RIAA's Bogus Math Strikes Again: Claimed 41% Decline In Musicians… Not Even Close To True

from the well,-look-at-that dept

Hey, it’s time for some bogus stat debunking, thanks to Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica, showing that, once again, “RIAA math” is something more closely aligned with stuff we made up that people might actually believe.

There have been a variety of similar stats being thrown around these days in debates around what’s happening in the music industry from defenders of the old way of doing things, arguing that there’s been a massive decline in the number of musicians out there. The stat pops up in different forms, but keeps coming back up. We first saw a version of it back in 2010 when the RIAA put up a blog post claiming that “illegal downloading = fewer musicians.” While we appreciate them finally realizing that unauthorized downloading isn’t “theft,” the chart claims to have posted data from the Bureau of Labor statistics, showing a correlation between the number of “musicians and artists” and the decline in recorded music:

Even leaving aside the “correlation =/= causation” argument that could be made, the chart itself plays with numbers a bit. Note that the scales are different, meaning that the data was “fitted” to make it look like a direct correlation when that’s not actually the case. RIAA math, as per usual, tends to be all about lies.

But, that chart seems to have taken on a life of its own in bizarre and ridiculous ways. Back in April, class warrior Timberg, claimed that BLS data showed a 45% decline of people employed in “musical groups and artists” from 2002 to 2011. That number has become a key touchstone for the rabid defenders of the old way. Not a week goes by without someone claiming something like it in our comments — usually even messing up what was said. For example, that comment says that the 45% represented a decline in wages — which is not actually what any of the numbers have shown.

In June, the RIAA’s Cary Sherman gave a talk at PDF, in which he cited BLS data claiming a decline in artists of 41% from 1999 to 2011. That number was then picked up by Paul Resnikoff who posted the RIAA’s updated version of the graphic and, again, insisted that BLS data says there are 41% “fewer paid musicians” since 1999.

Once again, that’s not actually what the chart says. It’s not about “paid musicians.” It’s about how many people claim to be “musicians or artists on a full time basis.” There are plenty of “paid musicians” who aren’t full time.

Either way… Matthew Lasar, over at Ars Technica digs into the numbers to find that the RIAA’s and others’ claims… are completely bogus. First off, it appears that they failed the “how to calculate percentage change” test. Lasar also finds that the actual change based on the source data appears to be maybe a decline of a little over 8%. As he notes “8.4 percent, I’m sure most readers will agree, is a long way from 41 percent.”

When confronted about this, first the RIAA admitted to playing some games with the numbers, not by using more stable yearly data, like Lasar did, but rather by using monthly data… and by selectively choosing which months to use.

“As far as the 41%, from that data set,” came Friedlander’s reply, “if you look at any of a variety of months between late 1999 and 2011 and 2012 (such as July ’99 vs Aug ’11) you can see declines around the 41% level (different months yield different figures, but some are even higher than 41%).”

In other words, it fluctuates pretty drastically. Anyone who wanted to reasonably show a change, would at the very least choose the same month in different years — since there is likely to be significant seasonal fluctuation in musician employment (for example, July is a big month for weddings, which might mean more musicians who play weddings are “full time” musicians for July). As Lasar notes, this calls into serious question why the RIAA and others are making categorical statements that just don’t appear to be supported by the data. Furthermore, even if the RIAA’s bogus claim of 41% is based on monthly data… that chart that it’s been spreading around shows yearly data, but implies, incorrectly, that it shows a 41% decline:

The problem with this response was that Sherman’s categorical statement that we’ve seen a 41 percent drop in the number of musicians and artists since 1999 wasn’t based on a monthly chart. It was based on the yearly table that he showed the Personal Democracy conference.

Finally, Lasar notes that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is actually pretty optimistic for employment among musicians to grow at about 10% over the next decade:

The number of people attending musical performances, such as orchestra, opera, and rock concerts, is expected to increase from 2010 to 2020. As a result, more musicians and singers will be needed to play at these performances.

There will be additional demand for musicians to serve as session musicians and backup artists for recordings and to go on tour. Singers will be needed to sing backup and to make recordings for commercials, films, and television.

That said, I don’t think a slight and temporary decline in full time musicians should be all that surprising. It’s true that labels funded a bunch of musicians for many years — but often for short periods of time and with very questionable accounting practices. The problem, of course, is that many musicians came to believe, incorrectly, that the major labels were the only way to make money in music, and so they did little to cultivate new business models. These days, however, that’s happening more and more, but we don’t have enough experience for people to know what really works and what doesn’t. So it’s an era of experimentation — and that means that an awful lot more musicians are making some money, whereas before they made none. That’s good for all of those musicians — and might (in fact) mean that more money overall is going to musicians — it’s just more spread out. But we haven’t yet reached the point where things have developed enough to match the number of full time musicians, though as people become more comfortable with these new models, that seems almost certain to happen.

Either way, it looks like RIAA math has once again been shown to be a complete fabrication, relied on by people who want to continue to support the ridiculous story that artists need labels to make money. It’s sad that so many people cling to an obviously false tale, but it’s good to see the numbers debunked. Hopefully we can now move on from that silly narrative and focus on new business models that do help artists get paid — rather than ones that just help the RIAA divert money from artists.

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Comments on “RIAA's Bogus Math Strikes Again: Claimed 41% Decline In Musicians… Not Even Close To True”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Damn shame it wasn’t true. Nothing would make me happier than seeing evidence that it was and is totally cratering to the point of bankruptcy. That would be change we could believe in.

The copyright industry has been thoroughly successful in bad PR. I don’t want any (as in not one ?) going to them to support their methods of doing business. Can’t see the day soon enough went they do go under.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:


That is demonstrably false. Politicians are very good at math and can readily calculate the correct sum. An RIAA lobbyist will tell them that they donated X to their campaign to get them elected, and will donate Y if they pass bill Z. All politicians were successfully able to calculate the sum of X and Y. Further, they were also able to determine that (X+Y) > X (X and Y > 0 being a given). In addition, the politicians were finally able to compute that (X+Y)-(Cost of vacation for spouse) > (cost of hookers and blow).

I dare say you need to retract your obviously false statement and publicly recognize the great intelligence found in the political species.

out_of_the_blue says:

Okay, so show me ANY data showing MORE musicians now!

‘”8.4 percent [decline] … is a long way from 41 percent.”‘

This is Mike’s typically wacky twist from “not as bad as they claim” into a positive.

Here’s a specific howler: Mike sez “Note that the scales are different, meaning that the data was “fitted” to make it look like a direct correlation when that’s not actually the case.” — Umm, yeah, Mike, shipments are NOT employees, you don’t use the same units NOR same scales. Geez. But the shape of the trends is fairly clear.

ALL you have is simple unsupported contradiction and ad hom, NO actual data to the contrary.

Liz (profile) says:

I don’t think the RIAA considers any artist outside of it’s rather broad umbrella as a musician. I’d imagine that the dramatic decrease is most likely a drop in the number of acts under the collective labels that have gone independent.

With large record labels, how many people are between the artists and the audience? Teams of lawyers, advertising agents, band managers, stage managers, executives, producers, venues and owners, studio owners, studio staff, distributors, etc. etc.. That’s a lot of dead weight to cut if the artists themselves are doing the bulk of the work without the aid of industry players.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, so show me ANY data showing MORE musicians now!

And right on cue the idiot shows up. On the one hand I’ll give you credit that you actually seem to have taken grammar lessons this time and got rid of your //fucking stupid style of formatting//.

The first quote you claimed from the above is attributable to the original article at Ars Technica. If you have an issue with that go take it up with them – but then I guess you would need to create an account and log in, wouldn’t you? The horror!

Your request is stupid. Not having “less musicians” is not the same as saying there are “more musicians”. RIAA or RIAA-sponsored statistics have also never been known to be proven accurate, and have been ridiculed by more people than Masnick – including respected economists and other analysts that few would consider “piracy apologists”.

All the grammar lessons clearly didn’t help you, noobtb; all you can ever say is “Blargha flargha!”

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Okay, so show me ANY data showing MORE musicians now!

If they admit that the numbers regularly fluctuate by 41% and higher, then 8.4% is well within the margin of error. You also (conveniently) ignore the estimated 10% increase that’s coming (also within the margin of error). We would need much more data or a much more dramatic change then 8.4% to tell if something is actually happening in ether direction.

MrWilson says:

The other thing that I haven’t seen stated by anyone regarding this matter is the obvious drop that you’re going to see in shipments (and that you do see in the charts) due to the economic crisis beginning in 2008. Beyond every other reason, such as the switch to selling $1 digital singles instead of $20 CD albums, the economy going to shit would certainly cause a significant decline in shipments and employment. Why isn’t the RIAA crying about the effect of Wall Street, the debt crisis, and the housing bubble implosion on the employment of musicians? Oh, right… It doesn’t serve their narrative…

Beech says:

Okay, so show me ANY data showing MORE musicians now!

“This is Mike’s typically wacky twist from “not as bad as they claim” into a positive.”

This is OotB’s typically wacky twist from “my bosses were clearly caught lying” into a nice ad hom that tries to sweep the actual embarrassing facts under the rug.

” Umm, yeah, Mike, shipments are NOT employees, you don’t use the same units NOR same scales.”

Yeah, which means that a graph such as this is totally irrelevant to anything. If you wanted to kajigger the scales correctly you could make it look like ANYTHING. Which, funnily enough, seems to be just what they did. The first thing you learn in a (good) statistics class is that you can use statistics to show just about whatever damn thing you want.

“ALL you have is simple unsupported contradiction and ad hom, NO actual data to the contrary.”

Wow, hypocrisy at it’s finest! I mean, look at all the “data” in your post! None!

Furthermore, what //happened// to all your /slashes\ all// over your\ posts?/ I kind of //miss them 🙁

Lord Binky says:

It's funny....

How the RIAA claims it employs musicians when the musicians are actually being indebted. I?m pretty sure when I take a loan from my bank they are not employing me.

Either way, I really like how this method works. I pay you ten dollars, you owe me 20. Now perform work for me, and I?ll try to remember how much that?s worth and I?ll let you know when we?re even. Afterwords I?ll pay you for any additional work you do after you work off what you owe.

Overcast (profile) says:

Obviously the artists aren’t the only ones on Heroin…

I’ve discovered more ‘new artists’ on Pandora *in the last three months* and even new genres of music, that it blows my mind.

But here’s the thing, a few of the CD’s I’ve ordered are 100% indie creations. Two weekends ago I paid $10.00 cash to a guy selling some of his band’s CD’s at a Fall Festival – had nothing to do with the ‘music industry’ – and get this…..





READY FOR THIS>?!??!??!@?#?!@#


Oh and this last month, counting the one above, I’ve bought 5 Music CD’s; 3 used, 1 from the guy above and one from a friend.

RIAA’s just mad about that, is all. They could change to give tremendous value to artists, but they are too narrow minded. And I doubt anyone, including me, would be in the market for giving the RIAA ‘free’ ideas; but if you want to talk $$$ – hey, that’s how they work, so…

Zakida Paul says:


Similar experience for me with a few differences. I have discovered so many genres and sub genres and artists using Last FM, and I regularly go on a spending splurge on Amazon MP3 when I find something I really like. Honestly, I must be spending nigh on 100 quid on music a month. The RIAA (or the BPI here in the UK – same shite, different name) cannot claim that I am a pirate freetard (although they would probably still try).

wallow-T says:

employment beyond recordings

Some factors which have impacted musician employment which have nothing to do with recording sales or piracy:

1) Replacement of many live musicians for movies, TV shows, live theater, commercials etc, by one guy with a bank of synthesized/sampled sounds. (Technology again!)

2) Tough anti-drunk driving laws have cut into the business of bars, which used to power a lot of popular music scenes. (I saw King Crimson, The Ramones, Richard Thompson and Uncle Tupelo in bar shows, back in my salad days.)

3) The audience for classical music, which is very labor-intensive to perform, is fading rapidly due to old age. In my 50s, I am generally at the young fringe of most of the classical music events I go to. Also, the grant/benefactor donations which have kept classical music institutions afloat are now being aimed at other goals. See Greg Sandow’s blog for piles of coverage of these issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Okay, so show me ANY data showing MORE musicians now!

“This is Mike’s typically wacky twist from “not as bad as they claim” into a positive.”

No, this is Mike reporting on reporting done by Ars, showing that the RIAA’s numbers have no basis in any actual data. And in point of fact, appear to be almost entirely fabricated to present a figure they can use for their propaganda.

Also, let’s look at two numbers. 41% and say 10%. The 41% if true would be a huge decrease, but the 10% one would NOT be a huge increase, and in point of fact, would be about average for ANY line of work. So “not as bad as they claim” into a positive would actually be the case. In fact, it would be, “that number we came up with applies to ALL careers”. So there wouldn’t be a negative or a positive.

“ALL you have is simple unsupported contradiction and ad hom, NO actual data to the contrary.”

I guess you missed the part where Ars actually looked up all the relevant data, then found more data that could have been used, then directly asked the RIAA (multiple times in fact and received different answers each time) where they got their data from and so on and so forth. AND STILL DID NOT ARRIVE AT THE 41% FIGURE. Despite using various sources and the same way ones as the RIAA.

out_of_the_blue, I’m going to say this, I thought bob was pretty stupid. You sir take the cake. In the face of actual data and methods used, in the face of actual facts, you alone have the gall to say “nope, not true”. Well, not you alone, I’m sure bob, AJ, and a few other ACs would do the same. But none as bluntly as you.

Anonymous Coward says:

employment beyond recordings

4) The popularity of live music isn’t really increasing. When you look at the numbers, the average price per concert ticket is up, but not attendance. People can only afford a certain amount, and with increased prices, it means less attendance.

5) Most clubs depend on DJs and recorded music, and don’t have many live events.

6) Few regions actually have a club circuit that supports full time musicians, many clubs that have live music only do it on Friday and Saturday, not enough work days to make a work week.

In many ways these points do have to do about piracy, because music has become so unimportant to many that the clubs cannot support actual musicians.

saulgoode (profile) says:


The analogy is accurate, though a bit exaggerated.

People still do use buggy whips, but not as much as they did in times gone by. Alternatives have been introduced which caused the demand for buggy whips to decline.

Likewise, there are now entertainment alternatives to listening to recorded music that weren’t available back when TV viewers had their choice of 13 channels (a mere two or three in remote areas), video games were comprised of monochrome (or maybe 16-color) block graphics, telephones were massive rotary dial affairs, and using a computer network meant dialing up a BBS or logging on to Usenet.

I am not surprised that there might be a decline in the marketability of music given the competition available. What does surprise me is that the RIAA and the major labels are doing everything in their power to alienate the market that remains.

Anonymous Coward says:

employment beyond recordings

Actually, piracy is just gutting the business model that helps to pay for the stuff to happen more readily and more often. As many posters here like to say, people will still make music. It’s just not going to quite be the same, is it?

After all, can you imagine all the great music from U2 is Bono and the Edge were working in a metal fab shop all day and a news shop in the evening just to make ends meet?

Anonymous Coward says:

I personally love it that there wouldn’t be this group that thinks it’s owed money because it came up with a song. This copyright industry needs drove into the ground where the scalpers and con men that run it have to actually go out and get those metal fab jobs. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

Ninja (profile) says:

Same thing happened with HADOPI stats. They coincided with major promotions and new model launching from Apple. I’m fairly sure if you add all musicians that actually made money with their performances we might see even higher percentages than mere 41% in the complete opposite direction.

Remember the article saying you shouldn’t quit your job if your goal is to monetize on music and the likes? How it’s about how ppl do it because they want not because of the money and the latter comes naturally? That’s what the MAFIAA can’t simply understand.

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