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My Take On It — the Music Biz

MytakeOnItI run a guitar website and that doesn’t make me an expert on anything. But do you think that’s going to stop me from talking about stuff? Of course not. So, welcome to my every once and a while when I feel like it “blog” on stuff I think readers at the TDPRI might be interested in.

Today, I stumbled across this “podcast” on the subject of the music business and its future and thought I’d like to share this with folks here. Since many of you are in the music business either part time, or full-time this is an issue that relates to you directly.

Greg Kot, is music critic for the Chicago Tribune and others, and he wrote a book called Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. In a recent podcast interview on Public Radio International, he enumerates the precise downfall of record labels and why iTunes isn’t their savior.

Greg Kot

Greg Kot

In his interview in the podcast below on — The Sound of Young America, Kot states that the music industry was actually one of the primary causes of piracy. The corporatization of radio, tightly controlled playlists and even the explosion of boy bands in the late 1990s, meant in turn that commercial radio was nearly ruined. There was little or no room for new groups or even genuine out of the box geniuses like, say, Prince or David Birne, and devoid of “good” music, the market simply reacted with Napster and others. It was the only way for people to actually find “good music.”

Kot lays out all the standard points—most artists don’t make money on record sales and the download revolution has encouraged the indie groups and a huge variety of new and exciting acts. Plus he says that the RIAA’s insistence on trying to sue piracy out of existence only led to the public having absolutely no guilt about pirating music. He also doesn’t think that iTunes, is the savior of the music business either.

Take a listen to this podcast below… and then use the comment form below to give me your take on it:

The Sound of Young America

NOTE: I’ve been told that Internet Explorer is not showing the embeded audio player that other browsers are showing in this post. If you don’t see the player above then follow this link: Greg Kot Interview

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26 Responses to “My Take On It — the Music Biz”
  1. Very interesting stuff.
    Especially the concept that very few musicians are actually
    doing all that well even with notoriety.
    It is such a myth that if you have a song on the radio
    you have it made.
    This is sure not the 60’s and we are not dealing with the
    Thanx Paul.

  2. Nash Nash says:

    That was an interesting listen and I share pretty much the same opinion.

    I always try my best to buy an album when I can, but if I did that I would only have about 300 song recordings in my possession. Due to the advent of pirating and my use of it I have gone to concerts to see bands I otherwise would have been oblivious to or would have had far less interest in.

    I’m not a recording musician, but if I were I would put my music out for free and sell CDs, shirts, etc. for those that wanted it. Although not all of those that downloaded my music would go to shows or buy merchandise, there would be more that did than there otherwise would have and I bet it would offset the loss in direct music sales which have never been a big money maker anyway.

    • Bill  Hullett Bill Hullett says:

      (NASH) “I’m not a recording musician, but if I were I would put my music out for free and sell CDs, shirts, etc. for those that wanted it.”

      NASH…….what business can survive where the product is for sale and/or free (customers choice) ???

  3. Clive Hugh says:

    I agree with what he is saying, in my lifetime (I’m 64) I have seen the accountants move in on the venues and change the face of live music – in New Zealand prior to the early 70’s pubs were not allowed to have live music and consequently there were always dances, wedding etc which supported many bands and paid well. Once the “suits” got in on the act by getting the laws changed the whole scene changed, the pubs pretty much put all the dances out of it and became the only venue in town. They also then had the power to pay what they wanted which was far less .They didn’t give a damn about the musician, it was bums on seats and booze.
    It has destroyed a thriving business and corporatized the carcase.
    The same people then put in Kareoke which was again cheaper for them and another nail in the live band.
    I won’t shed a tear when their demise eventually comes.

  4. jjkrause84 jjkrause84 says:

    I think “piracy” is an old man topic. Plain and simple. I’m roughly the age of the two men in the recording and was “there” for Napster, et. al. Out of the 50 – 100 people I can name that I know pirated music in college MAYBE 2-3 still do and they are all complete computer nerds who pirate EVERYTHING (things you never even knew you could steal) partially because they can and partially because that is aprt of the computer nerd/wanna-be hacker culture. I don’t agree with it and find it distasteful, but that’s what they do. Stealing music (which I can tell you from my own personal experience led me to buy WAY more music than I otherwise would have from artists I might not otherwise have even heard about) is now in the same category as binge drinking and doing too much drugs, eating cereal for brekfast lunch and dinner etc. etc. It is a college-life activity that dies out FAST. By my fourth year as an undergrad (heck, by my third year!) already 70-90% of people who were stealing music freshman year no longer did so. I was one of them. It is something people out-grow.

    I think Kot had a great many valid points. If I was, in the early 2000’s, one of the barbarians who tore down an old, tired and rotting Rome then great! I can tell you I never thought of myself in that way, but Kot presents a pretty solid argument that that was the case. I hope he’s right about music no longer being a big corporate-controlled industrial product. I hope we can take the music we love (rock, blues, jazz, country, etc.) and make it FOLK music like it used to be. Music by and for the people. Heck, maybe we’ll all start maing more money off of gigs 😉

  5. lupowitz lupowitz says:

    This person has access to the “Opinion” section of my brain!!!!

  6. barkley barkley says:

    This reminds me of what Radio Head did with thier last album ‘In Rainbows’. fed up with people pirating their music on one hand and their record label taking most of their profits on the other, radio head made their last album free to all on the net. Listeners could ‘donate’ or pay what they thought the album was worth. All this money went to the band , instead of the usual $1 for every $20 spent on a CD that would otherwise be the case. They ended up making alot more money than if they had released the album conventionally due to the good nature of their fans paying them a fair price.
    (I may have some facts wrong here, but this is essentially what happened)

  7. Rob52 LuvN Guitars says:

    In principle what Greg Kot is saying is right, though plenty of musicians and listeners fought the system pre internet. Take the creation of smaller record labels through the 70’s and 80’s as an example, labels which had better agreements with musicians and supported and recorded less mainstream artists. Personaly, I’ll buy a CD if possible over downloading an MP3 and if the only way I can get someones music is via an MP3 I’ll buy it from a direct source as opposed to say itunes, which to me is just the equivalent of the big record company taking the lions share of any profit.

  8. Bill  Hullett Bill Hullett says:

    Well….I’ll start by saying its waaaaay more complex than what KOT describes it…I’m soooooo weary of this topic, that I’m sure I’ll even be sorry for posting this, because its not even a page of opinion that I’m writing and it would take a book to cover….

    KOT is extremely naive about copywrite and publishing infrastructure that employs a multitude of dedicated concerned people….. I’ll also say that he and many many other people who try and talk about this stuff always demonize the labels …..labels are the big gorillas with no person attached to them so they are easy to hate…BUT thats the business side of music…..true they have been slow to adapt to change but throwing the baby out with the bath water will lead to disaster…

    He (KOT) claims that only a select few made money (correct statement) as if the labels were holding the other signed acts back….KOT doesn’t understand that all the label profit from big acts like metallica gets plowed into signing and recording new acts, so those bands would never have even been signed without a hugely successful act to give the record label capital to play with and you can’t force someone to buy a record……

    He also says that to give the music away and to make your money on the road is the new path….BUT….he never eludes to how do you bridge the gap between $75 a man per night at a club and a band having a following and charging maybe $25 a head and filling even a 1000 seat venue . AND if they stay regional (which they will have to unless they are very lucky) just how many times a year can they “retour” a city and expect a turnout….. and they can’t rest on their laurels … they are gonna have to go write and create a new CD every year to compete (10K bare minimum out of pocket every time they do this to do it on a professional level…) , so that they can give it away in hopes of selling a bumper sticker or a T shirt….I challenge KOT to go scarf out a living doing this his way prior to editorializing ….YMMV

    Bill Hullett

    • lupowitz lupowitz says:

      “all the label profit from big acts … gets plowed into signing and recording new acts”

      So record labels are charities who are only concerned about providing the best and only to the best to the public, via trial and error…..You can’t be serious on that.

      I see your point on the impossibility of making a living only by touring, but do you have any suggestion to solve this problem. One thing looks clear. The public doesn’t want to buy hardcopies at all, and tend to favour cherrypicking its consumption by song.

      • Bill  Hullett Bill Hullett says:

        LUPOWITZ….or anyone who wants to chime in….
        So I’ll explain my points further, but first I challenge you you take this test…In the early 80’s (81-82-83)
        CBS/EPIC records was on fire with great acts…
        Johnny Cash
        George Jones
        Tammy Wynette
        Willie Nelson
        Bruce Springsteen
        Bob Dylan
        B.J. Thomas
        all the others

        Considering every dollar that came across the desk at CBS what percentage (roughly)
        would you guesstimate that each artist contributed?
        If you’ll do this for me it will help me make a point…
        Bill Hullett

      • Bill  Hullett Bill Hullett says:

        Add to the list below the other CBS acts of the time

        Jeff Beck
        George Benson
        Tony Bennett
        Blood Sweat and Tears
        The Byrds
        Blue Oyster Cult
        Earth Wind & Fire
        Taj Mahal
        Pink Floyd

        Not a complete CBS roster list of the 80’s but close….Someone chime in here I’m anxious to make my point :-0

        Bill Hullett

      • Bill  Hullett Bill Hullett says:

        OK….No one felt froggy so I’ll jump back in here….

        The answer to my test is:
        Willie Nelson was reponsible for 73%

        The rest of the acts shared in creating the remaining 27%

        Now if a label was run like a normal bizz everyone except Willie would have lost their deal and think of all the wonderful music we would have missed out on…(but that didn’t happen)

        It’s far too easy to demonize big business……..They have cultivated a way to distribute and sell music over the last 80 years and it’s crazy to just want anarchy and chaos in hopes that they would fail…

        Do major labels screw people over ? (yes sometimes)
        Do major labels always sign the best acts (not always, but they have found many great ones in the past)

        If we were to loose big labels…..The world class studios would first die off, then you’d start loosing session players and engineers, then pubishers and producers, And I can tell you that some of your favorite artists do not have the vision to get their record out (I’ve witnessed this first hand)

        Bill Hullett

  9. these dayze it’s all about live performances and touring. there is no real money to be made via any recordings. your cd is your business card. there is no viable way to beat the information age. that’s it.

  10. emu! emu! says:

    Bands no longer need labels in my opinion. They still need private investors, booking agents, and PR experts, but not labels. Live recordings from the stage will eventually become the norm as bands seek to cut out studio expenses. This will make recorded music more like real life in my opinion, which is good. Multiple versions of songs could also take off as recorded music becomes more of a showcase for the musician and less for the studio engineer. The musicians, not the labels, will now own the song and the recordings.

    • giantslayer says:

      I am no expert here, but I’m not sure that live recordings are all that much cheaper than studio ones. You have to have mics for everything (preferably good ones), multiple recording interfaces to have enough channels, a good computer to record to, and a decent venue to record in. Of course, you will have to have a tech set everything up – mic placements, recording levels, etc. and he needs to be good because he’s only got one shot to get it right. Most bands don’t have all this equipment, so the tech will have to bring that as well (which isn’t free). Then you still have to have the album mixed and mastered.

      In short, you would be replacing paying a sound tech to record you in their studio with their equipment for paying a sound tech to come out to a venue, bring a bunch of equipment, and record you there.

  11. klasaine klasaine says:

    Like Bill Hullett (whom I agree with in total), I’m probably goi9ng to regret this post …

    The ‘piracy’ thing doesn’t trip me out too much because when I started to make a living at this business folks were just getting into cassette 4-tracks and putting out their own product (not a comment on right or wrong – I’m just giving the back story on why I don’t get so stressed about ‘piracy’ in particular).
    Music was feasibly becoming a D.I.Y proposition. I also remember the first session I did where the engineer told me that we were going to try a new recording format today – ADAT … it’s ‘digital’ (it was for the short lived ‘SIBS’ TV series with Marsha Mason – the 2nd season if it). Since I actually did understand how ‘digital’ reproduction of music worked technically, I knew we were doomed. I knew in 1983 when my dad got a CD player – “a near perfect reproduction that itself is reproducible … that can’t be good”. I was 21 then so ‘onward and upward’.

    What does get me is that even as ‘business oriented’ as the big bad labels were/are(?) they definitely helped to nurture and groom younger acts. 99% of the music that we think of as ‘classic’ today is because a record co. took a little more than a passing interest in a band. And consequently gave them three shots ‘generally’ to sell some records and also mature into a great or at least consistently good artist or act. Today, if a band blows all their money – or their parents or girlfriends money on a CD and they don’t at least stay ‘in the black’ – forget it, game over. Most artists I will argue don’t really learn to be compelling in one record (maybe Dylan, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Zep are exceptions but I’d also argue that they were nurtured by business men who were willing to groom them). This I’ve learned from experience making records with ‘artists’. Many are very talented but can only afford ONE SHOT, which rarely (even with a big money support system) results in sales enough to do it again.
    There were a lot of really good things about big labelsI. Personally I hope that some young guy or gal figures out how to make money (for their own non-altruistic ends) off their friends band and then decides to do it with another friends band … etc. … Voila! Record company. And hopefully it’ll be a big one that makes a decent profit, so that somebody else will follow their business model.


  12. klasaine klasaine says:

    I’ll argue that the reason ‘newer’ generations of music buyers “cherry pick” is because most – certainly not all – newer artists CD’s have two good tunes but are mostly choked full of crap (this is actually what the high school and college students in my neighborhood say – ?) because they don’t have anyone like Clive Davis or Chet Atkins or Alfred Lion or Ted Templeman or Amet Ertegun or Jerry Wexler or Steve Cropper or Barry Gordy or Chris Blackwell or ,or, or, or or … telling them which P.O.S’s to leave off the record and in what order to program them. I too ‘cherry pick’ now. Just write 8 good songs instead of two good ones and 10 others that suck.

    • As an old guy, I’ve got to say, if the whole album doesn’t hold up, I’m not interested. Any artist who intentionally puts out a bad album – and you’re saying that’s most younger artists these days – is just insulting the audience.

      An artist like that doesn’t deserve any audience at all!

  13. klasaine klasaine says:

    Now Bill … tell us what you’re getting at(?)

  14. stantheman says:

    The part that scares me is “the men willing to groom them part”.
    I’ve heard a bunch of stories that are pretty disgusting regarding “grooming”.
    They can’t all be BS – because there’s too many stories.
    I’m cracking up over the fact that “Nozzle” was responsible for 73% of the CBS pie. Incredible.

  15. klasaine klasaine says:

    Yeah, plenty of the ‘horror’ stories are true (I have direct personal experience). But, more often than not, a band needs guidance – business guidance, writing guidance, recording guidance, etc. (of which I also have direct personal experience). No system (or method) is perfect when even ‘small’ money is involved. Unfortunately though, there really aren’t anymore of these guys … Clive Davis or Chet Atkins or Alfred Lion or Ted Templeman or Amet Ertegun or Jerry Wexler or Steve Cropper or Barry Gordy or Chris Blackwell – these cats actually DID know what was best for a band or artist. Sure, some (maybe all?) of these guys had less than perfect character – because of course we’re all AS PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW (and of course so are the artists) – but you wouldn’t know who Aretha was without Amet or Jerry.
    I’m lucky. I just ‘work’ for the artist –
    I get paid no matter what. My advice to the up and commings .. write and write and write and write … and try to keep your publishing – at least try to after you’ve proved yourself. It takes about 2 or 3 ‘charters’.

  16. klasaine klasaine says:

    Lupowitz quote … “so I won’t repeat it, but my question here remains the same.
    Can anybody suggest any acceptable sollution to the problem? People tend to be turning away from hard copies, buying music online, in digital format, by song.
    I can’t see anything that would turn them back on this road, sending back them to the record stores, buying cd’s.”

    Digital and downloads – no hard copies – I assume is not only the future but the present.
    As for a ‘solution’. The only thing I can see as “potential for a solution to even be actively sought and pursued” is that a whole lot of the ‘wired generation’ is gonna have to get their ‘content’ severely ripped off by the generation after them. I guess morally now, stealing is OK, as long as it’s not a physical ‘thing’ that you’re taking and there’s not much chance of getting caught. You can’t argue with folks who have that attitude. Whatever – the decline. Cest la vie. I wonder if there’s an increase in the percentage of DVD and CD theft at actual stores? I’ll bet there isn’t.

  17. twangquest twangquest says:

    As one who is pursuing a career in music, I find the future very dim in terms of financial gain. So I have already put it in my mind to not be famous, rich, or powerful in the biz, just making an honest living sharing my music with the world and hopefully providing for my family and myself to live decent and make enough to do what I enjoy doing.

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