Remember how a few years ago everybody was saying that the record industry was dying?
The record industry sucks. It really does.
Well apparently that isn’t happening anymore. Revenue from recorded music increased by thirteen per cent between 2017 and 2018, according to figures released by the RIAA – accounting for an additional $9.8 billion US dollars. The RIAA literally make the rules for how vinyl records are mastered*, so they should know those kinds of figures.
Another fact of which the RIAA would be aware is that the record industry generates around $43 billion per year in America alone. Of that, the amount collected by artists (y’know, the people who create and record the music) is about $5 billion, close enough to 12 per cent.
Let that sink in for a second. Vinyl sales are booming. Streaming services are raking it in. But the people who create the content itself earn a tiny fraction of it’s value. About a tenth, in fact. According to the Rolling Stone article I skim-read whilst researching this piece, the rest of the money is lost to “value leakage”.
Let’s get to the crux of the article here – musicians get paid fuck-all because we’re undervalued (and also perhaps because we’re not unionised). That “value leakage” they’re talking about isn’t just a few zeros missing off some rock star’s retirement fund – if you’ve ever had a venue agree on a set fee and simply not pay up, you’ve had the value stolen from your work. If you’ve ever agreed to a deal with an online streaming or distribution-on-demand service that pays you cents on the dollar, you’ve had the value stolen from your work.
It’s a systematic thing – musicians get paid last, after the other stakeholders have taken their piece. That’s if the musician gets paid at all.
The record industry sucks. It really does. It’s the record industry’s fault you hear the same four songs all day on the radio your workmates are blasting. It’s the record industry’s fault John Fogerty got sued for playing his own song. It’s the record industry’s fault all the music on the radio sounds the same.
But here’s the thing – artists are fighting back. In 2011, Die Antwoord decided they wanted to release a single. According to the common narrative, their record company (Interscope records) didn’t like said single and said “no”. So Die Antwoord just leaked it on the internet. Around the same time the group secured independent distribution and merchandise deals, thus circumventing the entire concept of a traditional record contract.
Creating, recording, mixing, and releasing your own music has never been easier. Recording equipment gets cheaper every year, the internet has made it possible to distribute your music to any corner of the globe. This is not news to anybody reading – most local bands are selling their own merch or albums already.
So what’s my point? I have three.
Point one: Stop buying records from large companies. Fuck ‘em. Buy records from bands who do their own distribution, or local second hand merchants. Perth and Australia are full of local bands trying to make their own original sounds without dealing with record company nonsense, how about supporting them?
Point two: Stop ripping bands off. If you book a band/artist to perform at your gig, venue or event and agree to a fee, pay it. Playing a musical instrument is a skill that takes years to acquire, remember that when you consider the fee charged by an artist.
Point three: Don’t attend venues that have a reputation for ripping artists off (they’re out there, even in Perth – believe me).
Are you a musician or artist who has been ripped off by the record industry? Share your story with us in the comments section, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*If you’re into record mixing or DIY recording look up “RIAA Equalisation”. Fascinating stuff.