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Is the Music Business Dead?
What, Again?
Commentary by Moses Avalon,
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

You can read the piece for yourself but I’ll save you the trouble and just excerpt the opening sentence.

    Legendary music 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 pitIn 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.

It’s likely 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 dead.

Old-timers 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.

For music, 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 man.

Moses Avalon


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 www.MosesAvalon.com .

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