Tom Silverman Condescends to Save Music Industry from Itself; Crap Internet Artists

July 27, 2010

Tom Silverman for City Councilman: Intensity You Can Rely On

[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. 

Ah. Those were the days. Nonsensical fashion. Nonsensical headspins. Nonsensical CD profit margins.

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. 

I guess we didn't all buy her albums. It just felt that way...

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. 



  1. Thieves. Morons = Schmucks. Gonifs.

    • Spare me your space-age Yiddish mumbo jumbo, Elizabeth. I know for a fact (from secondhand information) that you have some sort of (allow me to snort derisively) Twitter photostream, wherein you pollute the internet with your untrained and unskilled photography.

      Just remember this: Every time an amateur uploads a picture, a professional photographer beats their child.

    • It’s all I got, Capitalist! I was too proud to ask for the remedial version of this post. I think I got the sum and the parts, but not the whole.

      Okay, I’m not too proud…what is the Cliff Notes encapsulation of this post (in a sentence or two)?

      P.S. I sent Rachel to bed early for snorting derisively at Glenn Beck.

    • I’d be right there, too. I find Beck to be snort-worthy.

  2. But, but, but, the labels do so much good. They give us BEP and Lady Gaga. I mean, how would I own all those Aesop Rock and Black Moth Super Rainbow tunes or Radiohead’s In Rainbows if it weren’t for the major labels and traditional distribution channels. Wait. . .

    • There’s where you’re wrong, Ulysses. Without the major labels, these independent labels would be nothing. Their distribution channels would be effectively closed because the internet and independent music stores are not, I repeat, NOT viable sources of income.

      This is just the kind of inherent stupidity I would expect from an (allow me to snort derisively) anonymous (and another, even more derisive snort) blogger.

  3. OMFG, I get it! I get it!! Sleep cycle is totally whacked…laughing all the way to bed 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Hooray!

      It was an 1,800-word post. I wasn’t looking forward to summarizing it into two sentences. If I could do that, we would have all been spared the other 1,600 words…

    • In an era where 140 characters is now considered “legitimate discourse”, anything beyond three sentences is considered “elitist”. Be proud of it.

      I never apologize for my size. Why should you?

  4. Is it weird that while I covet these music industry-related rants you do, I loathe commenting on them?

    Really, you should take it as a compliment. Because everything I know about the “behind the scenes” goings on is dependent upon these flawlessly written posts of yours, I have no way of turning things around and making it all about me. Which is bad for me, but good for your comment thread.

    Really, without you, I’d still be under the impression that if I didn’t want to pay $18 for those 7 minutes of music, I was pretty much SOL.

    • Thanks for all that, bschooled. It can still be all about you, though. I’ve never let my complete ignorance about certain subjects prevent me from drawing attention to myself with completely ignorant statements.

      Why, everything I say about (abouut?) Canada, I learned from you and your Canadian blogger friends. That and the X-Files for the first six seasons.

      What I learned is that your money is worthless, your words have extra vowels (mainly “u”) and that Vancouver and Toronto are interchangeable with every minor metropolis in the US.

      Don’t buy the $18 Kool-Aid, bschooled. I know where to get the good stuff, at low, low prices.

    • Yes, Canadian money is completely worthless. On any given day, our dollar could be worth as little as 90%-100% of a US dollar. Embarrassing.

      The Canadian dollar isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. (Canadian inside joke)

    • Well, 90% of the American dollar won’t work in our vending machines. Hence, worthless. Especially when the dick behind the convenience store counter unloads more than one Canuck coin on you, meaning he made you as a “mark” the moment you set foot in the store.

  5. This was motherfucking brilliant. A huge topic and you seemed to tackle it with ease

    I don’t know who Tom Moron is, but one (of the many) particularly ridiculous thing he said seems to be;

    “so that the artists who really are pretty good have more trouble breaking through than they ever did before.”

    Artists who are “really pretty good”?! I didn’t know that’s who ‘made it’ back in the glory days when major labels reigned so much as ‘artists with a fuck off marketing teams pushing their music down the throats of the semi-lobotomised mainstream radio listening population’….

    Ps –This sentence alone
    “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”

    will quite possibly earn you the unconditional love of The Yang (filthy download whore but a muso on his own independent label) forever….(but not in a weird way)

    • Ruby –

      I’m glad you liked the article, which was (as I am prone to say elsewhere) “exceedingly long.” And that’s just it with these label types: all else is crap if they didn’t have their wick in it first. If they can’t make a buck off it, it’s just stuff getting in the way of their stuff.

      And I’ll take all the love I can get (even non-weird Yang love) if it comes from a place of hatred for mainstream music pushers.

      Thanks for the comment, Ruby.

    • $18 for a piece of crap?

      Fuck! The average CD in my collection cost me over $25, at that doesn’t include the “special orders”. Mind you, unlike most of shit on the shelves, I was buying stuff that I could actually listen to without puking. There’s a premium involved in that. (Actually, buying a blank CD and listening to it is both cheaper and more enjoyable than buying a Top 10 CD.)

      As for China-Mart, they (amongst other crimes) helped worsen the music scene by further emphasizing sales volume and “family friendliness”. Their unhealthy influence on the market helped keep the record industry obsessed with that top 5% and ignoring the rest. They also helped erode whatever artistic merit was left by stressing high turnover of widgets and (at least at one point) rejecting albums based upon content.

  6. Wow this was seriously phenomenal journalism. I know that I don’t know nearly enough (actually nothing whatsoever) about the music industry, music, contracts, business or even working to offer any kind of intelligent comment. All I could possibly do is parrot exactly what you said because you made me believe that you are right.

    Dude I’m not kissing your ass when I say that I could easily see you working for Time or Rolling Stone. You are better than most of their journalists.

    PS I thought that guy was Tom Jones. See how ignorant I am?

    • Scott,

      Thanks very much for all the compliments. If you’re curious about the inner workings of the music industry, hit up http://www.techdirt.com. There’s plenty of ugly info over there.

      As much as I’d like to consider myself a top-tier writer, I think it would be a waste of time to ingratiate myself with the Times and the Rolling Stones of the world. Too much of their stuff tends to follow party lines and become part of the problem.

      (You know, he does look a bit like a younger, more bitter Tom Jones.)

  7. […] Capitalist Lion Tamer – “Tom Silverman Condescends to Save Music Industry from Itself; Crap Internet Artists” […]

  8. (1,800 words? Is that the best you can do?)

    To say that “90% of what’s out there is crap” gives the industry too much credit. At least 95% of the CDs they sell would be more productive if spread on farmer’s fields as fertilizer.

    To be fair, I’m not too familiar with what’s currently out there. The music industry drove me away from it sometime in the late 90’s and not just because they were expecting me to pay $25 bucks for a piece of (whatever the fuck a CD is actually made out of) that only cost them a pennies to buy and a couple bucks to fill. I once saw the breakdown of where the money from CD purchase goes. Everybody in the process, even the truck driver, gets a bigger slice than the artist.

    What really drove me away was how distasteful it all was. The musician is all but a bought and paid for slave. Not only that, the slaves are divided into House Musicians and Field Musicians and get very different treatments. Masters also have a predilection for sleeping with their slaves. In fact, it might be the best way to launch a career. If I slept with the same record execs Mariah Carey did, I probably could have sold as many albums.

    Which brings me to the next distasteful bit; the music sucks, yet they ram it down our throats even when it makes us gag. And they expect us to swallow gleefully! I’m sorry, but I don’t enjoy getting bukkakeed everywhere I go (radio, TV, print media, Internet, etc) with the same half dozen interchangeable whores who moan out love songs like they’ve been shot; the same half dozen interchangeable gangs of white, suburban, layabouts who desperately try to sound angry and violent enough to get on action movie soundtracks; and the same half dozen interchangeable ex-cons who, when not busy pissing on teenage girls, rap about the expensive stuff they’ve bought with their fan’s money. And all of the above are more than keen to sell their hits to any corporation stupid enough to pay big bucks to turn their songs into advertising jingles when they could just pay some poor schlep 50 bucks to come up with one just as effective.

    This kind of aggressive overexposure makes me want to buy their albums even less than I already do. The record companies act as if their audience is incapable of thinking for themselves and will mindlessly buy whatever they are told to…and, for the most part, they’re right. Just look at the mindless, derivative, musical junk food they keep propelling to the top of the charts. My dogs can make music that leaves a longer lasting (positive) impression on me. I can’t immediately think of a band that has formed since 2000 that I would buy a record of. Instantly forgettable junk that is meant to be consumed and thrown away.

    Which is where modern technology comes in (itself junk designed both to be consumed & thrown away and to facilitate the consumption & the throw-away lifestyle).

    “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….They (the record industry) already believe it’s composed solely of thieving morons, so why would they put any genuine effort into marketing via the web?”

    And they are 100% right. Except for the free porn, the forums available for me to vent my spleen and the ability for me to waste an entire day without blinking; the Internet is predominantly a place where worthless layabouts steal/sabotage/spam, communicate nothing of any value in the most ignorant and illiterate manner possible, and then proceed to jerk off to pictures of naked corpses.

    These people are far more likely to steal your CDs and throw them at passing cars than to buy and listen to them. Unfortunately, they are the “target demographic” for music peddlers. That’s their first mistake. It’s like asking a guy robbing your store if he’d like to buy an all-syrup Super Squishy on his way out.

    Instead of diversifying and targeting more products towards age/niche groups still willing to pay for things, age/niche groups that actually have money and make up a majority of the population, they insisted on tracking down and publicly punishing small groups of young, basement dwelling, losers who figured out a way to trade audio files on the computer. The assault was the most successful marketing campaign for a potential threat since American Records propped up the Mujahideen Label and their future chart-topper, Bin Lauden and the Furious 5.

    Tens of millions of people turned on the news to discover they no longer had to pay for music. It probably would have taken another decade before music downloading became a serious threat (if it actually is) and it only made it more attractive to unemployed losers looking for the “street cred” being a “criminal” gave them. The industry would have been better off to ignore Internet losers. Today, we live in a society full of them.

    Yet, somehow, these corporations still survive and make money. That’s because these clowns can sell Bibles to jihad-ists. In a move reminiscent of self-serve gas stations, they have suckered people into paying a couple of bucks on-line for music files they can get for free. An album’s worth of these “legal” files can cost as much as a real CD with liner notes that has to be trucked around the country and sold by middlemen. Yet they can still convince us all they are poor, on the edge of collapse and need help.

    Shit, they still sell millions of VINYL ALBUMS!!! Vinyl sales are higher than anytime since 1991, about the time the CD officially took over. If they’re hurting, it ain’t the technology that’s hurting them. It’s the motherfucking product they’re pushing. Disposable junk for a disposable society. Who wants to pay for stuff they can get for exactly what it’s worth -nothing- on their computer and delete when they get bored of it? (aka 5 plays) They are, however, more willing to pay for things they rarely hear on the radio or see on TV and want to keep.

    Here’s a crazy suggestion…start producing music people actually want to BUY!
    Instead of ramming Lady Gaga Me With A Fork and Justin Bieber (actually saw him busking a couple times) up our assholes until even fans want them replaced with new Bieber/Gaga clones, maybe they should develop as many decent artists as they can and introduce them to the niche markets who will buy albums purely out of respect, like giving a big tip after a top-shelf lap dance.

    But that approach is the antithesis of what the record companies actually are. At the end of the day, they are nothing more than just another massive oligopoly; one where the companies are just divisions of larger multi-nationals, investment firms, or are owned by grandsons of prohibition liquor smugglers.

    They are just more mammoth corporations that seek maximum profits above all else. As such, they exploit their workers, have contempt for their customers, produce vastly over-priced products of very dubious quality and rely on market dominance, political payoffs and heavy advertising to keep the whole thing afloat.

    Bonuses all around!

    • Excellent post/comment/thing, SM. Well-written, semi-concise, lots of sensible thought and well-placed swearing. Why, it’s just the sort of essay these comment… Hey! Go get your own URL!

      (You are now on the finalist list for the exclusive Alan Truitt Award for Commenting, which is awarded to commenters whose comments routinely exceed the word count of the post they’re attached to. It’s very prestigious and completely made-up.)

    • First off, I’d like to thank the Academy for recognizing my work as a one man counterbalance to the stunted illiteracy of Twitter by presenting me with this award…

  9. CLT,

    The Economist weighs in on the music industry. You might find it interesting: http://www.economist.com/node/17199460?story_id=17199460&CFID=145327807&CFTOKEN=89697391#footnote1.

    • Thanks for that link. This one makes a lot more sense, realizing that the only antidote to piracy, etc. is to work the undownloadable side of the music industry, i.e. live shows, merchandise, etc.

      And they managed to write it without feeling the need to slag off the internet as a wasteland of thieves and losers and/or tout themselves as benevolent figureheads who are finally treating musicians fairly only because they don’t really have a choice.

      There are still ways to make money in the music industry. It’s just that music (read: files) isn’t the way to do it.

  10. […] rant a lot about the music industry. And it never fails to give me plenty to rant about, especially when label execs and major […]

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