Just Because New Artist Platforms Aren't Minting Millionaires Doesn't Mean These Platforms Have Failed

from the making-money-with-art-has-never-been-easy dept

Last week, the Tunecore blog, in a display of openness you won't find at most major music sites or labels, made publicly available its sales numbers for July 2011 (one of the slower months for music sales) in order to point out just how many artists were making money.

As is to be expected, a small percentage of artists made thousands of dollars while many others made far, far less. Tunecore was braced for the inevitable criticism, however.
But for all those that may comment suggesting most are making less, my response is, you've got to be kidding me. These artists, all of them, are outside of the traditional system. Some are earning hundreds of thousands and some are earning $20.

And this is bad because...?

With the music industry democratized more artists are making more money than ever before. All of this money you are seeing is going directly into these artists' pockets; this is money they would have never ever seen before.

Now add the songwriter money on top of this money.

Someone needs to explain to me why an artist earning something vs. nothing is a bad thing, as I truly cannot understand that logic. As far as TuneCore, as I have stated over and over, it's your music that causes it to sell. It's up to you to decide if the services and fees TuneCore charges work for you.
Well, Paul over at Digital Music News must have read nothing but the spreadsheet, because his post attempts to explain the "and this is bad because..." part (while glossing over the "something vs. nothing" angle) by pointing out that 99.9% of the artists listed make less than minimum wage.
But now, it turns out there's an even more depressing figure: 99.875% - or nearly all - of Tunecore artists are making less than minimum wage through the platform, based on revenue figures recently shared by the company.

And that only counts revenues - not costs for creating content or annual fees owed to Tunecore. It also assumes that Tunecore revenues are being paid to one, solo artist, instead of being divided by a group.
DMN takes issue with Tunecore's claim that more artists are making money than ever before, simply because "more money" doesn't equal "a lot of money." It even goes so far as to implicitly suggest that artists were better off with the old system, running through a set number of gatekeepers, by quoting Paul's (Tunecore) "democritization of music" line before asking, "But is this really true?"

Tunecore CEO Jeff Price came firing back, pointing out what's wrong with arguments that new systems don't work because everybody's not making thousands of dollars.
Paul, why do you put down artists for making money? These artists did it on their own, drove every sale, earned every penny without having to give up their copyrights or sacrifice control, something never before possible in the history of the modern music industry. I published the numbers in response to statements claiming artists cannot can sell music without a major label. So why on earth are these tangible, actual results being painted as failures?
Why are they painted as failures? Just ask regulars in our comment threads. These solutions "don't scale." Which tends to mean one thing: not everyone is making tons of money, therefore the system is a failure. But averaging numbers doesn't present the whole picture, as Price points out.
The "average income" formula you created may be the most useless, meaningless statistic I've ever seen. Here's an example as to why:

An artist that makes $20 a year in music sales sits alone in a room. Average made per artist = $20. Now an artist that makes $1,000,000 a year enters the same room. Average made per artist = $500,010.

So what did we just prove exactly? Same thing you did; nothing.
With this "argument" broken down, what exactly is someone who points out miniscule sales numbers trying to tell the artists? Is it a backhanded attempt to paint the artist as "screwed" by Tunecore? Or is it something even worse?
The truth is, most artist don't make that much in music sales a month, and we all know it. Most make much less. So what exactly is the point of your article? Are you saying that artists should give it up, as it's a tough business? What exactly is your news story? Drop your guitar and go work at a fast food restaurant?
Price goes on to point out what should be blatantly obvious, but often gets ignored during this sort of conversation: it's ALWAYS been a small percentage of artists that become very successful. This isn't new. This has always been true of the music business.
The "odds" of becoming a household name in music during your lifetime, of becoming a superstar, have always been microscopic, and we all know it. But until recently, every single one of the artists who "made it" and did not "make it" were forced through a system of gatekeepers, opinion-shapers, cultural and business guardians that took their copyrights and took advantage. Are you advocating a return to that system?

It can take years, thousands and thousands of dollars of investment, endless hours of work and sacrifice before something finally gives and the stone wall you've been banging your head against finally cracks. Your pseudo, baseless "analysis" suggests independent artists can't "make it". Bullshit.
Price says the best thing you can do is arm artist with as much information as possible, rather than attempting to scare them away from doing what they love with the insinuation that making music just isn't worth it.
Tell them the truth: it's hard, it's going to be tough, most of you won't become a superstar. Here's the information you need to know, here are the options, it's up to you to make it happen. Go into this with eyes wide open. No promises.

So some artists made a "mere $1,280" a month from digital music sales (this is a put down?). Newsflash, many made less, but had they gotten those sales while signed to a traditional record label, they'd have gotten no money and, most likely, six weeks after street date, they would have been dropped. That's the fate of 98% of the acts that came through the majors alone.
As he points out, the spreadsheet shows artists making thousands of dollars a month, which was conveniently ignored in order to shout, "THIS DOESN'T WORK!" 6,000 artists who would have made next to nothing (or nothing at all, if not recouped) are all making money. Things are getting better for the artist, but those who align themselves with the old system seem to think that because the music industry isn't awash with millionaires, new platforms are failures.

The fact is that the old systems won't work anymore and even in their prime, they weren't any better at turning artists into millionaires than the current systems. The real downside is that those who claim to be "for the artist" are often the first ones to paint the bleakest picture possible. How does that help?
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Filed Under: business models, platforms
Companies: tunecore

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  1. icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 28 Nov 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Actually, the fact that there are fewer millionaires shows that the music industry is becoming more efficient. Instead of large amounts of money being collected by a select few artists, it's being spread around thousands of artists.

    Think about it, if you find a great way to make money, in a free market someone else should come along and compete with you, lowering prices and profits. The only way someone can make an obscene amount of money is by having some sort of inefficiently in the market which allows you to conduct business without competition.

    Bill Gates? Windows and Office monopolies/Copyright.

    Carlos Slim Helu? Has a 90% monopoly lock on Mexico's phone network.

    Anyone rich from oil? Monopoly rights in the mineral rights of certain land.

    If someone got extremely rich, there was some market inefficiency that got him there, e.g., patent, copyright, government contract, etc.

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