Musicians Have Themselves To Blame Part 1:  Accept Reality

By Stacey Blood
Aug 9, 2018

Oh dear!  How could you say such a thing!  Musicians are the victims!  They are being stolen from!  They suffer the injustice!  Our royalty rate is wrong!  It isn’t like it used to be!

Unbelievable.

From too many music content creators I have heard enough of their fantastical nonsense.  It’s as if they truly think that they live in some other realm.  On any day you can hear musicians belly aching about their current situation and hand the market has dealt them.  It’s the classic victim / oppressor routine.  It’s a cognitive dissonance that perpetuates this idea that there is a big conspiracy to stick it to artists.

The sad truth is that musicians have done more to hurt themselves than anyone else.

As an artist myself I am aware of the changes in the music industry that have put artists against the ropes.  But it isn’t these things that are holding artists back.  It’s their inability to understand the reality of how markets and economics work, thus leaving them with no chance of resolving the primary issues.  In this first part we’ll deal with supply and demand.

Streaming Is Theft!  Right?

Believe me, I know that technology has dealt the recording industry a nasty, nasty blow when it comes to mechanics.  But this is what technology and progress does.  They are the reasons we don’t have TV repairmen anymore, door to door vacuum cleaner salesmen have vanished, and Toys R’ Us is closing its doors.  We see creative destruction all over in the market.  It is unavoidable and inevitable and you are not immune to it.

All of this is hard enough, but when you don’t adapt and live in a fantasy world you make it much harder on yourself.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it is the truth that artists have this arrogant idea that they are special and that the laws of supply and demand and basic economics simply don’t apply to them.  Here is how they’ve chosen to respond to the creative destruction of the music business:

“Streaming services are stealing from us!”

Um, no they aren’t.  It is a service you signed up for.  If you don’t like the terms then don’t sign up.  In order for someone to steal something from you it must be taken from you without your consent.  You uploaded your music to Spotify.  Apple Music forced you to do exactly nothing.  If you don’t like the arrangement with Pandora then make the decision to offer your music elsewhere.  And if that still doesn’t work start your own music service.

Streams should pay as much as a radio play!”

No they shouldn’t.  Why should they?  They aren’t even close to the same thing.  Labels can spend tens of thousands of dollars per month trying to get 12,000 plays per week nationwide at “radio”.  On the other hand an artist can sit in her mom and dad’s basement, spend ten dollars and stream her own song 1/3 that many spins in the same week and actually profit from it. Do the math. The Righteous Brothers would need 150,000 radio plays a year for 9,450 years to reach 1.4 billion radio plays, which is the number of streams Ed Sheeran had in a year.

The Righteous Brothers would need 150,000 radio plays a year for 9,450 years to reach 1.4 billion radio plays, which is the number of streams Ed Sheeran had in a year.

So since radio plays are far more scarce, why on Earth should they pay the same rate?  Still think streams are “the same” as a radio play?

“The man is beating musicians down!”

False.  Your crappy deal with your label / manager / aggregator / distributor /publisher / producer, is.  An unworkable business model combined with your laziness and arrogance thinking all you have to do is make a song is what keeps you down.  Nothing else.  At about a half penny, the going rate for a stream has been determined by the market.  I’m sorry if that isn’t a “living wage” but radio play was never even a “living wage” either.  Streaming pays a lot better than David Lowry claims.  The Bloody Nerve found a way to make 15 times what he made with 1.1 million fewer streams.  Do we know of some magic trick?  No.  David has a lousy record deal.  Who’s fault is that?

“The government will help us!”

No, it won’t.  The government doesn’t care about you.  It doesn’t even like you and it doesn’t know what your product should be priced either.  But this is just more unbelievable arrogance.  Everyone else in the market place gets their prices from consumers.  But not you.  You think you are so special that the government will magically grant you the price you want.  Furthermore, bringing your case before the crown and hoping they elect an artificial price on your product is lobbying.  That’s rent-seeking.  That’s the same damn gaming of the system you hate when other companies do it.  But it’s okay for you?  Because you’re so special?

These gripes are the result of the lack of knowledge about how exactly prices and costs are determined.  Not one of these shouts were derived from a truly independent thought or economic logic, but are rather just crying because it’s all so unfair.  It’s shameful because artists used to be vigilant with truth and principles, which is why people used to be interested in what they have to say.  But these days they have nothing really to say that is of interest, especially when they are griping about “fair”.

Supply And Demand Of Music

Access to music content was vastly more scarce in 1972 and so were the resources to deliver it to the audience.  If you wanted to hear a particular song you had exactly 3 choices:  Buy the record, go to the concert, or wait for it to come on the radio.  That’s it.  By contrast, today anyone can hear almost any song that has ever been commercially released at a moment’s choosing simply by having electricity and an internet connection.  At home, on your phone, in your car, there is almost no place in civilization you can not hear whatever song you like at a moment’s notice.  This is abundance at the level of water and oxygen.

Ever heard this classic?  “well Spotify employees make more money than most of the artists they stream!”?.  Yeah?  Well so freaking what?  The person who empties the trash at the overly expensive studio at which the band recorded likely makes more as well.  Why aren’t you picketing the recording studio?  Stop whining.  Do something.

I realize I am being quite hard on artists, and most will plug their ears and scream like a 5 year-old so they can prevent being deluded by reality.  Nevertheless, I love artists and they are invaluable to society… when they are invaluable to society.  Not when they are being whiners.  That is a morale killer.

I’m sick of the anguish and complaining and the pouting because they can’t sit at home and get “mailbox money” like they did in 1975.  Weary of clinging to intellectual property as the cornerstone of their business model.  We’ll deal with the sacred institution of intellectual property in Part 2.

Moving Forward

The only way forward is for artists to understand how markets work and to do a mental mapping of what is happening in your market and to find the little arrow is that says “You Are Here”.  Then start creating value.  A great way to tell if you are creating value is if people are lining up to give you monies.  If they aren’t, you need to change some stuff up.

I don’t know what that “stuff” is, but you’ll need to figure it out for yourself.

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