RE: “Free Music!!!…uh, Free Music?” — A Response

October 20, 2011

Political economy


Based on a screenshot from the White & Nerdy m...

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This blog is a response to the “Free Music” post previously submitted via the Game of Roles WordPress blog.

Currently in my second year in a serious music group, I have learned more than I wish I had ever learned. If I could live by one motto in the music industry, it would be this: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

First, the biggest skew in album sales comes from SoundScan (the old-fashioned numbers that determine how many albums were sold, determining album positions on Billboard charts). Did you know if a physical album is purchased in a big-name record store in New York City over a digital copy of the album via iTunes, that physical purchase counts as 2-4 copies? SoundScan is becoming a thing in the past with iTunes and digital only releases still on the rise.

Album sales were a major moneymaker for artists until illegal downloads came into play (thanks to Napster, Kazaa, Bearshare, Limewire, etc. – some of which were recently shut down by the U.S. Government). Artists turned to marketing more, creative forms of merchandise and touring for income. One of the biggest bands that have been creative (in the most ludicrous forms) has to be Paramore. If you visit their website and check out the merchandise page, you will find (amongst t-shirts) sunscreen, lip-gloss, and lockets (In the past, I couldn’t imagine Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin releasing a line of lip-gloss and/or sunscreen).

What about the rest of the population living in a post-recession economy, unable to afford concert tickets? Today, bands are practically giving away tickets to their shows, hoping that you and your friends will purchase their t-shirt for a mere $10-$20. To you, that isn’t much, but to them, that’s gas and food until the next venue on the tour… And I have witnessed this first-hand. (Check out fusionshows.com – they are a Michigan promotion company promoting local and national acts. Ticket prices are always updated and current).

The biggest disappointment in the industry is the major labels. When artists sign to a major label (Atlantic, Interscope, Island, Def Jam, etc.) they receive a 10/90-profit split. That is 10% to the artists and 90% to the labels. There is bigger money in labels, despite the split, but more money going to the labels for their distribution, marketing, booking, management, and other work, while the artist is the one performing, writing, touring, selling or exploiting themselves (i.e. selling out), and (before signing to the label) the braisn behind the operation.  Artists compromise their creative input on an album. Producers hired by the label have the ultimate final say on every single intro, verse, chorus, lyrics, and melody (unless you’ve got a “lawyer to rule them all”). Labels typically hire songwriters to write the albums for musicians and artists. Labels also hire session musicians to record instruments on a major-label artist’s album. Wait… you thought Taylor Swift actually performed instrumentally on her albums?

The goal of artists today is to get their music onto as many iPods as possible; to get you to say their name to your friends, family, dog, and everyone you know. They’re willing to compromise a sale by giving away free tracks for “likes” on Facebook and aren’t worried about losing $0.72 cents (after iTunes snatches its royalties) on a song sale.

Can one really ask if the industry is taking a turn for better or for worse? What is good or bad about an unpredictable, ever-changing industry to which artists are forced to adapt or die?

People will always support artists they love and find passion within their music. Eminem and Lady Gaga will continue to sell albums and make millions with labels injecting millions into marketing.

We’re never going to be able to stop illegal downloads, therefore it can be said that it is appropriate to choose wisely when downloading illegally. Who deservers your money more?

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About Michael Zanger

Student at the University of Michigan studying political science and philosophy.

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5 Comments on “RE: “Free Music!!!…uh, Free Music?” — A Response”

  1. Baihan Li Says:

    Sincerely, I agree with this blog post. In fact, I would post a similar content if this blog is not presented.

    On my shelf are three novels, which I first read online. Well, they are not presented on any illegal website; contrarily, it is the author herself that puts those novels online, though they have been officially published. Though those stories are online and will always be, still, I bought a hardcopy for each of them. In fact, not only me but several of my friends did so.
    We read those books, knew that it’s great and finally bought them home. This story might be somewhat offensive to those copyright protectors, who claim that the Internet may offend the interest of author.

    However, maybe we can think this way: the Internet has at least built a better environment for competition and choices. As the Internet allows various resources to spread, we can now choose to buy a CD because we really like music inside, not because this cover seems to be really great. People will still purchase the real products if they find they really like it, just like my friends and I did last year. This is the power of label.

    Similar to music industry is how the animation field operated. In Japan, animation companies earn no profit through broadcasting the animations. The real fans animations seldom watch them in front of television. Instead, they record the TV show and watch it whenever they want and the animation companies never try to stop this phenomenon. In fact, those companies sell derivative products like toys and original sound tracks for profit.

    The Internet has indeed violated the rights of singer to some extent. However, it is inappropriate to say singer do not benefit from it. While audience can now choose from various tracks before purchase, singers are actually earning more bucks with a increasing fame, isn’t it?

    • Michael Zanger Says:

      Think about this… them more fame effects how they’re perceived by fans. Because they cannot gain profit from albums sales any longer, they’ve had to sell their souls to make money. I mean… sell out. A lot of artists are endorsed by companies now to wear their brand or play with their instruments to receive a fat paycheck. Are fans justified to call an artist a sell out if they were the ones who stole from them, leaving the artist no other choice?

  2. drainey323 Says:

    I pretty much agree with most of this post. While I do think that artists still care about album sales to a certain extent, there is being much more attention given to branding of that artist. Like you said, they are really focusing on getting their name out there. I feel that this is the case because once they build their brand up, the revenue will come. Whether it is from album sales, tours, posters or “lip gloss” the money will come from somewhere.

    It is almost as if artists in the music industry have accepted illegal downloads. When those big name illegal download sites first came out, there was a huge outcry from many artist. Now, we barely hear anything from them in regards to it, (that is, until the day their album drops). In fact, many artist are even releasing their music for free through social networks. Kanye West, for example, released a new track on Twitter from his album “My Beautiful Dark Twister Fantasy” every Friday leading up to the official release of the album. As of this month, the album has gone platinum, selling over 1 million copies (a feat that is not reach by many artists today). This can heavily be attributed to his brand. There are very few people who have never heard of Kanye (for the good and the bad).

    I found the last part of your post very interesting. I fall into an interesting category that many people may also fall in. I tend to only buy albums from artist that I feel “deserve” my money. For instance I knew all the words to every track on Janelle Monae’s most recent album weeks before it was officially released, but I still went out and bought a copy and bought a copy on iTunes. Other high profile and top selling artists, Kanye West for example, I illegally download. I know this is in no way acceptable and very hypocritical but I simply cannot afford to buy every album from every artist I like. My rational is that if they can afford 20 cars and houses, they won’t miss my 20 bucks (again, I know this is in no way acceptable). Plus in the end, I really am helping their brand, aren’t I?

  3. guysnick Says:

    I certainly agree that illegal downloading of music will probably never be stopped. There are so many music and movie downloading sites on the web that it would be seemingly impossible to crackdown on the world of internet file sharing. However, is illegal music downloading really bad for the musicians affected? It might hurt certain less well-known artists and bands who are not making any money off of their music being downloaded and who seldom have concerts. However, most musicians make hardly any money off of their music downloads anyway. As was mentioned in the post, iTunes and other online music stores take huge cuts from each song or album sold. And record labels make 90% of the profit from their sales, while the artists get only 10%. In reality, musicians make most of their income from ticket sales for concerts. And how do these musicians gain fame and popularity so that people will want to come see them live in concert? They gain popularity by exposing their musical talent to the public. The more people who listen to their music, whether that music was bought legally or downloaded illegally, the greater the chance that people are going to want to buy tickets to concerts for these musicians. So, it can even be argued that music file sharing benefits musicians.

    Additionally, I agree with this post that “the goal of artists today is to get their music onto as many iPods as possible.” Musicians have to realize the magnitude of illegal music downloading across the United States and the entire world. They know that by exposing their music to as many people as possible, even through illegal file sharing, they are gaining fame and popularity, which can in turn result in profits for them, from concert ticket sales to clothing and merchandise sales to requests to perform at sporting events and other forms of entertainment. While I surely do not condone illegal music downloading, it may not be as bad for artists as everyone seems to think it is. In fact, music file sharing may even be beneficial to musicians by getting their names and their music out into the world.

  4. mimirofl Says:

    I definitely agree with this post. Nowadays, the ready accessibility of MP3s means that more and more people are hearing whole genres of music that were once put in the bins at the back of the thrift store or record shop are now easy to get ahold of. I know this because there are many genres of music represented in my iPOD including old classics like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry to latin music like Ritchie Valens. It gives us a wider world of music than your parents or older siblings have, so it is helping out the music industry because it broadens the variety.

    Because all this music is ready for us on the web and because the majority of us download music, it has a domino effect on the population. When you are at a party and you hear a song you like, you remember the lines and words to the song, and then when you head home you are looking for it on the internet. This helps to introduce new artists, as well as popularize already famous artists. For example; I had never heard of “Avicii” before school started this year, but when I got back to school it was all people were raving about so I decided to download it and I really liked it so I listened to more of his songs and even went to his concert.

    Like guysnick posted, “file sharing may even be beneficial to musicians” because if they have good music then it will be imprinted in everyone’s mind. Therefore, in the future, people will want to go to their concerts and that is where they make bank.

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