not.

  • Advance: $250,000
  • Manager’s cut: $37,500
  • Legal fees: $10,000
  • Recording Budget: $150,000
  • Producer’s advance: $50,000
  • Studio fee: $52,500
  • Drum, Amp, Mic and Phase “Doctors”: $3,000
  • Recording tape: $8,000
  • Equipment rental: $5,000
  • Cartage and Transportation: $5,000
  • Lodgings while in studio: $10,000
  • Catering: $3,000
  • Mastering: $10,000
  • Tape copies, reference CD’s, shipping tapes, misc expenses: $2,000
  • Video budget: $30,000
  • Cameras: $8,000
  • Crew: $5,000
  • Processing and transfers: $3,000
  • Offline: $2,000
  • Online editing: $3,000
  • Catering: $1,000
  • Stage and construction: $3,000
  • Copies, couriers, transportation: $2,000
  • Director’s fee: $3,000
  • Album Artwork: $5,000
  • Promotional photo shoot and duplication: $2,000
  • Band fund: $15,000
  • New fancy professional drum kit: $5,000
  • New fancy professional guitars (2): $3,000
  • New fancy professional guitar amp rigs (2): $4,000
  • New fancy potato-shaped bass guitar: $1,000
  • New fancy rack of lights bass amp: $1,000
  • Rehearsal space rental: $500
  • Big blowout party for their friends: $500
  • Tour expense (5 weeks): $50,875
  • Bus: $25,000
  • Crew (3): $7,500
  • Food and per diems: $7,875
  • Fuel: $3,000
  • Consumable supplies: $3,500
  • Wardrobe: $1,000
  • Promotion: $3,000
  • Tour gross income: $50,000
  • Agent’s cut: $7,500
  • Manager’s cut: $7,500
  • Merchandising advance: $20,000
  • Manager’s cut: $3,000
  • Lawyer’s fee: $1,000
  • Publishing advance: $20,000
  • Manager’s cut: $3,000
  • Lawyer’s fee: $1,000
  • Record sales: 250,000 @ $12 = $3,000,000 gross retail revenue Royalty (13% of 90% of retail): $351,000
  • less advance: $250,000
  • Producer’s points: (3% less $50,000 advance) $40,000
  • Promotional budget: $25,000
  • Recoupable buyout from previous label: $50,000
  • Net royalty: (-$14,000)
  • Record company income:
  • Record wholesale price $6,50 x 250,000 = $1,625,000 gross income Artist Royalties: $351,000
  • Deficit from royalties: $14,000
  • Manufacturing, packaging and distribution @ $2.20 per record: $550,000
  • Gross profit: $710,000

 THE BALANCE SHEET

 This is how much each player got paid at the end of the game.

  • Record company: $710,000
  • Producer: $90,000
  • Manager: $51,000
  • Studio: $52,500
  • Previous label: $50,000
  • Agent: $7,500
  • Lawyer: $12,000
  • Band member net income each: $4,031.25

The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.

The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never “recouped,” the band will have no leverage, and will oblige.

The next tour will be about the same, except the merchandising advance will have already been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won’t have earned any royalties from their t-shirts yet. Maybe the t-shirt guys have figured out how to count money like record company guys.

So you wonder why artists are still in debt to their label. Yeah they might have recorded and they might have toured, but they really didn’t make anything. So if you are an artist today, what era would you rather be in.

But Steve Albini didn’t stop there. 21 years later, Albini did a presentation about music at an event. You can read the whole presentation here.

Here is a summary;

I hear from some of my colleagues that these are rough times: that the internet has cut the legs off the music scene and that pretty soon nobody will be making music anymore because there’s no money in it. Virtually every place where music is written about, there is some version of this troubling perspective. People who used to make a nice income from royalties, they’ve seen the royalties dry up. And people who used to make a living selling records are having trouble selling downloads as substitute for records, and they no longer make records.

It’s worthwhile to remember from where we’ve come. From where this bitchiness originates. In the 1970s through the 1990s, the period in which I was most active in bands in the music scene – let’s call this the pre-internet era. The music industry was essentially the record industry, in that records and radio were the venues through which people learned of music and principally experienced it. They were joined by MTV and videos in the 80s and 90s, but the principle relationship people had with music was as sound recordings. There was a booming band scene and all bands aspired to getting recorded, as a mark of legitimacy.

In the 70s and 80s most bands went through their entire lifecycle without so much as a note of their music recorded. But recording was a rare and expensive enterprise, so it wasn’t common. Even your demo tape required considerable investment. So when I started playing in bands in the 70s and 80s most bands went through their entire lifecycle without so much as a note of their music ever being recorded.

The key point here is the artists who played music for their whole lives, wrote songs and never had anything officially recorded. All because the gatekeepers of the day didn’t see them worthy. Today, everyone can record and release their music. If it gets heard, is another story, but you have a chance to record and build a musical legacy.

Radio stations were enormously influential. Radio was the only place to hear music from any people and record companies paid dearly to influence them. Direct payola had been made illegal but this was a trivial workaround. Record pluggers acting as programming consultants were the middlemen. They paid radio stations for access to their programmers and conducted meetings where new records were promoted.

CBS told Journey to change their style and become more radio friendly otherwise they would no deal in place.

The most significant bit of tailoring was an accounting trick called recouping costs. The costs of making a record wasn’t borne by the record label, except initially. Those costs were recouped or taken out of the income the band might otherwise run as royalties. The same was true of all those promo copies, posters, radio pluggers and payola men, producers, publicists, tour support, 8×10 glossies, shipping, freight – basically anything that could be associated with a specific band or record was ultimately paid for by the band, not by the record label.

As the label shifted from vinyl to CD as the dominant format, the labels could easily sell the CD as a convenient, compact, trouble-free way to listen to music. The profit margin exploded and the money got stupid. Retails costs of a CD was half again or double more than an LP but the manufacturing, shipping and storage costs were a tiny fraction. The labels even used vinyl’s legacy as a tool to increase this profit margin by charging bands for unique packaging, despite the fact that CD packaging was designed to be standardised.

21 years later and Albini is still pointing out the record label creative accounting. And these creative accounting practices have been in place since the 1930’s and they are still in place today. The whole world changes, wars happen, we put man on the moon and the recording label contracts having changed a bit.

You may have noticed that in my description of the mass market music scene and the industry as it was pre-internet I made little mention of the audience or the bands. Those two ends of the spectrum were hardly considered by the rest of the business. Fans were expected to listen to the radio and buy records and bands were expected to make records and tour to promote them. And that was about all the thought either were given. But the audience was where all the money came from and the bands were where all the music came from.

So true. The audience/fans are what makes music money but they never had a say or were not even considered in any discussion when it comes to music. And Albini’s comments highlight the viewpoints the record label suits had. Fans were expected to pay. So what a shock they all got when Napster showed them what fans really want. So now we are living in an audience driven distribution system, albeit the record labels are trying very very hard to get it back to a record label driven distribution system.

Fans can find the music they like and develop direct relationships with the bands.

The world and social media allows it to happen. Hell, I don’t even understand why artists would want to do interviews for magazines or websites or radios. With social media, artists can control the narrative themselves. That’s better than a stupid magazine. Artists can tour places they never could have done before.

A couple of years ago my band mounted a tour of eastern Europe. We played all the hot spots: the Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, we made it as far as Istanbul, Turkey. It was a magical experience, playing in front of audiences who were relatively unjaded by the routine of touring bands and we were welcomed like friends. We played to full houses at the same size venues as the rest of Europe. The same sizes as we would play here in Australia. And the audiences seem equivocally familiar with our music. The key difference being that most of the places have literally never sold a single record. Essentially 100% of our exposure had been through informal means over the internet or hand-to-hand.

Iron Maiden toured Central America and places like Costa Rica to sold out audiences and they never sold a recorded album there. Same deal with India and other Asian countries.

There is great public good by letting creative material lapse into the public ownership. The copyright law has been modified so extensively in the past decades that now this essentially never happens, creating absurdities whenever copyright is invoked. There’s a huge body of work that is not legally in the public domain, though its rights holder, authors and creators have died or disappeared as businesses. And this material, from a legal standpoint now removed from our culture – nobody may copy it or re-release it because it’s still subject to copyright.

I guess the problems with music are still there and with the lobby groups preaching stronger copyrights and jail times on par with murder and drug trafficking, it could get worse. Seen the memo on the war against drugs. Enforcement is losing.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity

The Unforgiving Black

You can have riffs in songs that sound similar and the song can still be original. You can also have riffs in songs that sound similar and still have successful careers in music without suing each other into litigation hell.

Case in point; “Woman From Tokyo,” from Deep Purple which curiously has the same riff as Joe Walsh’s “Meadows,” from “The Smoker You Drink…”

Both songs were released the very same year, although there were no plagiarism lawsuits and both artists had/went on to have very successful careers.

So it’s a sad state of affairs when it comes to music and copyright these days. The metal and hard rock community has been sensible about it, but I am pretty sure that if another metal or rock artists broke through to the mainstream, there would be a long list of plagiarism cases filed.

Plagiarism cases have become big business that artists are settling with other artists/songwriters. It’s better to pay them off and give them a credit, than fight it in the courts. But all of these cases and settlements create a dangerous viewpoint. It assumes that the work of the earlier artist is so original and free from influence of the music the songwriter might have listened to.

Hell, if you are a streaming convert, who wrote the songs is not even mentioned. The people who consume music don’t even care who wrote the songs.

Elvis Presley didn’t even write a single song that he performed. Who is more known? His songwriters or Elvis?

The fact that the term “plagiarism” is used in music is pretty sad.

If a person was writing an essay or a non-fiction book, they would list all of the works that influenced their new work via the bibliography. The people who wrote those influential works would not get any extra money or a credit on the front cover for writing the essay/book.

If the person was seen to use words from a writer that he/she didn’t mention or attribute via the bibliography, then that person will be called out for plagiarism. The end result leads to the essay/book being altered to reflect a new addition to the Bibliography.

If you have read “The Talent Code” by Dan Coyle, you will note at the end of his book, he has a pretty extensive list of works he used to create his book. So imagine the front cover of the book if all of the past writers who inspired and formed the ideas in “The Talent Code” got an authorship credit and compensation.

But when it comes to music, money rules, so it’s pretty obvious why a word associated with literature is being distorted and made to fit some warped view in music. But then again, the record labels with the RIAA control the narrative, and they have done a brilliant job selling their propaganda. But know it’s them on the back foot, as lawyers are suing the labels who hold the copyrights.

If people want to use the term plagiarism in music then each song should be set up like a written book and have something like a Bibliography which we can call “Musicography”. Unless this happens, how can they call it plagiarism.

For example, Avenged Sevenfold’s “Shepherd Of Fire” would have the following musicography listing;

  • Mustaine, D and Friedman, M 1997, “Trust”, Cryptic Writings.

Megadeth’s “Hanger 18” would have the following musicography listing;

  • Hetfield J, Mustaine D, Ulrich L and Burton C 1983, “The Call Of Ktulu”, Ride The Lightning

If Coldplay had a musicography listing then Joe Satriani would have been okay with it. Maybe not.

If Led Zeppelin or even The Beatles had a musicography listing then it would all be okay, wouldn’t it. Maybe not, because the laws and rules on the copyright of sheet music, to the copyright on sound recordings, to who holds the copyrights while the creator is alive, to who holds the copyrights when the creator is dead, to mechanical royalties from broadcasts, to streaming rates, to licensing rates and to so many other uses of music are a mess.

Here is a work I created quickly for this post, based on  the lyrics from “The Unforgiving” and “Fade To Black” from Metallica.

Let’s call the song, “The Unforgiving Black”.

Deprived of all our thoughts
We are drifting apart
Emptiness in our hearts
Learning to live to their rules

What is felt and what is known
Only the end can set us free
And we struggle on
Chained to the whipping post

Things not what they used to be
So quickly we are subdued
To the point of agony
Until there’s nothing left
Never had a chance to shine
As the darkness grows
More and more are getting lost within
The unforgiving black

We have served master our whole lives
Trying to please them all
Our dedication became slavery
And bitterness is all we know

We battled constantly
A fight we couldn’t win
Until we no longer cared
And lost the will to live

Yesterday is gone
It’s like it never existed
And we are unable to see
What might have been if we tried
Never had a chance to shine
As the darkness grows
More and more are getting lost within
The unforgiving black

  • Hetfield J, Hammet K, Ulrich L and Burton C 1983, “Fade To Black”, Ride The Lightning
  • Heftield J and Ulrich L, 1991, “The Unforgiven”, Metallica

Is it plagiarism?

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Big Money In Streaming Licensing Deals

Everyone is blaming Spotify for bringing in windowed exclusives. But in reality it’s not their fault.

Spotify is a service, that provides music to users. It was created by techies because the record labels didn’t have the clout to do what was required for their artists and the vast copyrights they hold. But for Spotify to work, it needed access to the vast libraries of copyrights the record labels hold. And this is how Spotify as a service will cease to work unless they move in and start creating their own content and developing their own artists. Like how Netflix has, like how HBO went from licensing movies from the movie studios to creating their own content.

And Spotify now has owners that are interested only in making money. Hell, the record labels even have a stake in Spotify, so Daniel Ek is at the mercy of these owners, who are all waiting for Spotify to go public so they could rake in billions for their millions investments.

But the record labels control the story and Spotify is portrayed as the baddie, while the faceless record labels hide behind the artists who decry Spotify and other streaming services. The record labels have done such a great job with their fake news story about streaming rates killing music, but they forget that the numbers don’t lie. Maybe they can explain why did their revenue go up to double digits and it’s back to those billions of the CD era?

But it’s the record labels who are not paying back to artists and songwriters the cash they are flush with.

For those that don’t know, Spotify and Universal Music Group (UMG) have come up with a new licensing agreement which forced Spotify to restrict new albums from Universal artists to the premium service for a two weeks as a minimum. So what about the artists who withhold their music from streaming services for a month. That could mean a six-week gap for the free tier ad-supported users of Spotify. Take a guess as to what that means. Piracy will be back with a vengeance. But then, the record labels via the RIAA will just scream and lobby hard for laws to change and stricter enforcement to happen. You can do more time in prison for a copyright offence then an actual crime.

Daniel Ek should have told Universal to go and shove it. The only streaming options for Universal would be Tidal, Pandora and Apple Music. Let’s see how far they would have gone with that.

Then Daniel Ek, should have gone after the big artists and made deals with them exclusively, cutting out the record label in the process. Yeah, I know contracts play a part, but the labels are nothing without the ARTISTS. It’s the artists that make the record labels money and not the other way around. And if the artists all challenge the status quo, then different outcomes would happen. But all of these are difficult conversations to be had and no one wants to lose out on any money.

Every artist should be suing their label for negligence and unpaid wages. How can a label not be seen as negligent by restricting access to music?

Research continues to show that people don’t like to be told how to do things. But the labels believe they know what people want.

The labels are delusional if they think the public would just take out a premium streaming offering, because of windowed releases. It will not happen, the same way, analog phones are not going to happen. Once we move on, we move on. There is no going back. Anyone remember MySpace or Yahoo or even Netscape.

There’s no doubt that ad-supported free tier will end. The labels would make sure of that in the next round of licensing deals in a few years time.

But for an artist, fans these days, don’t want to pay high rates for recorded music. They want the history of music for a low price. They would rather pay for the experience of the show. And in all of these boardroom deals between techies and record labels, it’s the artists who don’t control the rights to their music that get burned. And for some reason, Rush’s “The Big Money” comes to mind.

Big money make a million dreams
Big money spin big deals

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Music, My Stories, Stupidity

Invasion Of Our Privacy

Heritage artists are outraged that people have moved to streaming and piracy instead of buying CD’s and vinyl. So they speak up about it and take a stand. But when it comes to their internet privacy being sold to a corporation, there is nothing. Not even a word. Is it perfectly acceptable to them to have their ISP giving up their browser history for profit?

Where is the anger, the protests, the outrage?

People are outraged that a reality TV show actor has become President and all they talk about are his links to Russia. But when it comes to their internet privacy there isn’t a word. Nothing. It must be perfectly acceptable to them to have the Republican’s allow their ISP to sell their browser history.

Where is the anger, the protests, the outrage?

Governments pass laws that discriminate against minorities and people speak up. Bruce Springsteen cancelled a show. So did Pearl Jam. But when governments pass laws abusing our privacy, nothing.

Where are the music heroes now, standing up for the majority of the citizens, instead of the minority?

Governments issue executive orders banning certain races from travelling to their country and there’s an uproar. But when that same government allows their own citizen’s browsers history to be sold for profit, there is nothing heard from the people.

Where is the uproar?

Metal and rock artists rallied to save the staff at Team Rock when they were all made redundant before Christmas 2016. But nothing from no one around internet privacy.

Why is it when it comes to protecting ourselves as individuals, we remain silent.

Governments deny climate change and people scream in protest. Governments take away our privacy and there is silence.

The reason why we have anti-consumer rules in the first place is because of corporation corruption. Verizon (along with other ISP’s around the world) decided it was a good idea to secretly change the wireless packets of its customers, so Verizon could track them on the internet without telling them. Or about how other ISP’s like AT&T and Comcast (along with other ISP’s around the world) who decided it was a good business model to charge their customers a higher premium for privacy. Or how CableONE thought it was a good idea to use the financial data they have on their customers to provide their customer service. If a customer had a good credit rating that meant good customer service and a bad credit customer meant bad customer service.

Geoff Tate/Queensryche nailed it with “Speak”.

The rich control the government, the media the law

Laws are getting written every day to benefit corporations who already have billions. And a little bit more of our privacy disappears more and more each time. And right now, elected officials worldwide are enacting laws that allow corporations to invade our privacy a little bit more, figuring we just didn’t care and are not paying attention.

So what happened to the voices now? The artists who decided to stand up against censorship, but not privacy.

We need more of them to speak up for our rights, like how in 1985, Dee Snider spoke up against censorship while the rest of the metal heads remained silent.

But in the end, the lyrics from Cog’s “Problem, Reaction, Solution” sum it all up.

At the end of the day I know,
That we work all our lives to pay for a cage they own
It ain’t no coincidence that the whole world is caught in an endless debt

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity

Recording Industry Marketed As The Music Industry.. More Recording Industry Fakery…

There is a big difference between the music industry and the recording industry, but the way the record labels and the RIAA tell the story, they are the same. But the truth is; the music industry is very different to the recording industry.

The Music Industry is everything, like recording (vinyl, CD’s and mp3’s fall under this), streaming, licensing, touring, merchandise, publishing, musical instruments (sellers, manufacturers and buyers), music hardware, music software, video production and many more.

People might have come across the RIAA name, a lobby/bribery association whose sole purpose is to fight for the major record labels in Washington. RIAA stands for the Recording Industry Association of America. Notice how there is no music term in their name.

But the RIAA have a lot of creative writers who write fake news. Like these headlines;

It’s important to note a few important things here;

  • The Recording Industry is a section of the “music industry.”
  • The Recording Industry is in the business of making money from music recordings.
  • The Recording Industry is not the Music Industry.
  • The Recording Industry likes to sell and market itself as the Music Industry.

So next time you read a story about the music industry, make sure it’s not a piece of fakery about the recording business.

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