[Thanks to Overconfident Orientalist for pointing me in the direction of this story. Also, thanks (sort of) to Sedate Me, whose made several points in the follow-up comment that I’m sure I’ll be rehashing. A quick note: any emphasis below has been added by yours truly. You know, to emphasize stuff.]
The long and the short of it is this: Tom Silverman, representing Tommy Boy, has come to the conclusion that the normal (read: rapacious) label/victim artist relationship is broken. The upshot is that he has a plan to fix it: a true, transparent 50-50 split with the artist on all income, whether it is online streaming, record sales, merchandise, licensing, etc.
The interviewer starts things off on the wrong foot shortly into the introduction, when this statement rears its malformed head:
“The basic recording contract upon which most of the popular music business has been based for the past 50 years is fundamentally broken.
This is not the sentiment of one of the countless critics who throw stones at the music industry from afar, usually for vague philosophical reasons, but rather the pragmatic opinion of a true insider..”
Consider briefly those throwing stones. Are the artists who have been complaining about being indentured-servants-for-life via the truly fucked “advance” system just a bunch of stone-throwing whiny-ass philosophers? Are those who run artist-owned labels tinpot soapboxers bitching just to bitch? Are all the millions of people who spent millions of dollars buying overpriced plastic discs and paying outsized service charges for live gigs just a group of misfits whose opinions can be waved away in a few dismissive sentences?
Apparently so. And Tom Silverman agrees with interviewer Eliot Van Buskirk, when he marginalizes (by proxy) every bedroom indie artist who has ever recorded and self-published without the aid of a major label:
“Who uses Photobucket and Flickr? Not professional photographers — those are hobbyists, and those are the people who are using TuneCore and iTunes to clutter the music environment with crap, so that the artists who really are pretty good have more trouble breaking through than they ever did before.”
Well, if you wanted to get the unwashed internet to side with this brave new world of 50-50, you certainly couldn’t have stuck your foot any deeper into your mouth, Tom. Quite the feat of contortionism, as the rest of interview indicates it’s currently located deep within your ass.
This is old news, though. Old school industries who have been rendered extraneous (at best) by the encroaching internet have pitched this fit for years. Those in the high-minded sphere of print journalism have been insulting their potential audience incessantly. Former DJs and talk-show hosts who have seen their audiences shrink have dismissed Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. as moronic and its users as even worse.
However, Tom goes further. Not content to simply bash millions of enthusiastic amateur photographers and musicians, he goes on to take a swing at Twitter and internet marketing in general:
“They’re not tweeting, they don’t give a shit about any of that stuff. They’re out gigging, that’s what they do. The word is spread through the shows — they’re not marketing through the internet.”
He’s right about one thing: nothing works quite as well as live performance. Most artists (indie-wise) have already come to this conclusion. They’re out gigging incessantly and connecting with their scattered fans in any way possible.
But Tom doesn’t think that works. Without providing any examples as to why it doesn’t, he expects the reader to take that as fact and write off the power of the internet as nothing more than some widely believed urban legend.
What he’s really saying, though, is this: it doesn’t work for us. He hasn’t seen it improve anything for his major label artists. There are several reasons for this:
1. The major labels’ inherent distrust of the internet. They already believe it’s composed solely of thieving morons, so why would they put any genuine effort into marketing via the web?
2. The major labels have no understanding of the internet. See above. Thieves. Morons. It’s the unmovable force of an industry that desperately wants everything to go back to the way it was. To go back to the halcyon days of CD sales, before Wal-Mart, digital distribution and a bunch of pissed-off music buyers sided with the new forces rather than shell out $18 for 70 minutes of music, most of which was crap.
(If “90% of everything is crap,” then you’re paying $18 for seven minutes of good music.)
The labels are not unlike the mullet-headed 50-year-old who drives a primer-grey Camaro and rocks out to whatever the hell it is he was listening to back in the glory days of high school, when he was voted 2nd Runner-Up in the Prom King competition and nearly got to second-base with the B-team cheerleading squad co-captain.
3. They’ve never really tried. Sure, they might see some bumps for the top 5% of their artists, but the top 5% are the only ones they’re willing to go out-of-the-way for. “Recouped” = GOD in major labeldom. And the only benefit of these actions has been to slightly increase sales on platinum records.
Everyone else on the roster can go fuck themselves. They won’t get any help because “sales are down” and they’re already way in the hole, thanks to thousands of dollars worth of advances. So, the bands that could use the bump the most are being shoved into the cellar and told to behave. “If you had just had a hit song, we might be able to help you out.”
Not only that, but because of their contracts, they’re prevented from making moves on their own to improve their situation. They can’t pursue independent licensing deals, switch labels or release new music until the label says it’s OK.
Tom’s not done going after the internet yet, taking a swipe at Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory with this confusing statement:
“So it’s possible that around 35,000 releases didn’t even sell one copy last year. That means not even the artist or their mother bought a copy, and all those artists are out there gigging, they’re all on social networks, they’re all doing stuff to clutter the marketplace.”
What is one supposed to gather from this statement? That there’s “too much” product available, producing an unacceptable (to label heads) amount of noise? That there are 35,000 artists out there so unlikable not even their family will spring for a copy? That maybe, just maybe, these 35,000 aren’t really doing any of those things listed, but instead have shoved a slice of recorded music somewhere towards the back of iTunes or the like?
As for the amount of “noise,” brought on by “too much” product? That’s just a label problem. Anything that isn’t earning them money is just so much noise, pulling people away from their superior craftmanship and amazingly talented roster of artists.
I would think this is the kind of “noise” music fans have been waiting on for years. Now no one has to sit on the other end of a label-enforced bottleneck, waiting for them to drop new music into their local brick-and-mortar shops or allow it to hit the airwaves of their favorite radio station.
At this point in time, the cost of entry for artists and fans has never been lower. Bad news for major labels. Great news for artists and fans. Somehow Tom and many others still believe that if it weren’t for them and their Herculean efforts to keep bailing water out of their sinking ships, music fans everywhere would be left with nothing but a vacuum, completely devoid of music.
And what do they have to offer? Let’s take a look, as Tom bemoans the fact that this collection of masterpieces was somehow unable to bump CD sales:
“In America, Michael Jackson died, we re-released all of the Beatles stuff, and we had Susan Boyle, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga — and we were still down 12.7 percent and 16-something percent physical.”
Holy shit! Two-shit-demos-tacked-on reissues! And not just any shit re-issues, but re-issues of albums everybody already owns! Tremendous!
OMG! Susan Boyle! BEP!! LADY MOTHERFUCKIN GAGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Christ on a bicycle! How did we poor internet morons get so lucky? How could we restrain ourselves from rushing to the store to pick up physical copies of CDs by dead artists with re-issue after re-issue under their corpses already, a reality-show contestant and two over-exposed pop stars? How were we able to resist the lure of this cornucopia of audio delights? How. The. Fuck…
Good lord. If this is what the majors think should be moving units, they’re more fucked than they could ever imagine. Long tail or no, not every person out there wants the same old shit, endlessly repackaged and cynically hawked. If I want the fucking BEP, I can watch Target’s in-store advertising for 10 minutes or so. If I wanted a Michael Jackson re-issue, I only had to pick one up during the last quarter century.
So it all comes down to this: Tom and the major labels want music fixed. They don’t want things to necessarily work better for consumers or their roster. They just want what they had before: skyrocketing profits and insane margins.
You’ll notice that the independents artists aren’t clamoring for some makeover of the distribution system. Many like it the way it is. Some would like a few changes. A few anomalies hum along with the majors.
I don’t hear anything from the fans. They’ve never had it better.
If Tom really wants to be bold, he should grandfather his roster in under this new plan and issue back pay. That might help some of the endlessly screwed unrecouped see some daylight. He can stop charging bands for paid-in-full-and-amortized-to-hell-and-back studios. He can stop pushing them into incredibly expensive promos.
Most importantly, he (and the rest of the labels) can stop trying to push back the clock, via lawsuits, threats and angry, ill-informed statements. They couldn’t stop what was coming and they didn’t even try to make it work for them. They just let file-sharing, etc. erode their business while they wrung their hands and paid massive retainers to lawyers.
Without a doubt, this is a step in the right direction. But why now? Why not 20, 30, 40 years ago? Are they finally desperate enough to take 50% of something rather than 90-95% of nothing? I think they are.
I’m sure there are some people who’ll say, “CLT, why don’t you cut him some slack? He’s trying to change things!”
Don’t bother. There are a lot of people out there who will never earn the right to some slack-cutting (patent lawyers, divorce lawyers, lawyers, the RIAA, ASCAP & etc., career politicians of all stripes…) and “Major Label Executive” is right near the top of that list.
You never gave anyone on your roster a break. You never cut them a little slack on the endless recoup. You never failed to let them know where they stood when times were tight. You insulted, berated and sued music fans. You bullied retailers and radio stations. You spent as much time as possible being part of the problem.
Don’t expect me to humour you with your 50%-assed solution.