Mick Jagger: Artists Really Only Made Money Selling Music For About 25 Years

from the the-new-normal-is-the-old-normal dept

A bunch of people submitted this a while back, but I’m just getting around to writing it up. In an interview with the BBC, Mick Jagger is asked about things like file sharing, and he notes that, realistically, artists only made money selling music directly for a very short time:

But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

Now, I don’t think that’s entirely accurate on a few points. He’s right that labels didn’t pay artists, or often found creative accounting ways not to pay artists. But he’s also wrong that “everyone made money” during those 25 years. Only a small percentage of artists actually made money during those years. There were a few that were heavily promoted by the labels and became rock stars, like Jagger. Other artists never made much at all.

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Comments on “Mick Jagger: Artists Really Only Made Money Selling Music For About 25 Years”

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Jay (profile) says:


If they only made money for such a short time, why is copyright so long in the tooth?

Yes, we know about the labels wanting control that will surely be destroyed eventually. As it stands, the more they try to put a stranglehold on the market, the more that they will destroy themselves with inane legislation that comes at a far higher cost than just trying new business models of scale.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So...

“and who knows what the next will be”

I think the final form is something a friend of mine created 25 years ago, holographic sound. The first thing he played for me was a bell being struck. You could walk around a point in space and it was always there. Then he played a violin, flute, and a piano. Each just floated (sound wise) in mid air each in its own spot. Pretty neat IMHO. Thats all the 5 meg hard drive had space for.

The same thing can be done now using software and FLAC. So not much furtherr you can go.

Anonymous Coward says:

“There were a few that were heavily promoted by the labels and became rock stars, like Jagger”

I listen to all kinds of music and I’ve seen more live shows than I can count. I saw the Rollings Stones at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago and they rocked. Mick still has it, he is a great entertainer. Keith on the on the other hand might as well have been propped up. Anyhow, it might just be that the Stones got big because they are good, not entirely due to heavy promotion. The Stones don’t need to sell records to make money, the over-priced concert tickets are more than enough – and I would see them again.

mrG (profile) says:

re: So...

Because, Jay, while the artists made next to no money through the twentieth century, the record companies made oodles of cash. Of the $5-$30 paid out for album releases during the period 1965-1997, typically the ‘royalty’ section of that cost was about a dollar and a half per unit for the lucky artists and all the staff from the session musicians all the way through the manufacturing staff and especially the sales outlets were paid peanuts (and drugs), with the latter group being paid mostly in pure raw hype. So long as the kids with disposable allowances to spend thought that having the very latest from the very latest was the epitome of coolness, the record companies had the consumer dollar right where they wanted it, ie in their pockets.


go back to crack mick

thats what you been doing all along right?
i sw a few years ago they did a world tour and there own (NOT studio or anyone else) was over 150 million

yea right another group of ozzy osbournes that go OH GEE i ain’t got no money cause im a drug addict but really hollywood stole my money and thus you pirates did too.
OH geee go work at tim hortons already

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: go back to crack mick

Not to defend Mick and company but on that point he is right. (Mike’s quibble aside.)

And, yeah, they’re rich beyond belief, but they’ve earned it because they’re good entertainers when they do live shows. So are other geezers such as Led Zep, Chilliwack, Tull and many others who had to gig for a living instead of sit in mom’s basement mixing on their computers and thinking about how great they are! (Think, if you can, for a moment about Canada’s copycat “singer-songwriter” scene.)

Nor were they pretty manufactured female “stars” who lip synch everthing, have no talent to speak of beyond being tabloid and HuffPo fodder.

BTW, did you know that your face is a distressing shade of blue green from jealousy and holding your breath too long? 🙂

hank mitchell (user link) says:

not only that, I would say that pre-recorded music as a business at all was a short lived opportunity. The smahing pumpkins are playing in Baltimore soon, i got an e-invite, and look what they are doing, they are doing: “Corgan and his band mates are planning to invite select fans to attend their sound checks”

sounds like a good way to create a scarcity. Here are the details:

Anonymous Coward says:

“There were a few that were heavily promoted by the labels and became rock stars, like Jagger. Other artists never made much at all. ” – how many cola products hit the shelf and disappeared after a few years? how many energy drinks have already come and gone? there are winners and losers in every marketplace, it is misleading to suggest that the music industry as a whole is a successful or flawed business model because not all artists got rich.

hark mitchell: letting certain people into sound checks is about as old as live music itself. it isnt anything new. in the past, it would have been ‘buy the record, and enter for the chance to go back stage’, now its ‘pay a lot of money, get the chance to see sound check’. it only functions as long as some people are willing to shell out a ton of money. mike didnt run a story that pointed out the major backlash against high ticket prices, and how the model may not be working well.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I bet lower ticket prices might help” – well, you see, that is the problem. the tickets are the scarcity, which is being priced up to the point where fans can barely afford them, and are having to make hard choices to afford to see a concert (like paying the rent or seeing a show).

the idea is simple. if you have 10,000 tickets to sell, the maximum revenue is when you sell each ticket at its maximum price. so all you need is 10,000 buyers. if 100,000 people want to go, your price is whatever 10% of the people will pay to see the show.

the downside is that rather than 90% of the people being frustrated by a shortage of tickets (keeping demand high for a return show) they are frustrated because they cannot afford to go at all. i personally think it starts to create a gap between fans and the bands, where they fans see a band trying to rip them off or stiff them for major money.

this is the downside of “selling the scarce”, because the only people who can afford to pay the real price of scarce are themselves relatively scarce. instead of selling 1 million albums and making $1 profit on each, artists instead appear to be trying to find 1 sucker to spend $1 million to play miniputt and go clothes shopping. when few people can afford to buy the scarcities (especially the things with no real or resellable value), the more likely people just walk away.

toolazytologin says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

so how do you stop alienating the 90% who are frustrated?

play a free concert for every 5 paid concerts, perhaps. or play free at bigger venues and make money off ads/t-shirts/etc.

or, as you said, find a sucker to part with moolah for miniputt, or a dinner to remember, or sound checks. since recorded music is reportedly dead, bands now have to come up with an elaborate list of what they can offer for sale. sad…

those who want to listen to the music get it for free, anyway. soon, concerts could be free, with huge ads and live broadcasts subsidizing them. why, even t-shirts may be given away. artists will have to run from “scarcity” to another.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

the difference in all of this is that when ticket prices are high, fans auto exclude themselves. they dont make the effort, they wont line up, they wont try to buy online, and they wont look forward to the show. instead, they just say “i cant afford it” and stop caring. when they stop caring, you may have lost them as a fan.

high ticket prices i personally think also create a barrier between the rich artist and the poor fans. do multi millionaires need to raise their ticket prices 50%? 100%?

for me, it is a short term gain for long term pain, teaching people not to even look for upcoming shows because they know they will be too expsensive. i have not been to a live show in a room bigger than a couple of hundred seats in quite a while. why would i, when the worst tickets in a hockey arena are often $100 or more each, and the best seats are pricing somewhere near a good used winter car for 2 tickets?

Gregg Edwards (profile) says:

My take

Mick is talking about media sales…concert income seems to be irrelevant to the discussion. As members of the Stones are wealthy, as well as admitted (former)drug users, I fail to see the relevance of the “Ozzie” statement.
As for formats, vinyl until 8-track came out, 8-track until you got tired of wedging a matchbook between the cartridge and the player housing then cassette, cassettes until CDs because of greater longevity for the CDs, the melding of audio and visual represented by music video/ concerts on VHS, MP3s for greater capacity (same for FLAC but with greater fidelity). People who couldn’t afford to replace their collections every time a format change happened bought blank media and transferred the music to the newer media; the hardware and blank media being cheaper than repurchasing the music on the new media.
As for the everybody that Mick’s talking about, I’d assume he’s referencing the groups and individuals that had a similar amount of fame/publicity as the Stones, not the virtually countless ones that recording execs took severe advantage of.
Copyright extension, as I recall, was driven more by visual media than audio, the time period Mick is talking about would still be covered by copyright, even without the “Mickey Mouse/ Sonny Bono” extension, and resale of material driven by format change would’ve still resulted in the same paltry percentages for the artists as the original.

Anonymous Cowherd says:

The Stones don’t need to sell records to make money, the over-priced concert tickets are more than enough – and I would see them again

A ticket is worth whatever people will pay for it – if they all sell, then they are not overpriced in the general case. If you would pay that amount again, then they are not overpriced in your specific case either. Expensive maybe, but not overpriced.

sssafdssf says:

rolling stones didn’t become popular because of record company promotion, they were a blues band that had a loyal following at first. their song “satisfaction”, stones’ first rock song, took off and radio stations liked it all over the world, the song was so different then anything at the time and rocked harder then almost anything recorded up to that point.

and the reason why only a small percentage of “artists” made money during those years is because most of those musicians weren’t real artists. in the 1960s-1990s, everyone wanted to be a “rock star”, so you got a lot of people with no real talent claiming to be “artists” and not selling records because they were terrible. if you were good, like mick jagger was at singing or jimi hendrix was at guitar playing, you made money.

Anonymous Coward says:

This post was referenced and linked to in an article on techdirt on July 4, 2012.


I thought I’d post over here what I posted over there in an effort to get my question out to more people, just in case anybody tracked back to see the link:

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

Interesting that the record companies started paying their artists about a year or so after the Beatles started their own record company, Apple Records. When the Beatles effectively made themselves filthy rich by investing their profits from Sgt. Pepper’s into creating Apple, it became obvious that a top act did not need the record companies, they could do it all themselves if they really wanted to. The record companies saw that other artists, upon hitting a certain level of fame & fortune, could follow suit and start their own record companies, too, so they began sharing the profits with their top-earning acts to buy their loyalty. It was the prospect of potential competition that spurred them to make groups like the Rolling Stones rich.

I wonder what happened in 1997 that caused them to return to their former stinginess? Any ideas? I’d think it had to be something technology-oriented.

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