“The music industry is dwindling, but only for the artists. Something’s not right here. Artists can’t make a living anymore. They’re having to go get second jobs to pay the bills. But look at the profits of music companies like YouTube, iTunes, Spotify and the evil publicly-traded Pandora (who recently sued artists and record labels to be allowed to pay even less per stream — they won btw and are now only obligated to pay a royalty rate of .0007 per stream. Yes, as incomprehensible as that is to fathom, that’s 7/1000th of one penny –that’s all we as artists get paid every time someone listens to a song of ours on Pandora. They’re revenue is in the billions. It’s hard to believe, I get it. It is just as hard for us, the content creators/product suppliers, to believe as well. The problem is the labels. I know and like these guys. And I’ve told them this to their face. They’ll sell their own mother for $25. They’ve got to change and start helping the artists more.” — Garth Brooks to CNN November 17, 2014
Hearing Garth say the words above in an interview today sparked me. It’s easy to feel like you’re being an ungrateful whiner when you’ve lived a life like mine — one that many could easily claim has been privileged, and yet you’re going around complaining about “artist royalty compensation” and other such seemingly elitist issues when regular folks are having a tough time making ends meet or even finding a job in the first place. It’s a subject Princess Little Tree and I discuss often: do I stir the flames of protest publicly about what’s happening in the music business to us the artists and tell people how bad it is? Or do I just play it cool? Is it bad for business? Or is it the right thing to do? Will people think I’m being ungrateful? Or greedy? Will I lose my street cred by bringing up the subject of money — which to certain circles of people shouldn’t even hold a place in the same conversation as music or art…?
Earlier this year I started the Fair Pay for Fair Play campaign to address just these issues. Accessing the Facebook page is the easiest way to get informed and involved in this cause and if you care about music and the artists who create it I encourage you to do just that. Visit the page. Like it. Share it with your friends. Because the truth is we are struggling in a way that we have never seen before in modern times. Artists are quite literally starving. Because we are being squeezed out of the very industry that we create the product for.
There are many many reasons for this sad state of affairs and over the last few months I have used these usually more literary Transcendence Diaries to discuss some of the root causes of this issue. No one diary entry is going to address the entire issue in its entirety. That would be impossible. It would take a volume of books to do the cause any real justice. But at the very least we are getting ball rolling in terms of alerting the public not just to the problem itself but to just how serious it is becoming. The easiest way to sum it up is to remind people that over the last ten years we have moved away from consuming music via purchasing it, through CDs or vinyl or through digital downloads ala iTunes, and shifted instead towards consuming music via “streaming it” online using services like Pandora or Spotify or YouTube.
For you and me as music lovers this has been an exciting trend, a revolutionary transition to a world where any and every thing that has ever been recorded by anyone we’ve ever heard of (or not) can be accessed immediately from anywhere in the world. Even on the go right from our phones. In fact most of us now listen to music via our phones more often than home stereos (remember those?) Besides the most obvious abhorrent problem with this shift — the fact that we use extremely expensive state of the art equipment worth millions of dollars to create the most pristine sounding music we possibly can for the audience and it is now being degraded to sound like shit through phone speakers, there’s another problem: as technology companies quickly take control of the distribution of the music — through the aforementioned streaming services, deals have been and are being struck that leave less than pennies for the artist, or worse yet leave them out of the equation entirely. And the sad part is that is most people have no idea that this is what’s going down. They just assume that because it’s all being done above board and publicly that “surely the artists are being paid as they always have.” But the answer is “No. They are not.”
It’s only been a few weeks since U2 shocked (and to some annoyed) the world by giving away their new album for free via Apple due to the realization that it probably wouldn’t sell many copies and thus like Jay Z, Kanye, Coldplay and Thom Yorke before, they’d be better off just giving it away rather than risking low sales figures.
Even more recently Taylor Swift rocked the music world by pulling her albums, including her very successful new one, off of Spotify completely — due to the fact that Spotify only pays us approximately 7/1000th of a penny per play. Consider that for a moment: Spotify doesn’t even pay us one cent per spin. That’s the cold hard truth. No matter how they try to spin it. And trust me, as a music lover I personally LOVE Spotify and it’s potential as a listening device. But as an artist there isn’t anything I can think of off the top of my head that I loath more than Spotify. Piracy, e.g. people who don’t pay for music at all and just go online to download it for free via bit torrent type piracy sites ranks just a bit higher on my hate list. But Spotify Pandora and YouTube come in a close second. Why? Because at least piracy sites are upfront and honest about what they are doing. They’re criminals and often times proud of it. They see “free music” as some sort of cause of rebellion, as if by stealing music they’re somehow sticking it to The Man. But companies like YouTube and Spotify pretend to be “working with the record labels and artists to create a fair playing field for everyone”. But that claim is total bollocks. It’s just completely untrue.
Today it was announced that platinum country rocker Garth Brooks decided to sell his new album via his own website, something called Ghost Tunes, instead of via iTunes. Why? For pretty much the same reasons. He’ll make a much larger profit that way without having to sell even a fifth of the copies he would have to via iTunes.
Caveat: I and my boys in Transcendence are on an independent label, Dying Van Gogh Records, one which we have a large stake of ownership in. And so we make a larger percentage of sales than artists like Brooks and Swift. We make at least 50% of sales. Whereas artists on larger labels like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift only make 10% of total sales if they’re lucky.
So do the math. If Spotify is only paying out 7/1000th of one penny per spin of any one song and 90% of THAT goes to the label, leaving only 10% to the artist…well how is that artist supposed to make a living? Sales and downloads?
Well therein lies the problem: because streaming has become so popular, people are buying and downloading less and less music. In a nutshell sales and downloads of music — personal ownership of music has nearly come crashing to a halt. It’s a failed business model. (Unfortunately that also means that album artwork and photography is a dying art form as well. A sad often overlooked side effect of this trend.)
But okay let’s look at downloads still because there are some artists who can still sell some serious numbers. Taylor Swift being one of them. iTunes only takes about 28%, leaving the label and artist a full 72% of gross sales. Not bad right? But again if the label is taking 90% of THAT, leaving the artist only 10% of it…there we are again, asking how can the artist make any real money?
It’s no wonder that both Swift and Brooks have tried to create work-arounds to try to make more money from their new music. It’s only natural.
Speaking about this situation personally, this past weekend it was brought to my attention that the lead singles from my last solo album had huge spikes in their views on YouTube. Granted, they’re nothing close to big platinum selling artists like U2, Taylor Swift or Garth Brooks. But they’re significant. “Scene in San Francisco” somehow managed to hit 225,000 views; “New Orleans Dreams” close to that and “Hello My Dove” still hovers around 20,000. And yes I’m sure if we sat down and did more research we would find that plenty of the other songs we have on YouTube have even higher view counts than these three, because they are older classics and have the advantage of having been around longer, but I am referring to these songs specifically because they are the NEWEST songs from our catalogue. Just those three songs alone have pulled in a healthy half a million views on YouTube since their release. Not bad.
Any normal rational thinking music lover is going to assume that we the artist MUST BE earning something from all this action. After all we are forced to sit through a ten to thirty second commercial before every single song we listen to on YouTube. It only makes sense that if YouTube is profiting from all these commercial spins that at least some of that has to get passed on to the artist and their record label.
Now here’s the deal: we do NOT get paid directly from YouTube. That would be too easy. Too fair. The music business has never been fair or easy. Nope. We the artists get paid by YouTube paying out “public performance royalties” to the PROs (Performing Rights Organizations) like ASCAP, SESAC and BMI on a quarterly basis who are supposed to turn around and pass on ALL that money to us, the artists. Remember, these PROs portend that they are NON-PROFIT, that they are ONLY in business to “serve the needs of the artists”. And yet when we have called our PRO, ASCAP, they have repeatedly told us “hey wow Ed Hale that’s great man. Congratulations! You’re really making good traction with the new songs! But see, with our proprietary system we really don’t even pay out on YouTube views until a song gets at least half a million to a million views. And even then you would have to accumulate those views at a rate of half a million views per month in order for us to calculate them and pay you any for them. So as unfair as it seems we can’t really pay you for any of those views for your new songs sorry to say.”
Needless to say every time I have this conversation with them I hang up that phone angry and discouraged. See, there’s no shortage of new fans for the music what with all these new ways to experience our music… But we the artists are just getting screwed out of the process. And yet it is WE WHO ARE CREATING THE PRODUCT!!! Without us there would be NO product for YouTube to play. Nor Spotify or Pandora or iTunes.
I ran the numbers in my head this morning as I was watching Garth complain about the same thing… Even if YouTube only paid us ONE CENT per spin I would make at least $5,000 just for those three songs alone this year. If they paid us just TWO CENTS per spin or view those songs would generate $10,000. No that’s not enough to support a family. But it’s certainly better than ZERO! And zero is what we are currently being paid from YouTube views.
See, the problem is that just a few short years ago we would make that kind of money in just a few weeks from putting out a new album and selling it. Either via a CD or via iTunes downloads. But with every song we release becoming instantly available online there is really no incentive for a fan to make that purchase. They can just go to YouTube or Spotify. And as a music lover myself I totally get how awesome that is. I do it myself. At least I used to. But if these streaming services are not going to compensate the artists for the streaming because of some “proprietary system” ala YouTube or only pay the artist 7/1000th of a penny per spin…the fans and music lovers are getting just as duped as we the artists are — believing their favorite artists are being compensated for the listening pleasure that their music is providing when in reality no such thing is happening.
If you’ve been wondering lately where your favorite artist is or where they have been and why you haven’t heard from them in a while, and who hasn’t… This is the reason why. They’re still alive. They just cannot afford to make music any longer. And this is by no means an exaggeration. As an artist myself I promise you that it is much worse than I have made it out to be simply because it is just too embarrassing to fully admit publicly — especially regarding other people who may or may not want the world to know how tough things are for them. That decision has to be up to each artist and their respective family. But suffice it to say I personally know many who are big names and plenty of smaller names who simply cannot afford to make music at the present time. And that is a very sad thing for all of us.
Of course there is much more to all of this. But this is a start. We will continue to explore this in future updates. In the meantime YOU can do something by simply publicly letting the above mentioned companies know that you believe they need to start compensating artists fairly. Something needs to change. And as always that change begins and ends with us — we the people can turn this tragic episode around and create for ourselves the miraculous happy ending that we all hope and wish for just as we always do in all world affairs.
– Posted by The Ambassador aka Ed Hale using BlogPress on an iPhone