No, RIAA, It's Not The End Of The World For Musicians

from the things-are-turning-out-just-fine dept

Oh no! The sky is falling! Piracy is decimating musicians!

No, it’s not. My latest law review article rebuts these cries and shows how new technologies have allowed musicians to participate in every step of the process of creating, developing, and marketing music.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that piracy is “too benign of a term to adequately describe the toll that music theft” takes on musicians. And it has claimed that “there are fewer people trying to make money as musicians today” and that, in 2012, “the number of people who . . . describe themselves as musicians has declined since 1999 by 41 percent.”

Although such numbers sound dire, I explain that the 41 percent figure is vastly overstated. Recalculating the figures for Ars Technica, Matthew Lasar found that the decline was only 8.4 percent. The RIAA’s response was that it had not compared data between years, but rather had “looked at MONTHLY data: one month in a year vs. another month a year.”

Of course, such an exercise allows one to cherry-pick data to achieve desired results. It is no surprise, then, that the RIAA conceded that “different months yield different figures.” And, as Mike Masnick pointed out, monthly data “fluctuates pretty drastically” (for example, July figures might be higher because of more weddings).

The remainder of the article provides an overview of tools available to musicians.

The first step in the production process is creation. There are numerous programs that allow users to create their own music, such as Logic Pro X, Cubase, and Pro Tools 11. The most well-known, GarageBand, lets users assemble as many as 32 tracks of instruments such as drum beats, synthesizer riffs, and guitar sounds.

Next comes distribution. Twitter and YouTube are two prominent examples. By shrinking the gap between bands and their fans, Twitter has offered a platform for musicians to connect with their followers. Bearstronaut, for example, used Twitter to release a new single and gain more followers by using a “Tweet for a Track,” by which fans retweet a song to their followers and get the single in return.

YouTube is another tool that musicians have used to distribute their works. Alex Day, for example, gained more than half a million subscribers and roughly 100 million views within six years of creating a YouTube channel, and he released three singles at once, which “kill[s] chart placement” but is “better for the fans and for the music.”

Musicians also can do their own marketing. Bandcamp provides musicians with “a rock-solid platform for selling your music and merchandise” and offers “up-to-the-instant stats system [that] reveals who’s linking to you, where your music is embedded, which tracks are most and least popular, what’s being downloaded and when, [and] which search engine terms are sending traffic your way.” Other examples include the Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders (CASH) (an open-source, nonprofit organization “focused on educating and empowering artists and their fans”) and ReverbNation’s Music for Good Program (which allows artists to split their profits with a charity).

Next comes royalty collection. CD Baby Pro offers worldwide music distribution and endeavors to “give independent artists the same royalty collection resources that major label artists” use. TuneCore distributes music to dozens of online services, sends royalties to participating musicians, and provides “detailed sales and daily iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music reports.”

To carry out each of the above steps, musicians can raise funds from various services. The most prominent is Kickstarter, which, as of this writing, has raised $1.7 billion from more than 8 million people to fund 84,000 creative projects. Indiegogo has looser guidelines that “essentially allow for the crowdfunding of anything?projects, trips, charities, and personal wishes.” And Patreon allows users to offer ongoing support for continued work and gives content creators the ability to set rewards such as “giv[ing] out their personal cell numbers, . . . play[ing] an online game with patrons, or even provid[ing] behind-the-scenes production diaries.”

In recent years, touring has become an important source of revenue. Market leader Songkick aggregates concert information, allows users to receive notifications of when bands will be in town, and includes a database of fans’ accounts of their concert experiences. Bandsintown presents the bands users might be interested in as word bubbles, with the boldness level of the name indicating the app’s confidence that the user will like the group. Timbre allows users to enter their location and receive a list of bands playing in their area.

In addition to all these tools, musicians can forge direct connections with fans. Our own Mike Masnick, in this and other fora, has been a pioneer in articulating a business model based on connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Just a few examples:

  • Amanda Palmer, who in three experiments in one month totaling ten hours, made $19,000 from Twitter (compared with “absolutely nothing” from 30,000 record sales) after creating a “Friday Night Losers T-Shirt,” hosting a webcast auction, and offering access to a recording studio event for the first 200 fans to request access.

  • Josh Freese, a drummer who offers, for varying levels of payment, drum lessons, visits to museums or Disneyland, clothes from his closet, his Volvo station wagon, service as a personal assistant, a spot on tour, or personal songs.

  • Jill Sobule, who similarly offers, for various levels of payment, access to shows for a year, names mentioned on a “?thank you’ song,” concerts at individuals’ houses, or the chance to sing on an album.

So don’t listen to the record labels. Musicians are not confronting doom and gloom. Unlike the late 20th century, in which record labels played a crucial role, musicians today have the tools to undertake every step of the creation, distribution, marketing, and fundraising processes themselves.

The irony of the labels’ flawed arguments is that they ignore that many independent musicians are thriving today, using tools their predecessors could only have dreamed about. No longer is the 20th-century, label-reliant model needed for success. The record labels may continue to witness the decline of their business model, but musicians may find that “the sky is rising.”

Michael A. Carrier, law professor and author, Innovation for the 21st Century

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Comments on “No, RIAA, It's Not The End Of The World For Musicians”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Musicians are not confronting doom and gloom.

Perspective. The old gatekeepers are, in fact, confronting doom and gloom. Instead of evolving and becoming helpers, enablers for the new generations of musicians they chose to actively fight and harm these new musicians to retain their rotting empire.

So, in a sense, it is the end of the world. But much like the dinosaurs extinction led to the advent of new dominant organisms (homeotermous, mammals) it seems we’ll need some extinction before the path is open for new things to really flourish.

David says:

Re: Re: piracy too benign a term

Well, the reason piracy is too benign a term is that the record labels have hijacked that term and so it became associated with copying media rather than high sea robbery.

So the problem is not that the term is too benign to take it seriously, but that the action of copying is too benign to take it seriously.

Actual piracy, like in the waters before Somalia, is a rather serious crime with dire consequences for some of the victims.

Now let’s hope that the RIAA does not try hijacking and watering down more terms like rape, murder, raging nuclear war and whatnot.

If they find “piracy” too benign, perhaps they should return to the apparently most awful crime imaginable for comparison: “unauthorized copying”.

Binko Barnes (profile) says:

The original concept behind copyright accepted the basic premise that once a work of art was released into the public arena it simply became a part of the common culture. There was plenty of creativity in Ancient Greece, Rome, Renaissance Italy and everywhere else without copyright. Common shared culture was the human norm.

But because the technology for making copies, printed copies specifically with the printing press, became common, the idea arose to grant creators a very limited, otherwise illegal monopoly over their works in order to encourage further creation.

We are a society. A shared common culture is the instinctive norm. Copyright was meant to be a very limited and short term break from the norm.

But then, of course, corporations, which by nature strive to own and control and squeeze profit from literally everything, have worked relentlessly to flip the very concept of art and culture on it’s head and make eternal copyright over everything the new normal.

Ultimately it’s very sad and depressing to see that most people have been brainwashed into believing that every last little thing in our common cultural space has to be owned, controlled, licensed and charged for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But because the technology for making copies, printed copies specifically with the printing press, became common, the idea arose to grant creators a very limited, otherwise illegal monopoly over their works in order to encourage further creation.

You are repeating the political spin, but copyright derives from the old censorship mechanism, whereby a printer was given permission, the right to copy, a work approved by the authorities. When the censorship regime was eliminated, teh printers lobbied for several year for the government to grant them a replacement copyright, and to get this until somebody came up with a transferable right granted to authors.
In an industry where a printer produced all the copies they thought would sell before they could sell a single copy, a means of preventing two printers in the same market printing the same title made sense, as if the estimates were accurate, then either one or both would be left with a lot of unsold books. Similarly copyright was applied to performances only once it was viable to produce and distribute recordings, where a similar problem existed, records were produced in large batches for latter sale to keep the cost per record down. Copyright has never been of any great benefit to authors and artists, but only to corporations, who use long terms as much as anything to keep the number of works actually for sale to a small number to boost the numbers sold of those works. Very few books and records are kept on sale for decades at a time.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Thanks. Can never remember the name. And didn’t expect such detail of backstory. I would have expected that in the article on the history of copyright.

And that article lists a number of forces that lead to the Statute of Anne, including the desire of major authors and the introduction of the press, not just the printers. And the driving propoganda of that time was to encourage publication, because otherwise authors wouldn’t publish. Therefore, if you ignore the relatively short period (approx 50 years) where the stationers guild was in charge, the “idea arose to grant creators a very limited, otherwise illegal monopoly over their works in order to encourage further creation”. It would seem to me the history of the Statute of Anne supports his claim. He just failed to mention the period in which the publishers controlled everything. (and the publishers hated the Statute of Anne because it actually gave them a short term copyright, instead of the perpetual one they had as the Stationers guild.

Anonymous Coward says:

The real question, as I see it is “why should I care?”

Would we cry that there are X% fewer CD manufacturers than there were 15 years ago, because of format evolution?
Would we cry that there’s X% fewer producers of avocado colored wall phones today than there were 15 years ago, because those things were just fugly?

No…we’d tell them to either adapt to current demand or tough luck.

Business is hard. Quit whining, or do what the rest of us are faced with, when we’re no longer economically viable – find another job.

Anonymous Coward says:

While Taylor Swift got $200 million in the old-fashioned way.

Random example of MANY. This is just repeating old assertions that a new age is on.

Fact is that the studio system is STILL doing what it always has, and independents are about same as ever — those aren’t NEW because of “teh internets”.

It would be nice if Techdirt (or anyone) TOLD HOW TO GET NOTICED in the teeming millions of new music. You cherry-pick yourself, give a few examples that are already doing well, but have no advice for that routinely HUGE problem. Without a studio to splash out money, you’re almost certainly doomed to obscurity.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: While Taylor Swift got $200 million in the old-fashioned way.

Unfortunately, NOBODY knows the magic trick to get noticed. The studios don’t have it either. They can throw money at an artist all they want, but that doesn’t guarantee they will catch on. Just like no matter how hard the WWE tries, they can’t force the audience to like a wrestler who isn’t ‘getting over’. There is no magic bullet. If there was, everyone would get noticed, and then you are back to the “teeming millions of new music”. But Independent artists who previously wouldn’t have been able to be independent are making a living. Maybe not a Taylor Swift living, but a living none the less. Living with a lack of a label is now possible.

your arguement breaks down to this: “Labels still exist, and I haven’t gotten noticed yet, so music is dying”. The nature of artistic endeavors is that some people get noticed, and some don’t. It happens whether a label signs you or not. I will say again, if everyone got ‘noticed’, meaning i guess that they rise above the crowd and get popular, then you are still having to compete with everyone who just got noticed. That may mean you are unlikely to get play time outside of your local region. But you know what? I uploaded a mac app recently, and got sales across the globe. The Deadspatula Toolkit might be (very) obscure, but I have a bigger audience then I ever could have before. The music industry is changing, and those changes are clearly not killing the market.

Whoever says:

Re: While Taylor Swift got $200 million in the old-fashioned way.

It would be nice if Techdirt (or anyone) TOLD HOW TO GET NOTICED in the teeming millions of new music.

Perhaps that’s the point: the skill and talent that most musicians bring to their craft is not particularly rare, so why should they be paid as though it is?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: While Taylor Swift got $200 million in the old-fashioned way.

Here’s another question: Taylor Swift got $200 million in the old-fashioned way. So why do the labels have the right to promote her to take in that much, when that could be 200 people making $1 million — or more likely, 1,000 people making $1 million (because the Label is no longer taking the lion’s share)?

Personally, I’d never want to get “noticed” as a musician — you (eventually) get lots of money, and in exchange are beholden to society at large and lose your personal life. I’d be happy to make $80,000/year as a musician, with a fan base spread around the world. I’d like to be able to go out to some event and have one or two people say “hey, isn’t that Anonymous over there?” and take a photo with them, and have that be that.

Think about viral music videos like “I am a Thoughtful Guy” — sure, it never made the top 40, but the guys who do it have a full-time business of recording themselves doing the creative things they enjoy; to the point where they’ve managed to get their own studio and full-time employees.

The interesting thing about monetizing via platforms like YouTube is that you get to be paid based on popularity, mostly by creating a constant stream of new content. If the content starts to get stale, the revenue stream dries up. And yet at the same time, you have things like Gangnam Style where one guy created one music video, and the results have been enough that he’s set for life. And this without really having to lose his anonymity, as Psy is obviously not his real name.

So what the decline of the labels has brought us is a lack of control over who gets seen, which means MORE people have a chance to get noticed, even if it’s for a more fleeting time.

And if you really want to know how to get noticed, just study the ways that some of the modern internet celebrities got noticed; there’s always a degree of happenstance, but there’s also a ton of hard work, and picking a promotion method that fits with the product AND with the current state of culture.

And yeah, if everyone got noticed, you wouldn’t notice any of them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: While Taylor Swift got $200 million in the old-fashioned way.

Oh, I love it. You can’t argue with anything actually said, so you fall back on “musicians are too stupid to work out how to make a living on their own, please tell them!”. Makes a change from the litany of “that will never work” and “nobody will make the GDP of a small country so it doesn’t count” that people like you shat out on every thread detailing examples for the last decade, I suppose.

“those aren’t NEW because of “teh internets”.”

Nobody said they were, only that the dynamics of the business have been totally disrupted by the internet and that opens up huge numbers of opportunities for independent musicians. Mental midgets like yourself not only obsess over money to the degree that you reject the people who have been very successful at this because they don’t have 9 figure bank accounts, but they most certainly exist. There would be many more of them too, if the labels didn’t control all the major radio, advertising & sales outlets to the degree they do. Your beloved labels are still making money despite their whining, because the system they gamed in their favour is still gamed in their favour – that is changing, but they managed to get numerous morons to bet against their own interests.

Now, are you ready to address reality, or are you going to whine at that fictional universe again?

Anonymous Coward says:

WHAT – you mean that RIAA doesn’t own everything?

Under the guise of protection from piracy, we have lost as many or more rights than from the Patriot Act and limited innovation. This includes vital gateway choke points of internet services, payment processing, ability to back up media (don’t let an online file host find copyright material even if it’s not shared). Fear keeps programs and apps that could make our life easier into a frustrating, expensive maze of useless technology (just try watching the screen of your phone on your tv).

And for what? It can’t be only to make money because many artists claim they aren’t paid and there’s history of non-payment esp for the struggling independent. Various rights holders, distribution agents and protected geographical territory have left customers disinterested in the dust.

Time to wake up.

leehb9 (profile) says:

Gloom and doom...

Yes! For the RIAA, finally. Musicians have been getting screwed by the record companies since there were record companies! Now that the musicians have no more need of the record companies to get their product out, is IS, finally, doom and gloom for the labels. Good riddance!

As the article clearly points out, the musicians now have the means now to create, produce and distribute their music by themselves, and those with any brains at all have already gotten rid of the record-label parasites.

Amen, y’all!

Anonymous Coward says:

The RIAA members are a bit like ice sellers after the invention of the fridge, their business will gradually decline as artists move over to newer ways of doing business. At one time musicians needed access to an expensive studio to make a recording, and now the can do it themselves. At one time the musicians had to be gathered together in one place with a producer, now they can cooperate over the Internet. At one time the needed someone to manage the pressing and distribution of records, and latter CD’s, now they can use various hosting services. At one time radio was the main means marketing new records, now it is various social media sites. The RIAA still think that what used to be dome is the only way to do business, but their is an expensive way of creating music that only supports a handful of musicians, while the modern way using the Internet supports more musicians. What is interesting is that few of them will have a wide recognition of their work, but that does not matter as long as they have enough support that they want to keep creating.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Independent musicians

I know a LOT of independent musicians who make a decent (if difficult) living working their craft. They publish their own CD’s, tour constantly, and work hard doing all of this. Some are award winning artists (Grammy, etc), and some simply are mostly musical educators (Sparky and Rhonda Rucker teaching school kids about the Civil War, with music and stories). The “Labels” and RIAA have zip to do with their work, and in fact get in the way of it!

Phil says:

As a professional musician earning a terrible living in the industry since 1999, I want to say that the level of ignorance of what musicians are dealing with in 2015 expressed by the authors of this blog and by the commentors here is astounding and depressing. In the 5 minutes I spent reading this rant and the comments that followed it, I was overwhelmed by the number of misinformed or logically faulty arguments expressed. I love debating on the internet and I’ve had no problem dealing with presidential elections, hot-button social issues, pressing scientific controversies, etc. But the sheer asshattery and blindness expressed here just leaves me speechless. All of you musically ignorant fucks completely deserve the dark ages of original music that is forming even as you dissemble and make endless excuses for the low value that our modern economy has affixed to original music… That sad thing is that from what I can tell, most Americans’ musical literacy is so abysmal that they will never be aware of what they have lost.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Voted ‘Funny’, because how could I not?

An entire string of sentences claiming that people are wrong, without actually saying how, mixed together with the arrogant idea that people just have terrible taste in music and the explosion of new music is somehow a ‘dark age’ as a result, along with a smattering of playground level insults.

Anyway, just wanted to thank you for the laugh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This isn’t Phil’s first foray onto Techdirt – when Lowery was busy spewing his garbage and sending his troll army to flood the threads way back then, “Phil” claimed to own a studio and ranted alongside hurricane head about what an injustice it was that people were not throwing money at him.

Phil isn’t going to say much more than endless tirades. He’s not going to cite what work he managed or produced – that’s not his aim. His aim is to paint a fictional sob story to justify his “entitlement” to call the average consumer a thief for having a computer.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“As a professional musician”

Still waiting for a citation for this “fact”. Why are all self-proclaimed musicians, who presumably live or die based on their music being known, so afraid to attach their recording names to these rants?

“In the 5 minutes I spent reading this rant and the comments that followed it, I was overwhelmed by the number of misinformed or logically faulty arguments expressed”

So, why not list them and educate others rather than making a fact-free call to emotion based upon a fact that’s not in evidence?

“I love debating on the internet “

Go on then, debate us. You have to provide something to debate first, not “nuh uhh” like a child.

“All of you musically ignorant fucks”

Oh, you’re not here to debate, you’re just a smug twat who likes to call people names rather than listen to any arguments. Carry on, then…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As a professional musician earning a terrible living in the industry since 1999,

Maybe that is because you are a terrible musician. Being a musician does not guarantee and ability to make a living from you music, that requires that your music attracts enough fans to support you in the style you think you deserve.

Kaden (profile) says:

Re: Fuck you, you whiny piece of shit.

I have exactly zero fucks to give to your whining, kid.

Imagine being a working professional musician in 1977 and having your comfortable income disappear overnight when 9 out of 10 bar owners realize that a PFY with 2 turntables and a crate of vinyl can sell just as many drinks as a 5 piece original band and cost them 50 bucks and 3 Long Island Iced Teas.

You think you have it bad? We recorded our demos on a $700 pawnshop Teac 3340s, in mono, using the spring tank from a Traynor GT100 as the only effect, with radioshack mics and a 4 channel Crown PA mixer, because the only real recording studios were 16 Studer shops that charged 80 bucks an hour, and a spool of 456 was $120. We’d pull all-nighters copying cassettes in real time on boomboxes, label them with basllpoint pen, and pay a buck a shot to snail mail them out to clubs, labels and radio stations, hoping for anything as a response.

Reading your snivelling diatribe about how fucking hard you have it as a musician in 2015 is about as fucking first-world as it can possibly fucking get, so shut the fuck up, and thank every fucking god in your pantheon that you’re a musician here and now, rather than there and then.

Fuck you, you whiny piece of shit.

PaulT (profile) says:

“piracy is “too benign of a term to adequately describe the toll that music theft” takes on musicians”

It certainly is. So, what term should we be using for music whose rights have been permanently taken away from musicians by their one-sided record label contracts, royalty collection agencies who fail to pay out to artists, managers who demand huge cuts of streaming royalties before they make it to the artists, contracts that sometimes prevent them from even releasing music they’ve recorded and the many other injustices forced upon them by the legacy industry?

That’s what they meant, right? Things that are actually taken from musicians, not simply people who listened to them without paying a direct toll, many of whom actually also do pay later or in other ways? Because that would just be silly.

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

“There’s more music being created than ever before, but paradoxically, musicians are making less,” Resnikoff’s commentary explained

How is it paradoxical? If everybody on the planet decided to start making and selling dining room tables the chances of getting rich making and selling dining room tables will be pretty slim.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

At the same time though, while the table-barons may be making less, the others, who got nothing before, will actually be able to make a decent amount.

That, really, is the complaint here, that the money is being more evenly distributed, rather than concentrated among a handful. Great news for those that had no chance at all of making anything under the old system, not so great news for those few who were raking in the cash under the old system, who suddenly face some real competition for fans, attention, and money, competition that they didn’t have to worry about before.

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