RIAA Claims That It Is 'Standing Up For' Older Musicians That It Actually Left To Rot

from the wtf? dept

The RIAA is not exactly known for its positive treatment of musicians. If you’re at all familiar with the art of RIAA accounting, you’d know about how they structure deals to totally screw over musicians, doing everything possible to make sure they never get paid a dime. Yes, many are given advances, but those advances are “loans” on terrible terms in which the labels add on every possible expense that needs to be “paid back” before you ever see another dime. Very few musicians ever “recoup” — even after the labels have made back many times what they actually gave the artists. For the most succinct example of how the labels make out like bandits, profiting mightily while still telling artists they haven’t recouped, here’s Tim Quirk, who a few years back explained how it worked with his band, Too Much Joy (TMJ):

A word here about that unrecouped balance, for those uninitiated in the complex mechanics of major label accounting. While our royalty statement shows Too Much Joy in the red with Warner Bros. (now by only $395,214.71 after that $62.47 digital windfall), this doesn’t mean Warner “lost” nearly $400,000 on the band. That’s how much they spent on us, and we don’t see any royalty checks until it’s paid back, but it doesn’t get paid back out of the full price of every album sold. It gets paid back out of the band’s share of every album sold, which is roughly 10% of the retail price. So, using round numbers to make the math as easy as possible to understand, let’s say Warner Bros. spent something like $450,000 total on TMJ. If Warner sold 15,000 copies of each of the three TMJ records they released at a wholesale price of $10 each, they would have earned back the $450,000. But if those records were retailing for $15, TMJ would have only paid back $67,500, and our statement would show an unrecouped balance of $382,500.

In other words, musicians don’t get paid anything in most cases, while the labels can earn a tidy profit for years and years, still insisting the band hasn’t recouped. It’s why a band can sell a million albums and still owe $500,000.

I bring this up, because of the latest ridiculousness from the RIAA, claiming that it “stands behind” artists who aren’t making enough money. We’ve already written about the latest lawsuit against Pandora, in which the RIAA/Soundexchange are saying that Pandora isn’t paying pre-1972 artists (despite the fact that the RIAA itself refuses any attempt to put those recordings under federal copyright law, which would mandate compulsory licenses). We’ve also covered the ridiculousness of the RIAA releasing bizarre statements from artists like Steve Cropper, pretending that programmers still get paid for code they wrote in 1962.

But now it’s reached truly ridiculous levels. musicFirst, a lobbying group put together by SoundExchange and the RIAA (potentially violating some laws), has put out an astoundingly ridiculous blog post, in which it discusses these lawsuits over pre-1972 sound recordings, by arguing that it is standing up for pre-1972 artists and not letting them “fade away” (a weak reference to a Buddy Holly song).

What a shady move. Fans will go to record stores to pay for this timeless music, but billion dollar corporations won’t pay a dime. And these services sell those same fans stations like the “60s on 6” and the “Buddy Holly station” yet refuse to give one dime of subscribers’ payments to the artists that made the music on those stations.

No matter what the outcome is in courts of law, Sirius XM and Pandora will pay a hefty price in the court of public opinion and in Congress. We love and respect our pre-72 artists and we will stand up for them. We will not let them fade away.

Oh really? You won’t let those artists fade away? Then I assume you’ll be going back and paying all of those artists you screwed over for decades, right? Let’s start with Lester Chambers, for example, who got some attention a couple years ago, for how the RIAA totally fucked him over and let him fade away:

Of course, it wasn’t the RIAA, SoundExchange or musicFirst who helped him out. It was the internet, led by Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, who helped Chambers raise over $60,000 on Kickstarter for a fantastic new album (it really is great, if you haven’t yet heard it) — and that money went to Chambers, not to a label who then refused to pay royalties. Or how about all of those artists who are seeking to take back their copyrights thanks to the copyright termination clause, which the RIAA is fighting tooth and nail against — the same copyright termination clause that the RIAA’s number two guy tried to secretly delete from copyright for musicians, while he was a Congressional staffer (months before taking his $500,000 salary at the RIAA, where he’s remained until today).

So, whether or not Pandora and Sirius XM are right or wrong in how they handle the streaming royalties on pre-1972 works, the idea that the RIAA is somehow out there “protecting” older artists and not letting them fade away is a sick joke.

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Companies: musicfirst, pandora, riaa, sirius, soundexchange

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Comments on “RIAA Claims That It Is 'Standing Up For' Older Musicians That It Actually Left To Rot”

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Ninja (profile) says:

We will not let them fade away.

I wonder what kind of wizardry they’ll use to keep these artists relevant considering that they are locking up them inside the copyright chest and most older songs are only available either if you are a pirate or if they are forced to release some lousy “Greatest Hits Collection” with very few copies just to renew the copyrights… Oh, I get it, they are relying on us, the pirates.

Challenge accepted.

Digger says:

Time for major Rico Act charges against the labels.

Let’s see some state and national Attorney Generals grow a pair or 3 and take them on, nail them to the floor and fine them for everything they’ve got, giving half to the musicians, and the rest to the Social Security fund.

Then they can go after the MPAA and do the same.

Both of these business MAFIAs are as bad as the criminal orders they took their acronyms from.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Yes, the RIAA are scum...

Unfortunately, far too many of them are blinded by the empty promises of ‘fame’ and ‘fortune’, and don’t have the legal skills to find and notice the countless traps that fill the major label contracts, or the clout to have those traps removed should they manage to find them.

There’s also the fact that the RIAA isn’t exactly going to advertise how thoroughly their members screw over 99% of the artists they sign, so unless a new act/band is familiar with sites like this one, where such toxic contracts are discussed, most of them end up finding out the hard way just how much contempt major labels hold ‘their’ musicians in.

trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Or you can yourself have brass ballz

Loreena McKinnit (Canadian Folk/Celtic/World music artist) couldn’t get a record deal. So she spent ten years working her ass off building relationships with her audience, with music stores and gift shops that would carry her CDs and tapes (this was a while ago) and eventually developed a fan base of near a hundred thousand people and she was getting 70% of the purchase price of her music!! (reasonably priced, too!)

When she went in to Warner Bros. to finally get a deal, she was able to show them what she was currently making, the “standard contract” went into the garbage and she negotiated a REAL deal with the studio.

Amusing that this red-headed, harp-playing soprano took the studio by the throat and dictated terms and screaming tatoo-leather-and-spikes metalheads are left whining about getting assraped.

Is that irony, or one of them other things?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Yes, the RIAA are scum...

“yet artists continue to sign the blamed things.”

To a decreasing degree though. As more and more artists are realizing they can do much better financially by avoiding the standard label relationships, more and more are doing just that.

And that is the other half of why the big labels absolutely loathe the internet. Not only is the internet breaking the monopoly on distribution, it’s also breaking the monopoly on publication.

Robert Sund (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yes, the RIAA are scum...

Copyright monopolists grip on artists would evaporate quickly if Kim Dotcom had been allowed to launch his music service two years ago. He planned to pass on 90%+ of the income directly to the artists, and keep the rest for himself. The monopolists wouldn’t be necessary, nor payed.

It would wreck their ability to drain wealth from the creators, and their ability to pay “enforcement” and politicians.

It were a life or death situation for their role as parasite. Living from actual competitive work in competition with every talented person on the planet would be tough.

To them, Baboom is a irritation, and Internet is a dire threat that can spawn something unknown, anywhere, anytime, that irrevocably topples their cabal.

Anonymous Coward says:

such a shame that none of this information is ever brought up when politicians start on about how the people are fleecing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the studios and labels! all they ever quote are the completely false figures those same studios and labels prime them with and they are so fucking thick and/or so used to taking ‘encouragements’ they fall against the people every time!!

Anonymous Coward says:

I said this before when the article came out with older artists bitching they weren’t getting paid enough and that someone owed them something.

No one signed a contract with the artist, other than the artist and the label. If the artists want more money that’s where they need to go to get it. The public simply doesn’t owe them as they are not paid by the public. They are paid from their label by the contract they signed.

Since I absolutely hate what major labels and the RIAA attempt to do to the public in the name of copyright, I have no problems at all with a boycott and refusing to buy any products they put out. I started that when the RIAA started sue’em all. To date, I have purchased not one song, nor do I intend to purchase any at all.

The artists made their deal with the devil. They can go down with the sinking ship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

While I agree with you to a point. There are issues where the artists have a claim and deserve public support. The labels should not be allowed to get away with the questionable accounting tricks that are used to screw the artists out of what they were contractually promised. Just like the way the government stepped in to prosecute those who were responsible from Enron, the same should be done with the MPAA and RIAA and the only way that will ever happen is if the public demands it.

My Name There says:

cool story

Cool story, but they seem to make a basic error of assumption, that the retail price is even close to what the record label actually makes for selling the product. Between shipping costs of physical product – CDs are actually pretty heavy and bulky in jewel boxes – and the retail markup sometimes near 50%, the $15 retail sale may be actually netting something close to a couple of bucks after all is said and done. Remember, they have to pay people to actually do the work, to handle the accounts, the process income, to get the production done, etc.

So the band’s 10% of the retail price actually ends up eating up much of what is left… their $1.50 on the $15 sale is pretty much the cream off the top, as it were.

So assuming that Warner took in $450,000 is pretty much as dishonest an accounting as “Hollywood accounting”. The truth is the ones making the most money are the retailers who buy a product for around $6-$8 gross and sell it for twice as much.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The solution?

I’m not quite sure what you’re asking here, ‘recoup social value’?

If you’re talking about ‘repaying’ the culture that they draw on to make their creations, that’s simple, make more creations for other to draw and build upon. Culture is, in a sense, a living, breathing, evolving thing, it takes in what’s been created, and in turn fuels other creations, constantly growing and shifting.

When things are working properly, people are able to contribute to culture(and therefor society) by building upon what’s already there, changing it, adding to it, making it more, and then in turn having their contributions likewise used as bases for future growth, in a constantly renewing cycle.

When things aren’t working properly though, as is unfortunately the case a lot of the time these days, then you have individuals, or more often companies, take from culture, build upon what is already there, and then turn around and refuse to let anyone build upon what they’ve created.

Basically they take and refuse to give, hence why I refer to that lot as ‘parasites’.

Now, if the ‘recouping’ you’re talking about is more along monetary angles, this site has covered a whole range of ways creators can make money and pay for their creations, but the basic gist is: Connect with your fans, be a real person to them, give them reasons to like you, then provide ways for them to support you and throw money at you in reasonable ways*, and things will usually take care of themselves at that point.

Now, the particulars will vary, sometimes wildly, between cases, but that’s the general idea.

*Reasonable mind, not something convoluted and insulting like ‘if you want access to my stuff, you must sign up with services A, B, and C, pay me money, and then you’ll be able to listen/read/watch what you just licensed on a particular service I control, on my terms, since I know most of you are thieves at heart and you’d all love to rob me blind given the chance.’

Tran Ng says:


The TPP agreement; Trans Pacific Partnership has in it a provision that will extend the period before an artist can own his/her own masters to 50 years or something obscene like that. It was a secret agreement that dealt with, among other things like Fukushima, intellectual “property rights” which meant the same old greasy company store deal for us 21st century sharecroppers. The extent of the greasiness involved is beyong belief! It goes on and on and on and on and on.

Miguel Rodriguez says:

Let's not vilify the trade organization

Put your hatred where you want, the RIAA does not make up the major labels’ actions. You can despise them for their litigation or practices, but at the end of the day they are not responsible for artists signing shitty contracts and complaining on not receiving royalties which are still being used to pay off the advances they had been given originally. People may not like the language or reality of a contract, but there is nothing shady in a label giving someone a contract to review and sign, only in how much they want to take.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Let's not vilify the trade organization

Except that instead of going after the labels for the shitty conditions they put artists in, the RIAA regularly exploited the image of starving artists to sue children and grandmothers all over the country.

So, no. The RIAA’s constant claims that they are “for the artist” are a joke, and they deserve vilification.

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