A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Power Of The Record Labels

It’s 1992.

Hard rock bands are becoming too generic and soulless, especially the newer breed from 1989 and onwards. The fans are looking for something new, but they still have their taste buds all over the hard rock/metal distorted cream.

Meanwhile, the labels are signing Seattle bands, left, right and centre, while they start dropping hard rock bands left, right and centre. Not only could the labels make an artist famous, they could also make an artist destitute. And back then, without the money and power of the label behind an artist, an artist would go unnoticed.

The power the record labels had to kill careers or to destroy styles of music.

So the artist would sign a deal and get a small royalty payment from the label. Today the artists would still sign a deal because they see the label as their ticket to riches, but instead the artists are now complaining of the low royalty payment of streaming services, but it is still the label keeping the lion share.

In other words, you give to get.

You give your rights to the label in order to get a chance at fame and riches. And there’s no use yelling at streaming services. They are not record labels, they are technology companies, using music to influence culture and grow their brand. Once their brand is big enough, they will do away with music.

Because seriously, which company wants to pay billions in licensing and be constantly in the courts?  

HBO paid billions in licensing, until it got to a stage where it was unfeasible and they had to start creating their own content. Netflix at first had only licensed content. And like HBO they saw that it was unfeasible, so they started investing in creating their own, and slowly doing away with the licensing.

Now, more than any time in modern recording history, an artist can do it themselves. They can record cheaply, distribute and get paid. So artists should build their own leverage and then they can decide what is next.

But we have lived in a world where the labels have controlled the narrative for way too long and MTV made everyone think that if they learnt how to play an instrument they will be rich and famous. The majority still hold this view and the minority that don’t, are the ones making it.

People talk up Record Day sales like they matter, when only the label is winning, while digital distribution can offer an artist new audiences in places where brick-and-mortar stores would be impossible or unsustainable, like foreign countries or rural areas. The end result is growth across the board. Nowadays it’s about reaching as many people as possible and eventually the money will flow in if you do it right. That should have been the role of the labels but instead it’s up to the techies.

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

The More Things Stay The Same

Back in 1999, the record labels argued that they lost billions of dollars due to file sharing via Napster. They came up with this figure by saying that one file shared is the same as one lost sale. 20 years later, they are still exaggerating the same BS. And politicians get lobbied hard and suddenly there is legislation to support the record labels business models.

As internet speeds got faster, file sharing then started on movies and TV shows. Suddenly, politicians had even more money thrown at them to pass legislation from the movie studios. In democratic lands, ISP’s are forced to censor the internet, courtesy of the movie studios and music labels, which is no different to what dictatorship governments carry out on a daily basis. And when ISP’s don’t censor the internet, the movie studios and music labels take them to court for facilitating piracy. And while this is happening at the hands of the entertainment industry, the government themselves are stifling free speech by raiding the homes of reporters or by keeping eyes on the public through surveillance. ISP’s are also meant to store text messages, phone calls, web searches and tower pings on its customers.

So much for trusting the good guys.

Meanwhile, the music labels today are raking in billions courtesy of streaming (which started off as a legal alternative to peer to peer file sharing, which brought in $0). This shows, that if people are offered a legal alternative at a price which is right, they will take the legal option.

And those streaming billions were not there in the past. It took a tech company to create this revenue stream, while the record labels (the ones who should have been doing this) decided that the only way they could make money again is to get laws passed to protect old business sales model instead of innovating.

And an artist wants to have a label deal.

Why?

The labels don’t care about you and all they want is to lock up your copyright forever, because without the rights of songs, the labels have no power and if they have no power they cannot negotiate these huge licensing deals with streaming platforms.

Even the movie studios like Disney lobbied hard for laws to get passed to protect their old business models. Then Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Amazon came out with streaming services and brought in billions of dollars that were not there before. And now Disney is entering the streaming market. Enforcement doesn’t work but better legal alternatives do.

And the record labels still complain at the price of streaming. They reckon Spotify should charge more and also do away with the free tier, but are too gutless to bring out their own streaming platform and charge the money that they believe customers should pay. So they bash on Spotify or YouTube or Pandora.

And when politicians leave office, they get a nice cushy job for the very firms that lobbied them hard to introduce legislation in their favour. And this happens in democracy, which brings to mind the “One” video clip from Metallica and the scenes from the movie, “Johnny Got His Gun”.

Little Kid – When it comes my turn, will you want me to go?

Father – For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son.

We might want to re-think what the hell we are fighting for.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Piracy

Stranger Things And Netflix

I’m late in watching S3. But once I started I couldn’t turn it off until I finished it. Like a good LP from back in the day.

The Duffer Brothers are like rock stars. Three albums (seasons) in and people are still tuning in.

And their label, Netflix, refused to play the same old “ad-supported, release in dribs and drabs game”, so they created a new game that looked a lot like the recorded long players game from the music business.

Release everything on one day like an LP and see what sticks and for how long. People hate waiting and TV guide viewing is finished. For those who lived through the 80s, the TV guide was the most popular magazine going around.

If it’s good, people will still be tuning in months later. If it’s not good, don’t worry, Netflix will have another different show out in a week.

And isn’t it funny how the recorded music business has become a hits business, with artists expected to release a track each week like the old traditional TV show game, while the TV shows on streaming services are getting released like an album, all at once.

And that was Napster’s magic. Get the tracks we want without paying for the overpriced CD we didn’t want.

And I don’t want the days of the video shop to return. They didn’t always have what I wanted because someone else rented it and if I did get it a few days or weeks later, the tape had been chewed. And if I didn’t return the movie in time, well there was this thing called late fees. So as soon as people got the option to buy the product at a reasonable price, the video rental store became challenged. Then came peer to peer downloads and suddenly the video rental store is really challenged.

Don’t believe those stories that piracy hurts creators?

It’s the best time to be a creator right now as streaming services, cable channels and traditional TV outlets are all throwing money to get content. Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Disney and Apple are all vying for people’s subscriptions.

And it happened because of peer to peer downloading. It made people realize it’s time to change the way they do things.

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

Gaming The System

If there is demand for an artists music then why aren’t the artists servicing the demand.

Because there are people putting up bootleg and demo recordings of popular artists on digital services and making money from it in the process. In some cases they even uploading fake recordings which somehow manage to get onto the artists homepage.

Actually that homepage part crap needs to be sorted by Apple and Spotify quickly because how the fuck can you fuck that up. Too much reliance on algorithms and not enough human eyes and ears.

I got a song in my Spotify Release Radar from Tommy Lee and instead of seeing the aged, white tattooed T-Bone, I see a young black rapper. Same deal with names like Dio, Ratt, Rush, Badlands, UFO, Keel, Vandenberg, Cinderella, Icon, KISS and Journey.

The process to game the system is simply.

You just set up an account with a digital distribution company and start releasing music.

Now these distribution companies are set up for independent artists to release music. But we have bullshit artists using it to game the system and fuck it up for legitimate independent artists.

And the digital distribution companies do have fraud prevention methods but people who are gaming the system are just getting smarter than the algorithms coded by people who are not as smart as the con artists.

One fraudulent leaker earned $60K in royalties by putting unreleased tracks from a popular artist on their Spotify and Apple Music accounts.

What the fuck were the artists record labels reps doing?

Didn’t they see these unreleased songs go up.

I guess not because, they were too busy fighting stream ripping sits, pirate sites, website blocking and anything else that involves censorship of the Net instead of developing artists and taking care of their artists and paying them on time and fairly.

The way the payments work for is that Spotify or Apple or Pandora will pay the digital distributor royalties for the artists. This normally happens three months after. So for royalties earned in January, the payments to the distributor happen in March/April.

And then the distributor will hold these payments as they “clear” the royalties from being free of any copyright claims. This takes another three months.

So for a fraudulent uploader to earn $60K, it means many people were asleep at the wheel.

And legitimate independent artists get punished even further as they wait over six months for a royalty payment. All because people want to game the system and the system has too many people asleep at the wheel.

Read this article over at Pitchfork.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

The Billions Artists Don’t Get But Should

This is the world that the artists have created when they signed away their masters and Copyrights to a record label. And for this tragedy to be fixed, the artists need to understand that it starts with them.

The labels have been the recording music gatekeepers for decades and they had full control to sign artists to contracts with less favourable terms.

In the process, the labels amassed a catalogue of music which gave them negotiating power at the table and when it came to take overs or selling off parts of the label, these profitable back catalogues bring in a lot of money.

French entertainment giant Vivendi owns Universal Music Group (UMG). Now Chinese tech company Tencent is looking at a 10% stake in UMG worth up to $3.6 billion dollars. The worth of that stake is because of the artists and the works UMG holds on behalf of the artists; works which they more or less paid a pittance for and works which have probably really recouped 100 times over.

How much of those billions would go back to the artists?

But hey, artists instead are forming a lobby group to fight against the tech lobby groups in the U.S. Because the distributor is now a problem. This is the same as the artists forming a lobby group in the past to fight against the truck drivers and the record stores.

I’m all for more power to the artist. It’s the artist that creates the song which connects with audiences and makes dollars. But for the artist to also have a fair say, they need to lobby hard against their employers (if they have a label deal) and the publishers, because these organisations make billions from the deals they organise with streaming companies and by selling off their small stake in the company.

And going back to the Music Artists Coalition (MAC), which also includes high profile managers, I don’t see how they will advocate for the 98% of artists doing it tough, when they represent the 2%.

But it’s a start.

Will MAC get back the masters from the labels. Oh, wait, most of those masters got destroyed in a Universal Warehouse fire.

We’ll lucky for the Public, that there is a copy of the music online. Otherwise, the tunes would be lost forever, in peoples records collections, which either end up in the trash or in a second hand book shop.

Because the labels don’t really care about this history. If they did, they would have stored the masters better, in a climate controlled room instead of a basic warehouse and they would have stored the back-ups at a different location instead of the same building.

All the labels care about is the free Spotify and YouTube users and those users who “stream rip”.

The labels (with their lobby groups) have court granted blocking on their side in most countries, so visits to sites like The Pirate Bay have reduced. However, fans of music just use YouTube and the free tier of Spotify to access music (which are both legal) and the labels don’t like it, because they are unable to find a way to convert the users of the free tiers to paying subscribers, especially in Italy.

So in this case, the labels cant increase the price to access music because people are not paying the current price as it is. So the price needs to come down. But the labels don’t want that. The option they want is to cut off the free-tiers, however this will just drive people back to the pirate sites.

And if the price to stream in Italy comes down, the record labels need to be reasonable here and still pay the artists their fair share, but we know that the words fair and reasonable are not associated with the labels.

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

Compensating Artists

Social media connects artists to fans. And that is a good thing.

The issue is that a lot of artists use social media as a one way street to market themselves and push their product. But for people to invest in you, you need to connect with them, and there are artists who do it better than others.

Dee Snider comes to mind immediately as one who does a great job connecting with fans. Dave Mustaine and Sebastian Bach do a good job as well, while Robb Flynn and Nikki Sixx do a fantastic job. Another artist who has two way comms going is Corey Taylor. There are a lot more, I know and I follow quite a few.

A simple question from a Depressed Reds Fan user account to Corey Taylor on Twitter got me interested;

“Just curious, where does the main source of income come from? I’d assume touring and merchandise, but I really don’t know.”

Corey Taylor responded with the following;

“We HAVE to tour. It’s the only way we can make a living. Merch helps, but the merch companies make the lion’s share. Streaming is pricing artists – old AND new – out of careers.”

Another user “Rock Feed” added that;

“People have this idea that bands are filthy rich. Royalties are so low for bands once all the suits get their take.”

And this started a conversation from the fans about what they try to do as consumers to make it profitable for the artist they support to earn a decent wage and continue creating music.

But, in order to fix the argument about streaming payments or digital payments or how the artist can be compensated, there needs to be a line drawn in the sand, because it is NOT THE CONSUMERS FAULT.

As consumers, we stream, we buy, we go to the shows, we buy the merch and we buy the collector’s edition.

How much more can the consumer do?

Of course, according to the record labels, we should pay more for streaming. Because if we did, more royalties would go to the artists which is all BS. The royalties going to the artist would be the same regardless of what the streaming rate is.

What about the record labels paying more to the artists in royalties?

Then you have the government controlling the rate of payments, which means, music doesn’t operate in a free market, instead it operates in a government granted monopoly.

And Publishers make billions for doing really nothing and pay out nothing because hey, it’s the consumers fault and the streaming companies fault according to them.

Other posts from other artists got screen shotted and re-tweeted.

James Blunt said he got paid 00.0004499368 pounds per stream. Beers are on him. Another user jumped on that and did the math that 1,000,000 streams of a song = 440 pounds. And when you split that amongst band members it doesn’t add up to a lot.

Another user called Source Code tweeted that they read;

“The Who back in the 70’s started a tour 40K in debt. They had a very successful time but afterwards the band were told they were still 40K in debt. It wasn’t the drinking or smashing up equipment that cost them, it was the anonymous greedy suits stealing.”

Corey Taylor re-added that;

“Musicians are LITERALLY the last to be paid”.

And that is true.

Artists are paid once all the expenses are paid. That advance payment has to be recouped. Studio time and promotion needs to be recouped. Legal needs to be paid and Management needs to be paid. Somewhere in between, the digital service provider takes up to 30% of the royalty paid. The label takes the rest and then distributes what the contact states to the artist. Then you have the publishers. Same deal there. The digital service provider takes up to 30% and the publisher takes the rest, distributing the money according to the contract they have with the artist. If the artist sells vinyl and product, they get a higher rate once the monies are recouped.

You know when you see articles like Steve Perry signing a publishing agreement or Nikki Sixx signing a publishing agreement and you can interchange any other artist who has a valuable back catalogue into the phrase.

Well, those artists don’t sign those agreements and get nothing in return. Obviously they are in a position of power to sign an agreement to their terms and get a favourable royalty rate, but there will be rules that the publisher would pay up front an advance fee and recoup that fee over the term.  

And when artists go out on tour and depending on their pull, they even scalp their own tickets to make more money on the show, because why should the booking agent, the venue, the parking stations and the food places make more than the artist. It’s wrong but legal.

Phil Labonte from All That Remains posted that their biggest song has 67 million views on YouTube and they have over 1.3 million monthly listeners on Spotify but see nothing from it.

Phil further mentioned that the band ends up making between 10 to 15% of gross on a tour. Then they need to split that amount 5 ways and pay their taxes. Once that is don’t, they can start paying their bills.

Bigger bands, will take an upfront payment and then negotiate this per show split afterwards.

But for a smaller band, if they have a show that has 1000 people at $20 a ticket, then that is $20,000 in gross earnings. Based on Phil’s numbers, the band stands to make between $2K to $3K for the show. Split 5 ways, it’s $400 to $600 per person. Play 20 shows and if you get the same crowds, then that’s $8K to $12K per person. Gross. Then tax.

And by the end of all the conversations, the artists didn’t care how people got the music, they just wanted to be compensated.

But music operates in a government granted bubble, and not a free market price, so the prices set are relient on Copyright rules (created by the Government) to make up the difference.

Artists tried “pay as you want” bundles (which is a way to test what the free market would pay for your work) and I don’t see too many of those bundles on offer today.

And there was two way communications between Corey and fans, who said, that since Corey plays music in a genre which isn’t popular, how can he expect to make coin on royalties to which Corey replied back with that he doesn’t believe that is the case, as all of the shows sell out and the genre is popular to the masses.

Its back to the same old argument; metal fans don’t stream as much as pop fans. And as an artist, do you want your fans to buy your album or stream it or both.

The best part of all of the conversations was the comment from Corey which said;

“As long as the RECORD LABELS get THEIR money, they don’t CARE if the ARTIST gets paid at ALL. Or who plays their music – unless it’s a critic on YouTube, THEN THEY’RE UP IN ARMS.

So much truth there. The bottom line is this; the Record Labels own a stake in Spotify. And they own this stake, because they had negotiating power from all the Copyrights they held, who really should be owned by the artists.

Did anyone notice that Tool recently entered the world of streaming?

And they would have done it on their terms, and their own rate. And they will be well compensated.

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

Copyright For Nothing And The Chicks For Free

Reading copyright stories elicits two responses from me. The “Are you freaking kidding me?” response and the “This is stupid” response.

The mighty Meatloaf along with writer , Jim Steinman (who is credited as the songwriter) had a copyright spat on their hands for “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”.

An artist called Jon Dunmore Sinclair claimed he wrote the song and Meat Loaf along with Steinman, stole it. Mmm, I am sure Mr Sinclair, still had possession of the song he wrote and it wasn’t stolen, but hey, let’s associate stealing with copyright infringement as well. Oh, wait, it already is associated, because the record labels have done a great PR job convincing people that accessing music illegally is stealing.

The story goes that Jim Steinman and Jon Sinclair had the same attorney, and via this attorney, is how Steinman heard Sinclair’s song called “(I’d Do) Anything For You”. Meatloaf argued that having a similar lyrical phrase is not copyright infringement, however without having access to hear Sinclair’s song, it’s hard to tell.

Meatloaf settled out of court, while Kate Perry and her team went to court and lost.

Now this one is a complete, “what the!, how stupid is that?” verdict.

You see, in this case, an artist called Marcus Gray (who uses the name Flame) claims that Perry ripped off his beat, and a small musical pattern.

These kind of claims trouble me, because the person claiming to be ripped off is stating that their work is so original and free from influence and not inspired by anything else that came before it. But people should check out this Vox article which shows how similar Flame’s Christian rap song is to another song back in 1983.

But hey, while Perry and her team relied on telling the story of how the song was created, Flame (original name as well) relied on pseudo gurus in musicologists to prove that they are similar. And the court agreed with the musicologists.

Which brings me to the next troubling issue, judges and juries changing the intent for what Copyright is meant to be. Then again, the labels have created this litigious monster themselves when they lobbied hard to get Copyright terms extended to life of the artists plus 70 years.

These kind of cases really started when the heirs of artists started suing.

And for the record, this never should have been an issue. If Kate Perry ripped off Flame then Van Halen can claim to be ripped off as well for “Why Can’t This Be Love”, because they have a C to B note transition. Throw in every other artist who has a song with a musical bar passage which goes from C to B in a staccato way. As Dr Luke (one of the writers) said on the stands), its basic building blocks. It’s like saying a writer can’t use the words “the”, “a” or “and”.

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