the Music Business Dead?
Commentary by Moses
February 2007. Used by Permission
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I’m not a
big fan of repeating myself, but sometimes it’s necessary.
In my Moses Supposes of December 2006 I outlined exactly why all the
swill about the “decaying music business” was rubbish by has-beens and people
who’ve been downsized from their cushy label jobs. I
was in turn slammed by the very people who this type of thinking threatens;
those who profit off of the “dying music business” business.
Namely, bitter bloggers, DIYers, journalists with a hi-tech bias, and so-called
insiders who sell the “You need me to make it” line, and the “Screw the
labels,” blather. I try to ignore this polarized and
oversimplified logic, but it won’t go away.
One of the
emails I received had this link in it. http://thechronicleherald.ca/Entertainment/559846.html
read the piece for yourself but I’ll save you the
trouble and just excerpt the opening sentence.
producer Bob Ezrin says the much talked about
imminent demise of the record business is already here.
“People are not going to the record store and are not paying for
downloads," says the man who discovered Alice Cooper, produced Pink
Floyd’s The Wall and worked with David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and
KISS, among other superstars.
A more blatant example of
what I’m referring to could not be made. I am a fan of
Ezrin’s important contributions to the world of
music. I mean no disrespect. In fact, if
I’m to be honest, I should be so lucky as to accomplish half as he. But he is not an economist.
Rather, he is an example of a new breed of music business personality:
the angry old-timer. I’m not even sure what marketing
reports are feeding their conclusions. My
guess is that their sole source for their doom-n-gloom viewpoint is their
personal royalty/commission checks. A diminishing asset, I have
little doubt. I’m sure when you’re the manager of
wrinkle-rock mega-groups like Floyd or Gabriel, and comfortable seeing
commissions in the six figures a month and suddenly those numbers start dropping
down to $50,000 a month, then $40,000, it’s easy to start thinking the world is
coming to an end.
But over 2 billion
downloads on iTunes, Yahoo, e-Music et al and the sale of over 500
Million confirmed CD album sales in the US last year alone does
not seem to jibe with the statement “People are not going to the record store
and are not paying for downloads.”
What Ezrin really means is this: the music business that he and
others of his elk understood is changing so fast that they must feel like
high-school guidance counselors slammed in the whirlwind of a Mosh pit. In their day they argued
with labels over things like tour support and mechanical royalties. Pedestrian. Today’s major label negotiation
involves nomenclature like: cross-aggregation, tethered
downloads, ethereal DRM, merch-cooping and web-rights. I kid you not when I say that many of these veterans would
not know how to finesse those points.
that those who prospered in the 70s and 80s may no-longer pay their $10,000 a
month mortgage or their $1200 a month car payment solely from passive income
derived via CD royalties. So, it must be very hard for
them to reconcile the fact that the business they grew up in, the business that
they helped mold, has metamorphosed and their place in it has receded into the
penumbra of its progress. It’s far hipper and far
easier to simply condemn it.
Now… to the
25 year-old who is excited about making $75,000 a year by doing something he loves-- music, the biz is far from dead. To
the groups that are able to support their families by grossing a mere $300,000 a
year, independently of a label (and I have several
clients who are doing that) the biz is far from dead. To the guy who made a cool 20 second loop in his garage and is
getting $1000 a month in extra dough from ring-tone sales, the biz is far from
can not reconcile these paltry numbers. To them it must
seem ridiculous that today’s emerging artist aspires NOT a major label
contract. Rather he prefers to make 100,000 “friends”
on MySpace. He revels in getting a great, local,
home-town sponsor for $50,000 instead of a million dollar deal that will make
him a whore for Pepsi; is happy to make $7.00 profit that he can put in
his pocket TODAY from a CD he sold off the side of the stage, over $0.94 two
years after the label liquidates his reserve and only after he sells 1,000,000
units; or taking a big advance that in three years will leave him wondering what
to do with his career after the label drops him.
But to the old-timers, this all sounds
rather low rez. Where is the guarantee of
$50,000 a night for a fifteen city tour (that I can
commission)? Where is the $1,000,000 advance for five albums (that
I can commission)? And how about a seven figure publishing deal (that I can
commission)? That all-you-can-eat buffet has been subjected to a
Balsamic reduction. It’s now a pre-fixe menu of grinding out a decent, proletariat living from
the making of great art.
No. We are very much alive. Like the medical and
legal industries, recent changes in economics have forced many to re-think why
they are interested in becoming doctors or lawyers. You
must now love what you do. The money alone
cannot be the driving factor anymore.
it never should have been one in the first place. Perhaps, amidst
all the buy-outs, golden parachutes, and mergers, some
people have forgotten that.
Just the opinion of one
Moses Avalon is former
record producer and recording engineer who has worked with Grammy winning
artists and received RIAA platinum records. He is now
the one of nation’s leading music business consultants and artist’s rights
advocates and author of a top selling music business reference, Confessions
of a Record Producer. More of his articles can be seen at