Counting Crows' Keyboard Player Discusses The Music Industry

from the interesting-views dept

Ryan writes in to point out that the keyboard player for the band The Counting Crows, Charlie Gillingham, has written up his opinion about the music industry and the internet. It’s an interesting article from someone who not only has been paying attention, but also has been on both sides of the equation — having worked in the software industry prior to his success as a musician. Some of what he says makes a lot of sense — and some of it I disagree with tremendously — but it’s absolutely worth a read. He notes that the recording industry is in trouble, and suggests that it’s not downloading the problem — but rather he blames CDs which have no DRM that people are passing around and ripping to their iPods as being a bigger problem. He then shifts to claim that the whole debate is really about money — which is true. However, he sees it as a three way struggle between the music industry, the tech industry and consumers — and seems to suggest that each side is basically trying to rip the others off. It’s not hard to see how he came to this conclusion, and indeed, many others have come to similar conclusions. However, I believe it’s part of the reason why everything remains such a big mess. There really is a solution that makes everyone happy — and what’s amusing is that Gillingham sort of realizes it towards the end of his post, but doesn’t connect everything together.

That is, he notes exactly what plenty of people have been saying for years: the music acts as promotional material for their tour. It’s the same old story of non-scarce goods (music) promoting scarce goods (concert tickets). So, while he starts off his post by claiming “the music business is in trouble,” that’s not quite true. Stats show that the music business is booming. It’s the recording industry that’s in trouble. However, all sorts of ancillary services that support the music business have doubled over the last decade. The issue isn’t that the music business is in trouble — it’s just that the places where the money comes from have shifted — and the goal of any musician should be to follow where that money is going and capture it. Gillingham and his band are already doing exactly that — and it’s a solution that should make everyone happy (rather than be a tug of war between three players). The musicians should be happy because they make more money as more people go to shows. The tech industry is happy because the music helps add more value (sell more computers and iPods for example) and consumers are happy because they get access to more music in friendlier formats. It may be all about the money, but there are solutions that make everyone happy by building a bigger pie that everyone can share in, rather than fighting over the scraps of the smaller pie.

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Comments on “Counting Crows' Keyboard Player Discusses The Music Industry”

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Evostick says:

Non touring musicians

In all of these techdirt articles there seems to be an underlying assumption that music is only produced by touring musicians.

In this new world, I’m wondering how composers/recording artists would make money. They don’t tour, so there isn’t anything for the musician to directly promote.

Artists producing dance music for clubs would be missing a huge chunk of income if their tracks were freely available.

Any answers anyone?

Casper says:

Re: Non touring musicians

I don’t understand… I think you missed the point. Clubs and Concerts would still have to pay royalties to the band. The issue here is that the market for the lazy musicians who want to become a one hit wonder are dying off. In my opinion it was nothing more then a bubble that is bursting.

If a place of business wants to play a bands music without them there, it pays a hefty royalty. When they hold a concert, if they are worth hearing, people will attend. The only people worried about this market shift are the people who don’t actually have talent. With a shift such as this, the Brittney Spears of the world will suddenly get a rude awakening.

No musician is producing a product with a CD. All your doing is recording yourself doing something. I will be glad when the shift comes and suddenly people realize that you can not copyright a performance. You should be able to copyright lyrics, logos, names, etc, but not a performance. You are performing and being paid to perform.

In the end it has nothing to do with an industry problem, but rather human nature. People always like to get something for nothing and believe that they deserve it. It is the same thing with the current music industry, they have gotten spoiled and now the bubble is bursting. Guess they will have to go back to work.

Evostick says:

Re: Re: Non touring musicians

Some really great music is unperformable. If all the money based on performance, rather than creation then we could be missing out on really great work from interesting composers. I’m thinking Aphex Twin. Another example is The Beatles. They couldn’t really tour with their later work as a lot of the magic was done at the studio. Only the recording is worthy of payment.

I think you are correct about the performance licence. If composers write music that can be performed, or that sounds good played in a public environment, then the current royalty system works.

If all recordings were freely available (I say this as I think its the way things are heading) then no-one is encouraged to write excellent music designed to be listened to in the home.

The only solution I can think of is a busking/patron style ‘pay to encourage further compositions’ style of business model. Are there any other alternatives?

Corporate Sponsorship?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Non touring musicians


I don’t think that the recordings should be free, but I don’t think they should be the crutch that is supporting a crippled industry. Besides, musicians will make synthesized music not matter how much money is in it for them. Look at the techno scene. Most of those guys started out making no money, many still don’t, but they are still chugging along.

Artists will still want to make music that can be enjoyed at home. They are not doing it solely because of inflated market values. The music serves as a hype material. If people like it, more people buy it. If they make stuff people like, even if it is shared, it only helps them make more sales in the end.

fuse5k says:

The only problem is that musicians actually make no money touring…

A good tour would be one where the band breaks even. I have studied this in the past and found it to be very true when you consider the long list of people who have to get paid…

However, i do agree with your point in general, Music is not scarce, and can be used as a driver for scarce goods.

I would count merchandising as the biggest income that a band could make(with the obvious exception of writing royalties) however most of the big labels now have merchandising written into the contract, with bands getting only a small fraction of the cash for this.

The problem with the recording industry really is that the entire business model is outdated now.
The huge advances that fund the rockstar lifestyle all have to be recouped from the artist, and this will usually be over a period of years. meanwhile the artists will be receiving absolutely no money from royalties on album sales.

This is why the industry are panicing about the ease of downloading music.

They have already put the investment into these artists (via the advance) and are now faced reduced returns on the artist as more people are downloading the music.

basically people are still consuming music, but the industry needs to deliver the music in the right way, and restructure the way that artists are paid before they can make a deal that will please everyone.

oh and FIRST

safwan javed (user link) says:

alternative revenue schemes for delivery

no one seems to be mentioning potential alternative models to keep generating revenue via music delivery itself. for example, the hoffert model employs a fee charged to the isps and mobile service providers, who can, if they choose (and they probably would), to pass on that fee to the consumers using their service. the fee in hoffert’s design ends up being marginal on a per user basis. the user is charged at the access point, and is then free to download as much as s/he likes without the stigma of illegality, fear of reprimand, and guilt of not supporting artists. the artists are compensated with the fees charged to isps/consumers via a share systems similar to the ascap/socan collective societies’ model – although the potential exists to utilize systems already functioning, like big champagne to track exact usage and compensate accordingly.
this is just one model. others exist as well.

Anstrona says:

Pure Conjecture

It seems to me that Charlie Gillingham is missing some of the facts. Albums being passed around between friends and family is nothing new, certainly not since the intro of the personal computer or the iPod. People have been sharing music in that manner since the invention of the mix tape. Those have been around for the better part of 30 years. Yet the music industry wasn’t suffering all these ‘heavy’ losses in the 80’s and 90’s. Growing up I can honestly say I purchased fewer albums than I do now because of them. Back then the way I got ahold of most of my music was with places like BMG and Columbia House. I’d get a dozen CD’s for a penny, pay for my two overpriced CD’s, rinse and repeat. Now places like that want your credit card number, first born, etc. I’d get songs from albums that friends had purchased, or I’d record them off of the radio.

I think the real problem lies in quality versus quantity. Back then I could purchase half a dozen albums and they were all at least fairly good. Individual genres of music had maybe two or three dozen front lining bands and they were all fairly decent. Nowadays, I can talk to anyone and they can spout off at least 30 musicians or bands that I’ve never heard of, and maybe half of them are even worth mentioning…if that. So you’ve got a greater selection, but more or less uniformly of diminished quality. So you start with the music industry shelling out more money for more bands (even though the artists themselves receive chump change) with lower sales just because most of them suck. You top that off with the recording industry actually trying to make owning music LESS convenient (the consumer wants their music when they want it, how they want it) while technology strives to make it MORE convenient to obtain and even distribute (with bands being able to produce their own music independently without the assistance of the RIAA or the like) mixed with the possibility of obtaining music for free STILL being an option – and its no wonder the recording industry as a whole is slowing. Finally, you’ve got the RIAA paying big bucks to a team of lawyers to run around and use mafia tactics to obtain mere scraps while pretty much destroying some people’s lives which also lowers the public’s opinion of them (I use places like RIAA Radar to see if the RIAA endorses a certain album before I buy and if the RIAA supports them I don’t buy the CD just out of principle). Just a sign of the times. You either adapt or you die, and the recording industry is doing a real bang up job of adapting thus far.

So…pull the other one Gillingham.

Charles Gillingham says:

Re: Pure Conjecture

I absolutely agree that the quality of pop music suffered when record sales slipped. I talk about this in the article. If this is the reason that people stopped buying as many CDs, as you imply, then I believe we have been in a terrible forward feedback loop — dropping record sales cause the industry to release less and records of lower and lower quality, which makes people buy less music, which causes the industry to seek an even lower common denominator.

My gut feeling from listening and talking to people is that we are beginning to pull out of this spiral — that A&R people are getting more serious about finding acts that they actually like.

Anonymous Coward says:

As mentioned above, the formula is missing another important number…that is…how much money would the riaa be making if for every song bought from itunes, the user had to buy the entire album, even if they only wanted that one song. so instead of paying .99 for the song, the actual cost would be 9.99 (or higher on plastic.) so if all songs from seperate albums were calculated, would the RIAA actually be making MORE money? The problem is that finally the user/listener can decide exactly what songs they want to be paying for.

As for the aside issue of musicians who make music for dance clubs, downloads have had a very minor effect on them for one important reason: no DJ or nightclub who takes the music seriously uses vynyl (Yes, they still produce music this way!!!). MP3’s no matter the bit rate, or cds, can not match the quality sound that is required for these sound systems, and the patrons. This quality and range of sound only comes from vynyl!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve posted this before in other places and it seems appropriate to share it here.

A few years ago I worked, as a programmer/Bus. Analyst with a guy who is now the lead person of a band I’ll call X. He is also a programmer. At that time, he was writing music and had self-recorded and produced their own album in his home. When they were signed to a label, these recordings were then used to create their first album for the label. This is all well and good except for the fact that he recorded the original audio, mixed it, and even created videos for a couple of the songs using bootleg software. He is the one who introduced me to Kazaa.

Soon after making it, the band had an official website with a message board. The subject of illegal downloads came up and several of the members of the band were posting messages telling how illegal downloads of music (theirs and others) hurt the band members directly.

Having firsthand knowledge of the making of their first album makes it difficult to take the message seriously. This along with the news of the RIAA using unlicensed software as was publicised a while back gives me little sympathy for them.

Jay says:

Someone here mentioned the BMG/Columbia House route for music acquisition…. back in the day when I was first really getting into music, that’s how I did it. I also spend a fortune (in retrospect) on cds in stores. It was like fuel to a fire. The thing with music or any art is the diminishing margin of return; so, it takes more an more to satisfy me.

It wasn’t until much later that I started doing research into the whole music industry. The fact is that ALL CD club “purchases” are considered “promotional” therefore the artist doesn’t get a cut of the money. The recording industry takes home the entire pie….

So, there were a few important things to learn from this:
1) obviously, the industry recognizes the promotional nature of the CD
2) when CDs are, on average, much cheaper then consumers buy a lot more.

The problem is the money goes to the wrong party. Get that $ into the hands of the artists…. not to a record label for some artificially blown up “handling” charge.

I really do believe that the pricing of downloads at $1 is what is killing the industry. It’s not in line with inherent value of the non-scare resource, and not in line with really anything other than the “tradition” of pricing from the days of the cassette. Since it’s much higher than the value it naturally creates a black market. Get the price in line with reality, and it isn’t worth the hassle NOT to buy something.

The problem with the industry is that everyone wants to own everything. There should be mandatory licensing for all music — no iTunes exclusives, no DRM. In short, it shouldn’t be so difficult to get music that I want.

John says:

What's all this talk about free?

Maybe I’m missing something but people seem to be throwing the word “free” around when referring to downloading music when this isn’t the case. There are “free” downloads that bands offer to entice you to buy their album or see their show. There are also free downloads on eMusic and iTMS that let you sample an artist or a record label. However, most people are using “free” as in “illegally downloaded.” Calling these “free” is a misnomer.

I have no idea how the music industry works from the inside, but my view of the problem is that there is a very old business model in the midst of revolutionary changes in technology. It’s so easy to see when you just realize that in order for music downloading as a business to take off it required a company, Apple, outside of the traditional music industry to come in an institute change.

DRM is a problem. DRM will never stop intellectual property problems. It will always be crackable and the creators of DRM will never win. That’s the truth. Spending millions of dollars in developing new DRM isn’t money well spent. In the end you have to trust your customers and consumers and assume they will be honest. Some will, some won’t. If content is priced appropriately the masses will pay for it.

The way musicians are paid royalties is a problem–giving ownership of their content to record labels and then getting royalties through companies like ASCAP and BMI. How many layers of middle men do you need taking a piece of a musicians money? We can assume the majority are lawyers.

A musician that thinks CDs should have DRM is missing something…especially if he used to work in the software industry.

DocJ says:

Where Do Some People Get Their Ideas

Artists’ albums drive concert ticket sales? Are you crazy? Ask anyone truly involved in the music industry (creating albums and/or managing tours), and they will tell you that that’s completely backwards. Music tours rarely make the artists any money at all; it’s considered a good tour if they break even. Tours have always been done to drive album sales. That IS where the artists’ bread and butter comes from, and always will. Anyone who says otherwise is an ignoramus.
I wish people who’s only “involvment” in the music industry is file-sharing ripped MP3s would just keep their mouths shut about how to “fix” it – you only make asses of yourselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Where Do Some People Get Their Ideas

“Ask anyone truly involved in the music industry (creating albums and/or managing tours), and they will tell you that that’s completely backwards.”

What do you do in the music industry? Do you really think that your understanding of the situation is that much greater then everyone else’s? If you look at it from a logistical stand point, the reason they just break even is due to over spending and poor money management. The “artist” does not need $15 a bottle water, a million dollar bus, 50 entourage members, clothing that costs more then some peoples cars, and the presidential suite at the nicest hotel. Those are things that they have become spoiled with. If they lived within their means, they would not be just breaking even.

“I wish people who’s only “involvment” in the music industry is file-sharing ripped MP3s would just keep their mouths shut about how to “fix” it – you only make asses of yourselves.”

Let me just tell you that you should have stayed in school or, at least, figure out that if you are going to surround a word with quotes you should spell it correctly. Anyway, I have spent a good deal of time around musicians and their way of life. Every one thinks they are going to make a big hit and be a superstar, but none of them want to work for it. There are very few who are truly still artists. Your arguments are that a musician can not make enough money doing concerts, but you don’t have a definitive number of what they should make.

How about the next time you post about concerts being a poor business model, you back it up with information rather then just claiming that the rest of the world doesn’t understand the plight of a musician. If you think that they are not making enough money, explain why you think this and what an acceptable amount of profit is. As far as I’m concerned, if they are worth hearing, they can make money… simple economics.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Where Do Some People Get Their Ideas

> As far as I’m concerned, if they are worth hearing, they can make money… simple economics.

This is the single most ignorant statement about the music industry ever uttered in the history of mankind.

Nope, that is a perfectly sane and logical statement. just what part of it is “ignorance”?

Charles Gillingham says:

Re: Where Do Some People Get Their Ideas

“Tours have always been done to drive album sales.”

Absolutely. This has always been true, until quite recently. My point is that this is changing. In the old days, selling records was our “bread and butter” and touring was just something we did to sell records. But now, there’s not as much bread or butter in making records. So, many of us, out of necessity, have begun to look at touring as our “core business.”

Read that Chicago Tribune article — a lot of us feel this way.

Nasty Old Geezer says:

Re: uh, fair use?

Chris, as much as I dispise the RIAA — making or allowing others to make copies of any copyrighted work (album, book, whatever) is not Fair Use.

I am allowed to make a copy of an album on CD, MP3, or whatever, as long as I retain the original copyrighted work that I have purchased. Others may borrow my original copy for listening, not copying.

If I dispose of the original, i am obligated to destroy all copies.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wrong

It is called the audio home recording act for a reason. Making copies for your own use and those in your household is a defensible fair use. Making copies to give to your friends is not.

A couple of years ago a colleague overheard a CD that I was listening to, and asked if she could borrow it. I said “sure”. The following day she returned it, having made a copy. I never lent her another CD.

I hate the actions of the RIAA as much as anyone else here, but the key question to ask here is “Am I depriving an artist of the proceeds of a sale?”.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Woefully incomplete

He starts off by saying that people spend less on music, but he fails to mention that most of homes have a DVD player and one or two Game consoles, along with a plethora of Cable-TV and Video-on-demand.

Put them together and you have a LOT more entertainment dollars being spent than ten years ago (and I haven’t even mentioned digital cameras, PDAs, Cellphones etc), but they are spread more thinly…

I would have expected an ex-programmer to know better.

It is also odd that his article does not allow comments.

Wizard Prang (user link) says:

Re: Re: That's not what you said

Your article seems to level most of its ire at Microsoft. It seems to imply that Microsoft are out to destroy the Recording Business. I don’t think that’s entirely true. Sure they want something for nothing – don’t we all?

The problem is not “the tech business”. Sure, they’re part of the problem, but so are Sony, Nintendo, Other entertainment products. There’s a bigger picture here.

Over the past ten years, the amount I spend on Entertainment has gone up substantially, but the amount I spend on music and theater-movies have both gone down for many reasons, none of which have anything to do with Microsoft or Piracy. Music is getting a much smaller piece of a much bigger pie.

But that’s just me…

Jayrad says:


The thing that jumped to my mind about Charlie Gillingham’s 1996 observation is that it’s missing an element that was a definite factor for me and surely countless others. He says 1996 is where music spending dipped, and it became cost effective to store music. Isn’t this also about the year that CDs started to become outlandishly expensive? CDs used to cost $12 and then they were $18. That’s where the bad combination came. Why would someone spend MORE on a CD when they could get it for free on Napster?

The price of CDs (especially older recordings) crossed a threshold where I would almost never ever buy one. The same thing is currently happening with sporting events. If tickets were $35 instead of $85, I might go 5 times a year ($175). Instead, I don’t go at all. But stadiums are different. They can afford to charge more because there is a capacity limit. The stadium holds x number of ticket-holders, so charge as much as you can and still fill the stadium. Easy. With music sales, there isn’t this kind of limit. So if CDs were $12 again, I might buy 20 a year ($240). Instead, I see $18 as far too expensive, so I buy maybe 5 a year ($90).

This brings me to the value part. At that time, there was no value in buying an expensive CD, especially with Napster. Again, the CD would just wind up on the passenger seat of my car, and get scratched. With MP3s, someone can download, store, and burn as much as they want. For me, the value of a CD comes in the packaging, and the recording quality. As an audiophile, I avoid MP3s as much as possible. CD prices have come down (a very small amount) and I will always buy a CD of music I like if I can afford it.

But here’s the rub. The only reason I buy CDs these days is the ability to archive them. Since FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec — came out, coupled with inexpensive hard drive space, I’ve been buying CDs like crazy.

Why? Because I can rip them and archive them on a giant hard drive, tuck the CD away on a shelf (as opposed to its inevitable shattered death in the passenger area of my car), and burn my pristine copy and not worry if it gets damaged. Same thing with DVDs. Small children absolutely destroy delicate optical media like CDs and DVDs. Isn’t it great to be able to make copies that can be thrown around the playroom? That’s where the value is for me.

Maybe if “Rubber Soul” wasn’t $18, young Beatles fans wouldn’t be forced to download it or rip their parents copy. And if they want “Abbey Road” too? Forget it. Ask Mom.

Maybe if perusing a CD store was pleasant rather than grimacing, people would start flocking to them again to stock up on those Metallica CDs they’ve always wanted (Believe me, “Ride the Lighting” sounds a hell of a lot better off a CD than it does in MP3).

It’s just media and some paper and plastic. Lower the price and I’ll buy them in droves. Why don’t they get it?

Casper says:

Re: Missing!

The same reason they think extortion of their target audience is helping them in the long run.

The MPAA/RIAA are the only markets where a publisher believes they can push the consumer to meet their demands without retaliation. Well, now that people are rebelling. Their solution is to shift the blame from themselves to other mediums and the customers. It must be the people buying the products that are caus Of course they are not going to look at a CD that costs almost nothing to produce and think several hundred percent profit is too high. That would mean these “artists” and record execs might have to give up one of their private planes.

fuse5k says:

I see your point Jayrad.

But the point is that noone makes terribly much money from CD’s

The logistics push the cost up.

What we really want is music that is free
what the musicians want is a decent living
and the recording industry want lots of money.

but under any new business model, the industry are going to lose out, because they are the ones who dealt with the major costs (recording, pressing Distribution) but when we no longer need physical copies the only thing theyre really paying for is the recording.

obviously there is no industry in the world which will just bend over and take technology putting them out of business, but that is what is happening.

previously you had to sign over the property rights to your music in order to get a deal. now you can just pay for the recordings yourself, bung out 5 free tracks on your website, and sell full cd’s for $5

no industry to pay at all, and if the music is good you stand to make a lot of money.

the only real problem that would stand in your way would be PR.. and with youtube/myspace around nowadays this problem is getting smaller too.

Nasty Old Geezer says:

RIAA fuzzy math

Charlie also doesn’t look at the critical measure of CD sales: how have year-to-year sales changed of albums released within a rolling 15 monthe window.

I beleive that we boomers fueled as CD bubble with re-purchases of favorite music from the 30+ years of music recorded and released before the CD was invented. I don’t buy many new CDs now. I am also going to buy once the retail price drops following a new release — just as I do for DVD movies.

If his analysis looked at unit sales of recently recorded music on a percapita basis for the various age groups, I suspect we would see sales have been essentially steady.

“Illegal” downloading is a minor contributor to the overall drop in revenue. But, it is much easier to litigate than to innovate.

DocJ says:

What an Argument

I see some Anonymous Coward has decided to put his/her two cents in. Obviously didn’t bother to process what I said, and just regurgitates the same old canards. Brilliant.

You demand I produce evidence to back up my argument, but I notice you provide none yourself. How about showing me how artists can make a living giving away their music and making most of their money off touring? You are the one suggesting things should be different than the status quo – you need to provide the evidence.

BTW, some big-name artists’ excesses have nothing to do with tours not making money. The artists who need the “$15 water bottle” (if there is such a thing) and the huge entourages are the big-name artists who usually do make a profit on their tours. It’s the lesser known artists, who tour with very little but their equipment and a handlful of low-paid helpers, who lose money or barely break even on their tours.

And what about the artists who don’t want to, or can’t, tour? I suppose they are just out of luck with the “tour to make a living” model, huh?

“As far as I’m concerned, if they are worth hearing, they can make money… simple economics.”

What in blazes is that supposed to mean? I’ll hazard a translation:
“If their music is any good, money will find them somehow – how they make money is their problem. Just don’t ask me to quit illegally ripping and giving away their music to people.” Here’s some “simple economics” for you: you take/use someone’s work without paying for it, they won’t make any money. Comprende? Despite dunderheads like yourself trying to obfuscate the issue, it remains this basic; if a person produces a product for sale, they should be paid for their efforts (if someone wishes to have it), whether the product is reproducable electronically or not. To make(or use) duplicates of someone’s work and distribute it without reimbursing the person is depriving them of their means of support.

Dewy (profile) says:

Re: What an Argument

Money IS made by touring. Club owners pay GOOD money for mid level acts, upwards of around $3000 for a single evenings performance of 4 musicians and a soundman / bus driver.

The Amazing Rythym Aces are still “touring” and probably haven’t received a royalty check large enough to pay the power bill in 15 years. Do they do it for the love of the music, yes… do they do it for the love of the fans, yes…

But do they do it for Free… no. They are payed better than a teaching salary, and maintain a large fan base eager to hear their music.

Its not the music anyone is paying for… but the experience. i want to buy the best quality recording of my favorite music and see my favorite artist well compensated.

I do not want to pay for bling bling and a host of producers and lawyers who “create” stars.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re: What an Argument

“Money IS made by touring. Club owners pay GOOD money for mid level acts, upwards of around $3000 for a single evenings performance of 4 musicians and a soundman / bus driver.”

That number is double the number I just quoted BUT my experience is from 10+ years ago and with local bands so your figure is spot-on in my opinion.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: What an Argument

“How about showing me how artists can make a living giving away their music and making most of their money off touring?”

I can do this. Over 10 years ago I used to do light and video special FX for local bands and due to my observation, I noted that the bands would pull in at least $1500 per night from the bar along AFTER paying their manager, booking agent, travel expenses, rent for their rehearsal location, and me. This did not include CD and tshirt sales which usually netted them a few hundred $$$ more…per night. This was a 5 person band that performed 5 nights per week usually which means each band member pulled in about $1500 minimum per week or making about $78,000 a year. Not bad for bands you’ve likely never heard of…and even better for 10 years ago.

I also know for certain that one of the bands had a huge hit in Japan and sold over 25,000 copies in under a month, still managed to lose their ass on the deal and stated to me that they preferred to tour since they got a much better return on the performance AS WELL AS the CD’s, bumper stickers, and tshirts they sold at the show.

$78,000 PER MEMBER IN 1997. Those are real figures.

Geoff says:

Make it good

He makes a ton of great points – and the replies and other also make great points. The debate will rage on well into the night….and through the morning. The bottom line for an artist today is that you need to actually release a CD that is worthy of buying first. Green Day, Cold Play, Eminem, Norah Jones, Evanesence and Britney are examples of bands who cater to the main demographic that are the guilty downloaders, and yet each of them has sold more than 20 million copies of their CD’s since 2000 (Prime downloading periods). Understand that Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks have never done any better than that (there are only about 25 artists who are in the 25 million or more category in history). It’s great to claim that downloads are killing the industry, and it’s true that it’s affecting the industry badly, but I keep looking at the top 100 charts for something new and exciting, and I keep seeing old and stale. MAybe it’s just me.

KB (user link) says:


I honestly believe that the single biggest point that is regularly missed is that the quality of most of the “music” that the recording industry is putting out is absolute sh1t.

If a disc is good from track 1 to track 10 or 12 – fans WILL buy it. But they are not going to pay $16 and up for a disc with two hits and 13 fillers on it. Why should they? You wouldn’t buy a car that had killer rims, a $5000 body kit but a 12cc engine and no seats.

Obviously “quality” is entirely subjective in the music world, but really. How many more fabricated money-making now-bands must we endure? It is the industry itself that is undermining the industry by allowing sub-standard product to enter the market.

Sort out the music and the market will respond.

RandomThoughts (user link) says:

Wow, so many posts, so much misinformation. Mike, do you post these “free is good DRM is bad” articles just because you know it will boost traffic?

So in your article, the artist makes more money because concert sales go up and the tech industry goes up because they can sell more iPods.

You leave one important segment out by giving away free music, and I think you do that on purpose. Of course, the third party is the label. The part that “discovers” the artist and produces them. They of course get hosed.

Of course, groups like U2 can make it on their own, they don’t need labels, but they did when they started.

Dewy (profile) says:


To succeed in the current business model and be a “superstar” they do and did need the recording labels. But one point that everyone misses, the recording industry CREATED the superstar…

It all started with Elvis, a guy who didn’t write anything original, recorded cover songs, and only moderately played an instrument. He had a “Look” and a “Sound” they they marketed and made him a STAR!!

U2, same thing… they were nothing until they were picked up by a major label and that label stood to make money. Then of course they were played on the radio stations subsidized by the recording labels… and shoved down the consumers throats. Mass marketed and multimedia releases designed to “make them the band” for the 90’s.

But lets get back to WHY the labels were needed in these cases. In the 50’s everything was recoded on reel to reel tracking machines costing more than the yearly wage of MOST Americans. U2 was discovered in the 80’s when Video’s were gaining acceptance (MTV) and the cost of “promoting” a band on the national level run over a million dollars a year.

But why did it cost so much? Some of the cost was in technology, new digital recording equipment costing more than a house, CD burning tech was years away, but many of the costs were created BY THE INDUSTRY! A&R guys had to have new flashy cars to impress potential artists… industry buying up (copyrighting) band names so the bands couldn’t perform under them AFTER their contracts expired and legal teams to sue the pants off anyone they thought potentially could cut into their profit.

The recording industry has fought tooth and nail the advent of new equipment and media that would allow the artists to record and promote themselves, even going as far as to place a surcharge on new media that potentially would not even contain material they held copyrights on.

Today with the internet, affordable QUALITY recording equipment, and the ability to record yourself on a high quality medium, artists can do it without the “industry”, and that may explain a large bit of their reluctance to embrace the new business models, they aren’t in a position of controlling artists anymore.

The Time for the Recording Mogul has passed, and we are witnessing their death throes. Their reluctance to adapt to the market are actually cries out to the predators to come consume them… or thats how it works in the wild. The phrase has never been Monopolize, litigate or die… it is Adapt or die.

Maybe there was a time when we “needed” the recording industry… thats debatable. Sure I might have missed out on some great music… but what DID I miss? We’ll never know, because they controlled the market between the 50’s and 90’s.

I know because of them I have had a lifetime of music tainted by accusations that I’m not rewarding them enough for their monopoly. That somehow sitting impoverished in Alabama I am cutting into their ability to purchase another $1.3 million Ferrari.

Again, there have always been successful musicians, the “superstar” was something they created to spoon feed the public their “product”. If the superstar model dies with the recording industry, we’ll be fine. Good music will still be released, and musicians and artists will still be rewarded.

Charles Gillingham says:

Thanks, and just to clear up a point

Thanks Mike, for reading my little blog. I’m glad it got everyone’s attention.

I just want to clear up one point. I never said that touring money is increasing or that it could somehow “make up” for the missing 8 billion. Do you really think that’s happening? The article you reference is about people who sell tubas and give piano lessons and sell software synthesizers. That money doesn’t go anywhere near artists and some of it actually goes to the tech industry.

My point was more like this: We can’t sell as many records as we used to but at least we can still put on good live show that people will come to see. It’s not how we’d like it, but it’s all we’ve got.

By the way, there’s a good article in the Chicago Tribune (about SxSW) that covers some of the same ground you and I did. It’s at,1,3714867.story?coll=chi-ent_music-hed

Dewy (profile) says:


There will always be a market for recorded music, even when the industry completes its transformation into the digital age.

T.V. shows and Movies will still be a legitimate market for copywritten material, as well as product association.

As an aspiring artist I know that my “deal” will now have to be between me and the fans. I will have to spend a great deal of effort into self promotion, management, as well as help pioneer the new artist revenue models that will probably less reliable than the old methods in the beginning.

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