“In 1981, there was a crackdown after the big payola scandal of the late 70s. Right at the beginning of the 80s, the record companies were being safe. They were not handing out advances. They would advance your recording budget, but that was it.”
Brian Forsythe – Kix
So what has changed in 2015.
The record labels are still being safe and with recording costs so low, the recording budget is even lower.
Yeah, of course, we all know that the record labels had a massive boom that started with “Thriller” in 1984 and that allowed them to take more risks. And for some reason it looks like musicians and the labels are only looking at the boom when they compare now vs then. Typical revisionist history.
“None of us knew what we were doing. We were just so excited to have a record deal. There are writer’s royalties, and the mechanical royalties that go to the band. The record company gets paid back through the mechanical until the bill (advancement) is paid off. Donnie was the main songwriter, so he was still getting his (writers) money. By the time we got to “Blow My Fuse” – our biggest selling record – we were two million dollars in debt.”
Brian Forsythe – Kix
Even in the era of information, with everything is at our fingertips, artists are still unaware of their entitlements. And when they do find out, it is the crux of every argument. Especially between band members because every band has a person that just writes better songs than the others at certain points of time, or in some cases always. Kix’s bass player Donnie Purdell, was another Nikki Sixx. He was crucial to Kix.
It should act as no surprise to anyone that bands in the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties, ended up with such large debts to the label. That is the label creative accounting machine at its best. And the shameful part of it all is that current musicians still look at the past to gauge what success means in 2015.
“Go pull up the sales for 1985, 1986 for heavy metal bands. I guarantee you it’s ten times what it is now. That doesn’t mean there’s ten times less fans — in fact, I think there’s more heavy metal fans now than possibly there ever was. But the bottom line is the numbers show that metal bands are not selling what they did back in the day, and that’s because of Internet piracy. I don’t wanna get on that subject, because it always turns into a depressing, negative subject, but it is a fact. So the answer to the question, ‘Would that record sell more in 1985?’ I would say the answer would be yes.”
Shawn Drover – Act of Defiance
Shawn Drover, wishes it was 1985 and 1986 because for some reason, he believes that he will have more money in his pocket and if his new band “Act Of Defiance” sold a million copies of an album, they would be mega rich and popular. Brian Forsythe from Kix, lived that period and ended up with a $2 million debt, even though they had albums that sold in excess of a million.
And guess what venues they are playing right now?
Clubs and theaters.
Dokken albums achieved Platinum awards and the band today plays clubs and theaters. Stryper and Ratt albums achieved Platinum awards and the bands today play clubs and theaters.
A sale of a record never equaled a fan. It’s the usual comparison between;
- a person that purchased a record, heard it once and hated it
- a person that purchased a record, heard it, loved it and listened to it every day
- a person that purchased a record, heard the popular songs and then moved on to whatever else was popular
So why do artists still see sales as important today?
Metal and rock artists still sell. There is no doubt about that. Especially the ones that connect with audiences. But sales is not the only stat that artists should be basing their careers on.
With all of the streaming services out there, the most important stat is how many listens an artist is getting and in which cities they are getting those listens.
The second most important stat is how many illegal P2P downloads an artist is getting and in which cities they are getting these illegal downloads. These listeners/downloaders need to be monetized in different ways.
Otherwise if you are an artist and you are waiting for profits to come in from recorded music sales, then you need to change your business model.
“I’ve never seen a check. Donnie probably still gets writer’s royalty checks. The rest of the money is going back to the record company. Donnie was such a better songwriter. For every 20 songs he would write, I would write one. We were working on his songs all the time and we never even had time to write our own stuff. Back in the early days I may have gotten a couple checks. The biggest one was maybe $350. One time I remember getting one for $1.99. I could count the amount of checks I’ve received on one hand.”
Brian Forsythe – Kix
Remember all of the stories that have come out over the last five years from artists complaining about their low royalty payouts from streaming services. Guess that in 30 years nothing much has really changed. For the small amount of 1% artists that have broken through to mega status, it’s all good.
For the rest, it is still the same story.
“The standard stat given is that 90% of major label deals “fail.” That does not mean they are not profitable for the label. The way RIAA accounting works, the labels can make out like a bandit on many of those record deals, while the artist gets hung out to dry.”
Mike Masnick, Techdirt
Nothing has changed on that front, even with the rise of the internet, Napster, P2P illegal downloading and so forth. The 90% stat was relevant even in the golden years of recorded music sales and it is still relevant now.
“We never expected to get rich, but we certainly didn’t expect to be millions of dollars in debt.”
Jared Leto – Thirty Seconds To Mars
No artist expects to get rich. The need to create is the calling card. However, when they start making money and they see the recording executives living it up while the actual creators are not, then money becomes an important conversation point.
The recording industry has always been known for its creative accounting.
Remember when Tom Petty declared himself bankrupt to get out of a recording contract because he had no money to show after two very successful albums in the seventies.
It all goes against what Gene Simmons said about rock music in general being murdered due to internet piracy. It’s a very narrow-minded and hostile view to have to all of the change that has happened in music. It also mimics, the view that the record labels have held.
A hostile one.
However as Tim Westergren, the Chief Strategy Officer – Pandora (until last year) states;
“I think we’re moving out of an era where the music industry is looking for enemies and into one where it’s now looking for allies.”
The record labels have been dragged kicking and screaming into cassettes, mp3’s and then streaming. Guess what happened. It increased their bottom line on all occassions. Guess that not much has changed in the era of change when it comes to record label abuses.