Living in a post-modern world has certain benefits. I mean, when everything has no meaning except what you ascribe to it, prices drop. It’s the perfect world for the consumer.
And with reproduction as easy as turning on your all-in-one printer, what’s there to worry about copyright law? You may pay millions for a Picasso, or pay dollars to get a colour copy. What about authenticity then? Who gives a damn? After all, it’s not like anyone can really tell the difference between Picasso and Picazzo right? So what’s with copying a piece of music all over the world, or sharing it with friends, instead of buying it? Originality is out of the picture, and artistic license? Music was made to be listened, else what’s the point of making it? It’s kind of like the sound in the forest isn’t it? If no one hears it, is it still a sound?
I know none of what I’ve said probably makes much sense, but I’m simply driving home a point: if blank CDs cost 20 cents a piece, why does it still cost 26 bucks to buy a music CD?
So here’s the truth on making music: you get shit. Almost like writing for a magazine. True, it has its perks: look at Lindsay Lohan. She can waltz into clubs from which she used to be banned from, and she doesn’t have to pay, even tough she can now afford to. It’s strange how things work in this world. When you want it, you can’t afford it, but when you can afford it, you don’t need to pay for it. More curiously, if a musician gets peanuts, where does all the money go to?
So I did a little digging on exactly how are CDs made, and artists hired. And it was at this point that I discovered a dirty dark secret: the reason why you’re paying so much for your music is probably not because of the artist, but more probably due to the record company producing it. And that’s where your money goes to: the gaping black hole called the music industry. You’re probably wondering “Why?” “How does it work?” And maybe, just maybe, for those of you that are still rather innocent and believing that the music industry is a good thing, you’re thinking, the money probably goes to development and getting better equipment and stuff. Huh?
It all begins with a stupid, innocent upcoming musician. There are a lot of hopefuls, though not all of them are worthy of hope. In order to hook these people, the record company sends out an A&R man (otherwise known as an “artist and repertoire” man, not “assh*le and retarded”).
They are usually young guys, ambitious and energetic, to present a friendly face to the artist. I mean, who do you think a struggling actor would respond to better, someone who looks like Scrooge or someone who looks like a frat boy?
Especially when they are telling you that, you know, “Hey, if you consider making a deal with us, you’ll probably be famous in a year, dude! Think of all the chicks you’ll bag!” I’m trying to imagine someone looking like my father telling me, an artist, that. I suspect I’d be out of the state, hell, the country, and looking for a different career in a day.
The saddest thing is, the A&R person actually believes what he says. Which, on one hand, makes him more than just a bit of a retard, but on the other hand, means he’s the perfect choice to “scam” on the upcoming artist.
P.S. All these problems occur because there are stupid people in this world who believe that they can make good music, even though it’s probably crap, and that there are people in this world stupider than them that will buy the music even if it’s garbage. And in some cases, because it is garbage. Still, there are some good artists. Don’t be too hesitant to join this field.
That revelation over, let us look at how the record company hooks the fish (i.e. the newbie artist). Typically they tell the artist to sign a deal memo with them, and basically it just says that the artist will in some distant future make a contract with them. The A&R guy tells them it isn’t binding, but it is.
Because this deal memo basically says that the artist can only sign a contract with them, and if they sign with any other company, that’s wrongful termination. So the record company has them hanging off its feet. And it can hang on to them for years! Even if nothing is done. After all, it doesn’t cost the record company anything; it’s the artists’ loss if they don’t wanna produce anything. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee it’ll be contracted for an album.
So why do they sign the deal memo? Simply because no record company will sign them on otherwise. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Honestly, you didn’t think it was simply a matter of becoming a bartop dancer and then making some great hit, and then you become a star? Coyote Ugly is a movie, just like Pretty Woman. And after the deal memo, comes the distribution of commissions. Up for grabs, feel free to stake your claim.
The producer wants a cut, so does the record company. And if there’s an old label involved, hell, why not? And then there’s the lawyer too. At the end of the day, the band gets 13%, excluding 10% for packaging.
Still, it sounds good. The company gives the band an advance, and everyone’s overjoyed. There’s the merchandise too, don’t forget that. And at the end of the crazy day, out of maybe $1m in sales, the band gets about 3%. And 75%? “How much does the record company get?” You’ve got Jeopardy!
What do we do, as concerned citizens? It would be politically wrong for me to tell my readers to support file-sharing, because technically, that would be illegal, unless one of the kind souls on the network actually owns a real copy of the CD, and thus is allowed to share it or copy it with friends. Piracy? Of course not. My friend’s just giving me a bit of money in order for me to burn a copy of the CD I own for him. What’s my friend’s name? I don’t know, but why do you care? Hundreds of underground bands are realising the truth of the situation, that it’s a lose-lose situation for them.
But until someone comes along and gives the record companies a loud fart, we’re stuck with the donkey.