Blogger Criticizes Artists for Making Money; TuneCore CEO Jeff Price Responds
(UPDATED) Earlier this week, blogger Paul Resnikoff of Digital Music News used isolated statistics obtained from TuneCore to prove an oversimplified claim that "99.875% of Tunecore artists are making less than minimum wage". According to DMN, the solution for developing artists is "a day job or subsidizing parents to keep the ship afloat."
TuneCore CEO Jeff Price responds: Before I say another word, yes, I know I'm rising to the bait. I know this response means more eyeballs for Digital Music News – a semi-legitimate music industry blog that tends to be sensational to drive eyeballs. I know that Paul Resnikoff’s constant personal attacks on TuneCore and me are a goad and good for his web traffic. Okay, sometimes the only way to refute a gambit is to accept it. If this means more people paying attention to Paul's site and generating revenue for his ad-supported business model, I guess he wins that round.
But when you paint a picture of hopelessness for artists, suggest they are failures and attempt to discourage them based on a nonsensical math equation and incomplete data, then you've lashed out at the wrong target. They deserve the truth.
Paul, why do you put down artists for making money? These artists did it on their own, drove every sale, earned every penny without having to give up their copyrights or sacrifice control, something never before possible in the history of the modern music industry. I published the numbers in response to statements claiming artists cannot can sell music without a major label. So why on earth are these tangible, actual results being painted as failures?
The “average income” formula you created may be the most useless, meaningless statistic I’ve ever seen. Here’s an example as to why:
An artist that makes $20 a year in music sales sits alone in a room. Average made per artist = $20. Now an artist that makes $1,000,000 a year enters the same room. Average made per artist = $500,010.
So what did we just prove exactly? Same thing you did; nothing.
I wish every single artist made over $1,000 a month in digital music sales (this of course does not take into count all the other income streams - good list made in 2009 by FMC of 29 of them can be found here - http://futureofmusic.org/blog/2009/10/14/29-streams) The truth is, most artist don’t make that much in music sales a month, and we all know it. Most make much less. So what exactly is the point of your article? Are you saying that artists should give it up, as it’s a tough business? What exactly is your news story? Drop your guitar and go work at a fast food restaurant?
I understand the music industry can be confusing: the six legal copyrights that drive the entire music industry (Public Performance, Derivatives, Reproduction, Public Display, Digital Transmissions, Distribution) and the rules around each are complex. But if you claim to be a voice for the industry, don’t you think you should know this stuff inside and out so you can report with complete information? If you knew how it all worked, you wouldn’t be employing faulty math on the exploitation of just one of these six rights, or drawing alarmist conclusions from it. So I have to ask again, what's your message?
Bob Lesetz (http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/) has it right. It takes work, hard work, time, energy, focus, determination, knowledge, money, gigs, luck and more to truly become a superstar, to truly and utterly “make it” in this industry. It’s not easy. It’s not for the meek, it’s not for artists that don’t believe in themselves. You have to strive and push and persevere against all others that say you will fail, that say you are meaningless, that say you are irrelevant, that say you have no value as you make less than someone who earns “minimum wage.” In short, for an artist to succeed, they have to ignore Paul Resnikoff. That can’t be what you want, can it?
The "odds" of becoming a household name in music during your lifetime, of becoming a superstar, have always been microscopic, and we all know it. But until recently, every single one of the artists who "made it" and did not “make it” were forced through a system of gatekeepers, opinion-shapers, cultural and business guardians that took their copyrights and took advantage. Are you advocating a return to that system? Here’s an old but still scathingly accurate (and informed!) set of numbers from Steve Albini (producer for Nirvana, amongst others) of how it used to be: http://www.negativland.com/albini.html. Are you seriously stating things are not better?
Now you’ve come up with this new absurd figure. "Minimum wage"? You manipulate the data under the guise of "analysis" and use your provocative headline and your weblog pulpit to degrade artist achievements. Your rally cry: “You’re worth less than someone making minimum wage. Who cares if you sold $20 in music, $50 in music, $1,000 in music, you’re a failure. Throw in the towel.”
This is the voice artists should be hearing? What should an artist take from this? Is it supposed to be some kind of revelation that income from digital music sales has to be part of an artist's income and is rarely the whole? You give lip service to the much larger point that digital sales are only a single element of an artist's earning spectrum while showing no understanding of what these actually are or how they work. Thanks, but it deserves more than a mention, since most artists understand that they can monetize fame in a number of ways -merchandise, gigging, physical sales, other formats, endorsements, the list goes on and on. Who didn't know this? Is the only defining metric of “success” DMN’s self-established marker delineating income restricted solely to digital music sales?
Most artists build their careers over time, starting slowly, working their asses off. The Police, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Joy Division and on and on and on all made very little money and had few sales when the started. Guess you should have told them they make less than minimum wage so they should quit. Should those supposed hundreds and thousands of people making "only" $1,280 a month just from digital music sales of their recordings simply...stop? What if they made only $50 the previous month and are up to $1000 this month? What if an artist priced their music at $0.10 for a song but made $1,000 in t-shirt sales? Does that not count?
And you haven’t even considered that artists should be allowed to decide for themselves what success is. Who are you to tell an artist what constitutes success for them? Do you get to be the new gatekeeper?
Have you ever played a gig in a band and get paid $50, $100 or $250 at the end of the night? Any idea how good it feels to drive four hours, rent a 15 passenger van, pay for parking, rent gear, eat ramen and lose a few hundred bucks on the gig and get 50 people to pay to hear you play. Instead, should the band crunch the numbers and say, “Sorry, we only made $150 tonight, and it took over 12 hours to get here, load in, play the gig, load out and drive home. When we factor in the cost of our gear and everything else we are making less than $1 an hour, which we have to split four ways, so let’s quit.” So much for Arcade Fire, over before they began.
It can take years, thousands and thousands of dollars of investment, endless hours of work and sacrifice before something finally gives and the stone wall you’ve been banging your head against finally cracks. Your pseudo, baseless "analysis" suggests independent artists can’t “make it". Bullshit. I believe in them. I believed in them so much that I started a record label with my high school friend in 1991 to release music I loved from bands that blew me away. Your framing sends a message to the media and corporations that indie artists are of a lower status. They are not—they’re the new emerging music industry, laying claim to increasing amounts of market share and revenue. Now is the time to trumpet this fact and educate artists with real information, teach them, provide them options and services to help them make educated and informed choices, not drown them in sensationalist headlines.
Tell them the truth: it’s hard, it’s going to be tough, most of you won’t become a superstar. Here’s the information you need to know, here are the options, it’s up to you to make it happen. Go into this with eyes wide open. No promises.
So some artists made a "mere $1,280" a month from digital music sales (this is a put down?). Newsflash, many made less, but had they gotten those sales while signed to a traditional record label, they'd have gotten no money and, most likely, six weeks after street date, they would have been dropped. That’s the fate of 98% of the acts that came through the majors alone.
And what about songwriters? The overwhelming majority of TuneCore artist's write their own songs. They never see all their money from mechanical royalty collection agencies worldwide unless they "signed" with a music publisher (in most cases giving up 50% ownership and control of their copyrights). For others, intermediary performing rights organization track only a portion of the actual plays, but collect all the cash, take 15 to 25% of the money and then report back as late as18 months later, with no transparency or audit trail. Worse, others flat out steal it: http://www.thereader.es/local-business-a-finance/6752-spains-performing-rights-organisation-sgae-raided-by-anticorruption-police.html.
Why aren’t you reporting on that as opposed to telling artists that make over $1,000 a month in music sales that they “don’t even make minimum wage”? We show unsigned artists literally making over six figures in digital music sales in just one month and you ignore that? You think this would have been possible six years ago?
Look more closely at that spreadsheet: it has a small swatch of data that contains 5,944 rows, each of which represents artists who made $100 or more in digital music sales in just the month of July, 2011, via TuneCore (http://blog.tunecore.com/2011/11/tunecore-artists-music-sales-july-2011.html). That's nearly six thousand acts in control of their careers, who made money and who, until recently, could have made nothing.
Oh, and by the way, how many of these 6,000 artists would have made anything on music sales if this industry had not changed. And the curve is very long, and many, many thousands more made a lot less than $100 over that same period. This is some secret? But that’s not the point. The point is, when artists make any money, it’s a good thing. Are you saying artists that don’t make six figure salaries annually over music sales are losers? If so, by your definition, just about every artist ever released is a failure.
Things are changing for the better for artists, any way you slice it. Is it perfect? No. It's taken years to build up to this point and it'll take years to mature even further. If you want to spin the numbers to paint the most discouraging picture possible, please, tell me why? It can't be just to trumpet gloom-and-doom to draw visitors to your site. It can't be that you've just got a bone to pick with TuneCore as we never paid you for an ad on your site. At least, I sure hope it's nothing so petty. If so, okay, that's life, and both TuneCore and I can take it. But get the hell off artists' back. Applaud them. Support them. They've had it hard enough. They’ve been kicked around for the last 80 years. Last thing they need is an outsider suggesting they don’t count because last month they only made $1,000 in digital music sales.