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So Why Can't Major Record Labels Provide Accurate Accounting To Bands?

from the because-that-would-mean-paying-them-accurately dept

The more you learn about the way major record labels work, the more ridiculous it seems. Unlike pretty much every other creative deal making situation, musicians who sign major record label contracts basically hand over all their rights to the label. The label gets the copyright. It gets to determine the type of music the musician plays. It handles much of the marketing and promotion. And... the biggest thing of all is that it handles all the accounting and payments (if there are any). Over the years, that's resulted in many, many accusations from artists that the labels are flat out lying about how much an artist actually earns. That's why you hear stories of artists selling millions of albums and never seeing a dime in royalties or of artists suing record labels because of sneaky accounting tricks to hide how much an album has earned.

Dave Stewart, from the Eurythmics, has written an article for Billboard where he points out that any retailer in the world has access to amazingly detailed technology and tools to track transactions and settle details with credit card company merchant accounts. He notes how ridiculous it is that such systems have been available for nearly thirty years... and he still can't get an accurate transparent accounting of what a record label has sold.

In the past, the major labels could get away with this, because they were the only real game in town, if a band really wanted to get big. But that's changing. This, of course, is the major labels real concern over new innovations and technology. It's not piracy. It's that new technologies take away the biggest scam they've had going for ages: the ability to keep tons of money that never belonged to them. And that's changing. As Stewart notes:
In the future, all incoming revenue streams will be reported in real time, with transaction costs pre-defined and competitive with the market. In the old model, content distributors have been slow and/or reluctant to adopt new media. Distributors frequently take significant portions of creative control out of the hands of the artist, placing restrictions on format, functionality, interactivity and other components. Copyright controls inherently limit the models and methods of release and distribution of artist products. Digital distribution and rights management methods have failed to leverage technological and business advancements to serve consumer, artistic and corporate interests. With many distributors, the feedback loop on consumer usage is also limited. Buyer profiles, habits and usage patterns are not shared with artists, who are then forced to use other means (surveys, focus groups) to determine how their content is being received by the fan. Especially troubling is that, in many cases, artists are not entitled to any control over precisely what happens with their creative work, or to apply some of the new and innovative ideas in the digital landscape due to restrictions from rights holders. Digital media technologies for distribution, asset management, security and monetization have matured to the point that an easy-to-use, scalable, fully featured digital media gateway and financial tracking system is now possible and should be demanded by all artists.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    Er...

    "So Why Can't Major Record Labels Provide Accurate Accounting To Bands?"

    Well, not to simplify too much, but probably because it isn't in their financial interest to do so.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:24pm

    Considering that the records are sold in literally hundreds of different markets over the world, with the money collected at various levels, moved up, consolidated, moved around, etc, it is probably very close to impossible to say exactly how many sales any single record gets in a week with any certainty - on a worldwide level.

    If you check, most of the lawsuits discussed here involve sales in smaller markets, often places that don't have the same infrastructure as the western countries. Example would be the Sonny and Cher hits album that Cher is suing about (9 years later... hello?). That is a record that isn't even sold in the major western marketplaces.

    Are the record labels playing fast and loose with the numbers? Who can really tell? I am sure that Mike could enlighten us with actually examples, right?

     

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  3.  
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    ThoughtCancer, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:27pm

    Fiduciary Malfeasance

    Electronic accounting systems have been available for a very long time. They've been accurate since the early 80's, and have been wildly successful in every industry they've been implemented. We're supposed to believe that the labels, as big and well stocked with smart people as they are, haven't had such systems available to them?

    When even your local gas station has (and has had) better accounting and retail tracking systems than Warner and Sony, the only way to characterize such behavior is fraudulent, or at the very least criminally incompetent.

    In a world where we've had ATM's that can track the most minute transactions, and gas stations pumps that can count down to the last 1/100 of a gallon, we're expected to believe that the RIAA can't accurately account for its sales, or that the government can't get a hold of accurate vote-counting machines?

    None of this passes the smell test. It's outright criminal.

     

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  4.  
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    Keven Sutton, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:36pm

    It may be there real concern...

    It may be there real concern... however it wouldn't have been if they had embraced the tech when it became available. They'd have probably put their competition in a hard spot, playing catch up.

     

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  5.  
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    Bettawrekonize, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:38pm

    "Digital media technologies for distribution, asset management, security and monetization have matured to the point that an easy-to-use, scalable, fully featured digital media gateway and financial tracking system is now possible and should be demanded by all artists. "

    I completely agree and have even stated an easy to implement one earlier. We have the technology and it's being done for other things, so it should be done. Here is the idea I came up with.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090612/0056115206.shtml

     

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  6.  
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    Thomas, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:47pm

    I am confused

    I never heard that the Record labels had any obligation to pay artists/bands anything? Who came up with such a ridiculous idea? The record labels need money to pay for lawyers, salaries to flunkies, lavish trips to exotic places, hookers, and drugs. Why would they want to give money to artists?

     

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  7.  
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    Idaho Potato Commisioner, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    Re:

    Pretty simple really, when the distributor ship the product out,to wholesaler or retailer, count it as sold, because it is from the labels perspective. They don't get a cut at any other level. Only when they sell to whatever distribution channel they sell it to.

     

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  8.  
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    musiciansPOV, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:54pm

    I'd rather be a "nobody" who owns his music than a "somebody" who doesn't.

     

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  9.  
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    Lickity Split, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:55pm

    If artist don't get paid until the unit sells at the retail level, they are getting screwed. The label gets it money as soon as they sell it to the wholesaler or retailer. so if the retailer doesn't sell the record, the label still got paid. I gauran-fuckin-tee you that they can account for every single penny owed to them by their customers.

     

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  10.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:01pm

    Re:

    PUH-LEASE. I'd bet anything you're with the industry or paid to write for them.

    Banks have handled hundreds of millions more transactions more accurately than the RIAA ever has. Sure hasn't been too hard for them, has it? Then again, they have an incentive for accuracy while the RIAA has every incentive for inaccuracy: they get to keep the difference.

    I'm pretty sure a college kid with a finance background could do more accurate accounting handling the RIAA's transactions than the RIAA in a month. There's software, established tools, and established businesses to do so.

    It's not hard at all to be accurate with sales.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Re:

    I only have one word for your post and the music industry's desire to hide the truth.

    Bullshit.

    It's just another reason that the labels will have to adapt or die.

     

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  12.  
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    WisconsinGod, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:18pm

    Re: @AC

    "Considering that the records are sold in literally hundreds of different markets over the world, with the money collected at various levels, moved up, consolidated, moved around, etc, it is probably very close to impossible to say exactly how many sales any single record gets in a week with any certainty - on a worldwide level."

    Most contracts have nothing to do with the actual price the record sells for. Royalties are based on volume. Volume is a universal number, that has nothing to do with the country.

    I have a gold record (sold 500,000 albums worldwide). My contract states that I make $1 per album sold, therefore I should get $500,000.... with the RIAA math in there, you have a gold record, and they hand you a check for $100... That is the type of situation that is occuring.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:22pm

    Re:

    In the "usual" arrangement everyone but the artists get their money up front, and that was part of why the artists needed someone with real money to get the album made.

    Digital distribution and even the CD have changed all that and the established "music industry" is on it's way out.
    Good Riddance!

     

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  14.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

    Re:

    Hello Coward.
    What are you on the internet on?
    Don't think too hard on this one.
    It is called a computer.
    Here in the 21st century we use them for lots more purposes than surfing the web.
    Lots of companies use them to track numbers.
    This is part of a process called Accounting.
    That way they know how much money they are making and they can track if they are doing a good job or not.

    If the RIAA would fire a couple of lawyers and buy a couple computers with the outrageous millions they are making by stealing from the artists they would NO problem at all keeping track of the numbers.
    Its really simple.
    Even little mom and pop stores do it.

     

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  15.  
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    Eponymous Coward, AKA Doug (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    Re:

    AC #2 beat me to it here. Bullshit.

    Units shipped is a centralized number, and you're either dumb or a shill.

    "Battle not with the stupid, lest ye become stupid."

     

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  16.  
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    siliconbandit (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    Along for the ride

    The RIAA is basically milking it for all its worth while the getting is still good. They know they can't keep obscuring records forever or the rumblings will turn into a full blown storm of public outcry regarding fraud.

     

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  17.  
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    Farrell McGovern (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:40pm

    It's the same scam that the you hear the that the movie studios play. No movie has ever made money until the people who worked on it sue the studio...then the studio "proves" that the film actually lost lots of money, and technically the "talent" owes the studio money because of the advances they were paid!

     

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  18.  
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    OtherKevin, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:46pm

    Re:

    Considering that the records are sold in literally hundreds of different markets over the world, with the money collected at various levels, moved up, consolidated, moved around, etc, it is probably very close to impossible to say exactly how many sales any single record gets in a week with any certainty - on a worldwide level.

    Don't be ridiculous, it's easy to tell how many copies of what were sold and when and where. Record Companies deal in finite, physical goods. The only way they can do so efficiently is via supply-chain management. They need to know what the demand for a particular CD is for each market that they serve so that they can provide the appropriate supply. Not only that, but they need to be able to accurately forecast demand so that they don't run out, and they can't do that without detailed sales and market data. It really shouldn't be that difficult at all.

    Of course, if they fully embraced the digital distribution model they could not only reduce distribution costs, but they could simplify their supply-chain model because they are distributing infinite digital goods. And they would probably have more up to the minute demographic and sales data as well.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:09pm

    So here's this is inherently unfair. Artists get money out of the profit that their music makes. However, you have to take the marketing and advertising expenses out of this to get the profit. I would have no problem with this since I still believe that marketing and advertising are important in selling music. However, what I suspect happens is that the record company is not just charging them for what it spends, but rather, it treats its marketing and advertising arms as separate companies and charges itself whatever it wants. I don't know if this is true or not, but I can't see any other way they could do it without it being outright left.

     

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  20.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:19pm

    few reasons

    The only reason for hiding facts and figures (that have been available for years) it to hide theft and skimming.

    With the exception of the most popular legends who can demand upfront payment for going on tour...the record companies own artists and contractually demand they go on tour. The freebie they usually offer is revenue from those expensive T-shirts and goods sold, after they pay licensing to the record company.

    Unfortunately, there are so few big venues that take non contracted artists (they were part of the game before the big sports venues got built) your only hope to get famous and obtain future financial security was to play the game - it's about time that the game changed.

    It is a form of prostitution: Keep them on a schedule that doesn't give time to think or reason or know night from day; Provide drugs and alcohol to confuse them even more. Sounds like pimp tactics doesn't it. Maybe times have changed. I had to get out years ago.

     

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  21.  
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    stevestephen (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:23pm

    Re: few reasons

    I forgot to add: You NEVER got money from record sales!

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Huh?, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:32pm

    How Are They Different From the Movie Companies

    A movie can make hundreds of millions of dollars and yet the movie studio will say they lost money on the deal. Creative accounting 101.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:51pm

    Re: Marketing Costs

    Hi Anonymous Coward:

    You are correct to suspect charges by affiliates of a record company. As a royalty auditor, I have made many claims for such improper charges, particularly if the arrangement was not at "arm's length."

    However, now that WMG is no longer part of Time Warner and UMG is not part of NBC Universal, etc., it turns out that many of the charges against artist royalty accounts are legitimate costs charged by third parties, not affiliates (...although I am always looking for evidence that the third parties give the record companies kickbacks or phony invoices, which does happen but can be hard to prove). The bigger problem with affiliates are the intercompany fees they take off the top of the revenue, not so much the marketing costs.

    However, regarding marketing costs charged to artists, a trend that I have noted over the past five years is that recording contracts provide for the deduction of additional types of costs, including wardrobe and third party marketing, not just 50% of independent (radio) promotion charges, which was the standard for decades. If you are negotiating an agreement like this, at least require the artist's approval, so that your auditor can claim any unapproved charges upon audit.

    With respect to your statement that "Artists get money out of the profit that their music makes," I just wanted to point out that major recording artists receive sizable royalty advances, and many such artists' records never become profitable for the record company. So, even though I am a strong artist advocate, I still think there are many artists out there who have received more money than they have earned. Bottom line: Most artists who complain about never receiving any money did receive enormous advance payments and are simply unrecouped. Whether the record company is correctly calculating and applying the artist's earnings to his unrecouped account(s) is a separate issue, but it is only relevant if the artist has the potential to recoup.

     

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  24.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Along for the ride

    I hope you are correct that the record companies won't keep obscuring records forever, but I am doubtful. I have been waiting for the public outcry for decades and it hasn't happened yet, despite congressional hearings, etc.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:02pm

    Re: Wholesale vs. Retail Sales

    For physical sales of CDs, the record company recognizes a sale on the wholesale level, when it ships the CDs. However, CDs are returnable, so instead of reporting 100% of shipments to artists, record companies hold back some of the units as a "reserve" against returns and liquidate the reserve over time. (As a royalty auditor, sometimes I claim royalties for unreasonable reserves.)

    For digital sales, the record company must receive a statement from the DSP (e.g., iTunes) before it knows how many units to report, so that is on a "retail" level. This is one of the reasons I disagree with the record companies' contention that digital downloads are sales and not licensing. (If they were sales, the record company would know how many it sold.)

     

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  26.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:08pm

    Re: Re: few reasons

    The trend is to use recordings to drive other sources of revenue, but given the failure rate of 360 deals, the jury is still out on whether this is a viable model. I can assure you that at least some artists (including my clients) are still making money from record sales.

     

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  27.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    Re:

    Hi Anonymous Coward,

    You are correct that it is challenging to get affiliates in every country of the world to comply with reporting procedures and this does cause errors in the data that management uses to make decisions and on royalty statements. However, I do think that most of the record companies have reasonably reliable information regarding weekly sales figures.

    I don't agree with you regarding most lawsuits relating to smaller markets. As an auditor who provides expert witness testimony and litigation support, I focus on the big markets because otherwise I will waste my client's money. Therefore, I know that most (if not all) of the lawsuits are for big money in major territorries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:28pm

    Re: Er...

    Dark Helmet,

    You hit the nail on the head when you pointed out that it isn't in the record companies' interest to account correctly.

    Not only would the record companies have to hire enough competent staff and fix their royalty systems to accomplish this, but they would end up paying much more than they do under the current system, where the burden is on the artist to hire an auditor - and sometimes go to court - to get paid just some of what he is due. When you consider that probably less than 5% of artists ever conduct an audit, it is amazing to think of all of the money the record companies improperly pocket, unchallenged.

    There really just isn't any incentive for the record companies to do the right thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Jiminy Cricket, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 6:21pm

    Re:

    You do an excellent job shilling. I am really impressed by your ability to do so without being all Weird Harold about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 6:33pm

    How would the accountant enter into the books "doing coke off a hookers tits" ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:24pm

    Re:

    It depends on what the agreement says!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 10:17pm

    Re:

    "How would the accountant enter into the books "doing coke off a hookers tits" ?"

    Courtesy mountain-side snow removal?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    FormerVC, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 11:49pm

    Not sure if you all have run across it, but RoyaltyShare (https://www.royaltyshare.com) does royalty accounting for a number of large indie labels. It's run by Bob Kohn, who literally wrote the book on music licensing.

    A friend's VC firm is an investor in this company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    Sammie Houston (profile), Jun 20th, 2009 @ 5:00am

    Watunes, The New Music Industry!

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    Please give me a call at 678-598-2439 and/or email me at sammiehouston@watunes.com.

    If you'd like to speak directly with the CEO Kevin Rivers, he can be reached at 404-461-9342 and/or emailed at executive@watunes.com.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Jun 20th, 2009 @ 6:55am

    Sarbanes Oxley

    If any of the recording industry accounting is suspect it is all suspect. They need a visit from the people who enforce SOX accounting rules.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2009 @ 2:08am

    If they did they have to pay up!

    DOH!

     

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  37.  
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    Auditrix (profile), Jun 22nd, 2009 @ 12:43am

    Re: Sarbanes Oxley

    A monkey can do SOX.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    acronym, Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 8:38am

    "Buyer profiles, habits and usage patterns are not shared with artists, who are then forced to use other means (surveys, focus groups) to determine how their content is being received by the fan"

    how should the distributor be able to provide such data when most of the (digital) retail does not collect it - and i'm not speaking of the big 5.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Overcast (profile), Jun 23rd, 2009 @ 12:30pm

    Simple: Because the labels are stealing more from the artists - than the public is by downloading songs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 3:06am

    I had to come back and comment on this....

    The achilles heel/dirty little secret of the record industry, Creative accounting. Dave Steward made that one very good point. That having been said ...Big Ole GRIN...

    Another couple entries for the business plan...

    186 entry/note) A standards body for Open Music Accounting

    187 ) An open source accounting system for artists, suppliers, roadies, business managers, mixers, web sites, CD manufacturing shops, Tee Shirt manufacturers, etc to use that links all of the music industry together.

    (Notice how record labels are missing from the above list)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 24th, 2009 @ 3:14am

    just realized something....

    just realized something.... 187 ... the police ??code?? for murder. Wouldnt it be funny if it wasnt pirates that killed the recording industry, but an open source accounting system that allowed artists, fans, and suppliers to work together....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Chris's Girl, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 8:25am

    Interestingly enough....

    I just wrote about this from a personal perspective very recently. Please read my "article" and comment if you are interested: http://gonzoxinjustice.livejournal.com/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Charles wilson, Jul 10th, 2009 @ 5:18pm

    All foul play

    Thats why i havent put out my best shots for now till i find a better label i can trust with my asset..i dont care if you are Gunit or def jams, lack of loyalty is what brings homicide no one wants to sweat for charity, well im giving the company i work for a few snacks of me, maybe ill bake my real cake when i find a real eater.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Ross, Aug 10th, 2009 @ 11:26am

    Re: Re: Marketing Costs

    "major recording artists receive sizable royalty advances" - true, but this is not FREE money. They are LOANS. Like being a sales-person making a "Draw" instead of a salary.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    me, Oct 19th, 2009 @ 1:14pm

    nbcncv

    go to you tube and wach smithlands first concert

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    dean berry, Dec 22nd, 2009 @ 8:24pm

    I know you don't wanna hear it but ...

    "Jews" (yes, "jews") own most of the record companies. Their talmud teaches them that is almost a duty to ripoff nonjews (Gentiles, goyim - human cattle).

    Deanberryministries.us for more of the truth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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