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

To The Top

Desperate living- driving me mad
Writings on the wall
Crushed all our hopes and the dreams we once had
Just to watch them fall
Tooth And Nail from Dokken

When your backs to the wall and you have nothing left, you either fight to reach the next step or you give up.

Seriously, what kind of life is it, when someone has so much power to make or break a career. But that is exactly what the recording business came to be. A business with gatekeepers who could crush dreams or make dreams. Like “Chainsaw Charlie” in “The Crimson Idol”. Or like “Mr Recordman”.

If not for the money and not for the show
Are you here for me or here for the dough
Mr. Recordman, do you really give a damn?
Mr Recordman from Ugly Kid Joe

Is the label there for the artist if the money stops coming in and the shows sell a little bit less. White Lion were given a million dollars to record “Mane Attraction”. It came out and it didn’t set the world on fire. Grunge was rising in the distant and suddenly, Vito and Mike couldn’t even get in touch with their A&R rep. When the band broke up, no one from the label called them or even tried to make contact with them. It’s like they never existed. But for a brief period when “Pride” was selling thousands of units weekly, Mr Recordman was there, caring for the band.

You’ll never see a ray of daylight
So far in debt you’re struggling to survive
Dance In The Rain by Megadeth

And so many people define themselves by their status in society. Big house plus expensive car plus management job = powerful status. But, this perceived status is all in their head. No one really cares what you have or what job your do or how long you spend at work.

Why should they?

Life is short and the majority of people are too busy living. But others can’t turn away from it, because they are surrounded by people moving up. And they feel like they need to get on the same ride. So they borrow and then they borrow a little bit more. Because they believe when they get to the top they will repay it all.

The ride to the top is the reason why so many people started to play music.

MTV took the artists from the magazines and brought them into our lounge rooms. And it was free. Yeah I know there was radio, but if people wanted information on artists, they had to buy magazines or their albums. Suddenly, their TV set was doing it all for them. The reason why blank VHS cassettes sold like crazy was music and movies. People dubbed/taped their favourite clips from TV or via VHS to VHS.

And when kids have access to content, they have desires to be like their new found heroes on the TV screen. It looked easy. Learn to play an instrument, write a song and you’ll be signed and become famous.

The truth of it all is this.

If you are working for a corporation, you are building someone else’s dream. The corporation is benefiting from your hard work and the hard work of the rest. Artists have made the record labels into monoliths because they signed away their copyrights for a record deal.

And the internet was meant to level the playing field. Instead it’s made the labels even more powerful as they use the works of artists to negotiate large licensing deals.

What kind of journey do you want to the top?

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

Reach, Vinyl and Record Label Lies

Before Napster, the only way a band knew that their music was spreading was by record sales. However, the fact that if a person purchased an album and listened to it once or a million times was never taken into account.

Today, there are so many different distribution outlets. The old way has been blown to bits and 15 years after Napster the record labels are still failing their artists because they haven’t done their due diligence properly in creating tools that can measure “REACH”. Yep, that is the new catch cry for 2015, REACH, not sales.

However, the labels are still confused and the artists more so. Imagine the conversation;

BAND: We should tour [insert country or city or state].
LABEL: Why, you have sold no albums there?
BAND: But we are one of the most downloaded artists there?
LABEL: Well those downloads are not legal ones and P2P is illegal.
BAND: What about Shazam look ups? I see our name all over that report on your desk from Shazam. Our songs are one of the most looked up songs in [insert country or city or state].
LABEL: Look all of this doesn’t mean you have a fan base there that will support you financially.
BAND: But, our streaming numbers are huge there?
LABEL: Leave it with us, I might get the lawyers to get together a 360 degree that will protect us both.

And the cycle of the record label shafting the artist starts again.

The record labels need the artists. It is from all of the copyrights that they own the record labels have achieved this power. With power comes great reach. And the labels abuse that power.

They increased the price of music to cater for the “start-up costs” in the CD manufacturing process back in the early eighties. It was only meant to be temporary and they promised the consumers that the price would be cheaper once they started manufacturing at a certain scale.

However that price never came down when they saw these unbelievable profit margins from CD sales and guess what they decided to do. They colluded to price fix the price on a CD and they killed off vinyl.

And now they are using overpriced vinyl again to increase their bottom lines.

Guess what.

Vinyl isn’t making a comeback just because there are dedicated people out there that purchase it. I purchased the four vinyl singles that Machine Head issued for the “Killers and Kings” demo. I still haven’t opened them and the reason why I haven’t opened them is that vinyl has become a souvenir item.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of vinyl. I have so many great memories around dropping the needle however the turntable that I have at home just doesn’t get used. It’s easier and convenient to bring up the music on the phone and to be honest, I can’t see myself sitting back on the coach, listening to the record and reading the credits while following the credits. I am pretty sure I would end up on my iPhone.

 

We multitask. Yesterday I was cooking a BBQ and I called up the Evergrey Channel on iTunes Radio and listened to that. While the meat is sizzling, I am writing lyrics and listening to music at the same time.

 

Kids today have grown up with the internet. They are full-blown digital natives. They know nothing of the music business before Napster. If they did, then P2P downloads would have dried up when The Pirate Bay was raided in mid-December. Instead, the kids just found different outlets because the past is never coming back.

 

I have three boys aged 9,8 and 3. The older two are high YouTube and Spotify users. The younger one knows of YouTube and everyday he asks me to find Thomas The Tank Engine, Batman, The Wiggles, Planes, Garbage Trucks, Twisted Sister or whatever else has his interest for that moment.

And I am pretty sure that my kids are not the only kids that access content via these outlets.

I’ve said it many times, we always gravitate to something that has reach and YouTube and Spotify have got the reach.

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

Disruption Eruption

In life we are being disrupted all the time.

Music is no different.

The biggest challenge to artists is that it’s so much harder to reach people because everyone today has a voice. In the heyday of metal and rock it was all about scarcity. You know the drill. The bands and the labels were all about making it to the top of the heap and then once they got there, they aimed to dominate that heap.

The funny thing is that once the bands got to that heap, they would seem to implode and deliver their least valued work.

Pantera worked for years to get to top of the heap. “Cowboys From Hell” opened the door for domination, “The Vulgar Display Of Power” provided the steps to the top of the heap and “Far Beyond Driven” provided the motion to get to the top of the heap. As Vinnie Paul once said in a Metal Hammer interview, “Pantera could have been metal’s next Rolling Stones”. “The Great Southern Trendkill” came after and continued that domination however the fabric of the band was already tearing apart. “Reinventing The Steel” came next and the band split after that.

Metallica on the other hand delivered their least valued work after they reached the top of the heap with the “Black” album.

Twisted Sister struggled for years to get to the top of the heap. They where selling out local bars however they couldn’t get a record deal. In that Seventies and Eighties era you needed a label to go national. Finally, they got that major label deal. It all started via an Independent label called Secret, which led to the European division of Atlantic Records showing interest and eventually signing them, which then led to the U.S arm of Atlantic taking over.

They got on MTV and went multi-platinum.

Then they lost it all. Dee Snider filed for bankruptcy and so did Jay Jay French.

After the fall from the top, both Dee Snider and Jay Jay French had to pick up and start from the beginning again. An old saying always comes back into my head space. It’s not how hard you fall but how you get back up. In the end, failure is never final, however if you allow it to be, then it will be. Jay Jay had to take a job selling stereos before Sevendust came into the scene in the mid nineties and asked him to produce their first album. Dee Snider ended up with a “Reason To Kill” during this period.

The dirty little secret is that one year’s success does not guarantee the next year’s success. It doesn’t in sport, so why should it be any different when it comes to music. If money was the end game, then Jay Jay French made more money producing the Sevendust album than what he did while he was with Twisted Sister.

So what does that say about the correlation between success and money?

It says that while a band is successful, most of the money is going to others. Only when the band is at the stage of Metallica or Motley Crue who both own their masters/copyrights, do the economics change. Otherwise why do you think Tom Scholz from Boston and Don Henley from the Eagles and Jim Steinman for “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” are putting in motions to get back their copyrights. And why do you think the record labels are resisting even though the law states clearly that the labels have to return the copyrights back to them.

It’s all about negotiation power.

The labels don’t want to lose it and the artists that have the big songs want it.

Which means another disruption is around the corner?

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

Time Is Working Against The Artist

It’s 1992. The labels are signing Seattle bands, left, right and centre while at the same time they are dropping hard rock and heavy metal bands left, right and centre. That is the power the record label had. Not only could they make an artist famous, they could also destroy an artist. You see when you control all the points in the distribution and marketing chain, you more or less control everything.

With the massive power that the major labels had, we always saw artist/s as famous. We always thought that once an artist was signed to a label deal, they had it made. It was a big misconception.

Fame for an artist in most cases meant a large advance that had to be recouped by withholding royalty payments. That is why record label accounting gets messy and it cannot be trusted.

So in 2013, things have changed dramatically. With this change, the power is still with the major record labels. They gathered enough power during the Eighties and Nineties to be a force to be reckoned. Then in the Two Thousands the massive mergers and takeovers happened, further enhancing the power of the record labels. Then in order to allow digital start-ups, the record labels did one of three things; charge high licensing fees or litigate the start-up to bankruptcy or negotiate a large ownership stake in the start-up.

So even though the internet has lowered the barriers of entry, without the money and power of the label behind the artists, there is a pretty good chance, the artist would probably go unnoticed. Remember 4 million songs haven’t even been listened too on Spotify.

So when certain artists are complaining about a low royalty payment, maybe that is the royalty payment that is relevant to the niche the artist is in. Maybe it is a royalty payment that they have earned. You don’t see a current household name complaining. It’s because they worked hard at obtaining a certain thing called leverage.

Digital distribution offers 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, both physical and digital provided that the artist gets noticed.

So is piracy that bad for an artist who is trying to get traction?

The majors and the mainstream journalists attached to news outlets operated by media moguls have done a great job selling the “one pirated item equals one lost sale” statistic and the “illegal downloading (piracy) is theft” argument. It is a statistic that rights holders, lobby groups and misguided artists exaggerate and it is a statistic they use to either kill off innovation or to stifle innovation.

Piracy (better known as copyright infringement) is basically one person (A) copying something of value that another person (B) owns. This leads to a situation that has both people (A and B) having a copy of the same item.

So it is safe to say that one pirated item is not theft. Theft is basically one person (A) taken something of value that another person (B) owns, which means that Person (B) no longer has the item.

So let’s assume that piracy spreads the artists’ material to places that are unknown to the artist and the people who download the music might become a fan and share their thoughts with others. They could even go to a show or they could go and purchase the next album or the artists back catalogue. There are a lot of could’s in the above theory. However the music business is all based on could’s.

For example, in the heyday of the record labels, this is how the above would have panned out.
Let’s assume that a record deal spreads the artists’ material to places that are unknown to the artist and the people who hear the music on radio or MTV might become a fan and share their thoughts with others. They could even go to a show or they could go and purchase the next album or the artists back catalogue. As you can see, the heyday theory also holds a lot of could’s.

Of course the difference is the money. The labels once upon a time threw money at artists and provided tour support. Today, the labels only go for the sure bet and 360 deals.

From a fan perspective, the main thing working against the artist today is time. Why would a music lover want to invest their time in an artist? I recently invested a lot of time in the TV show “Sons of Anarchy” because knowledge of the show was being shared at work and I wanted to be part of the conversation. I invested a lot of time in the show because fans of the show shared their thoughts with me. They convinced me that I needed to watch it.

One thing is certain in 2013. We move on fast. Look at the Top 10 lists of pirated movies that TorrentFreak publish each week. It’s always changing and very rare for the same movie to be at number one for two weeks in a row. Look at the Top 10 of the Charts published by each country. The artists in the list are always changing.

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