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?