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Fool me once, shame on you ... fool me twice, ... won't get fooled again?
April 16, 2012 8:27 PM   Subscribe

David Lowery, of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven has an interesting argument for why the new Internet-based music-publishing industry may actually not be great for the artists: Meet The New Boss

Lowery, (previously, previously) has some interesting credentials in the music piracy and artist rights discussion. Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven have long supported fan taping of live shows, even pre-Internet, and now nearly all of both bands' live output is available on archive.org.
But Lowery understands more than rock (and alt-rock):
I was trained as a mathematician. My first job after I graduated involved being the systems operator for an MPM OS system and I wrote a lot of DBASE IV scripts. I had a fascination with the old RPG punch card programming language. I am deeply involved in the digital amateur radio world. You can sometimes find me operating PSK31 on 20 meters. I spent some time in Chicago near the CME. I worked as a “Quant” doing some semi high frequency trading. While there I became involved with a company called www.thepoint.com which evolved into www.groupon.com.

I can out geek most of you.
"Meet the New Boss ..." is an embellished version of a talk Lowery gave at the SF Music Tech Summit, and whether you agree completely with his points, it gives some excellent food for thought while you're listening to that free Pandora stream. (Rumor has it he intends to turn it into a book.)
posted by jferg (105 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let’s take my artist royalty rate of 16% and compare who gets what under the old pre digital system and the new system. (don’t forget i’m also including the mechanical royalty).

1996 CD album sold in independent store [...] $15.99 CD [...] Artist [cut]: $2.51

2012 Digital Album [...] $9.99 album [...] Artist [cut]: $2.05


While I think a lot of what he says is interesting (and true), this math just does not track for me. 16% of 10 bucks is a $1.60 (so I guess the other 45 cents comes from mechanical royalties?), while 16% of $15.99 is $2.56, so something doesn't make sense there. Never mind picking a higher starting price for the 1996 example so even if percentages are the same, the amount the artist makes will appear to drop. I don't remember $16 being the standard rate for CDs in 1996 (seems high, but there is that independent store qualifier in there), but it's not like I've done the research either.
posted by axiom at 8:44 PM on April 16, 2012


1996 CD album sold in independent store [...] $15.99 CD [...] Artist [cut]: $2.51

2012 Digital Album [...] $9.99 album [...] Artist [cut]: $2.05


So the sales figures for digital and CDs are exactly the same? There's no such thing as artists who can't get on a major label and get into record stores, but can still make money selling online? There's no such thing as people who dislike buying CDs but will happily buy mp3s? This is so much more complex and nuanced than just calculating percentages (which you apparently need "out-geeking" advanced math skills to do now??)

some excellent food for thought while you're listening to that free Pandora stream.
I pay Pandora, and they pay the artists. People who use the free service hear ads, and Pandora gets the ad revenue, and some of that goes to the artists,.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:53 PM on April 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


This guy seems not to get the EFF at all. He calls EFF a surrogate for Apple, Facebook and Google, and then mentions software patents (one of the biggest things the EFF stands against) as evidence of their hypocrisy.
posted by idiopath at 8:55 PM on April 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Whale oil salesman laments electric lightbulbs.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:01 PM on April 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


I love me some Camper Van, but this is weird. The whole point of many of those 90's "post-Nirvana" bands that got shafted was that they basically had to mortgage themselves to major labels for recording, distribution, and perhaps most negatively, "marketing" fees. Some of those bands actually shifted some units, but found themselves (literally) indebted to their label for all the "help" they'd been given.

The whole point of internet distribution is that you can simply bypass all of that now. Hell, you're kind of an idiot to even consider signing with a major label in 2012.
posted by bardic at 9:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


idiopath: I actually meant to mention that that was one of the things I disliked about the article. There was a fair amount of fear-mongering that left me a bit cold in places, but I thought it was a worthwhile discussion point nonetheless.
posted by jferg at 9:03 PM on April 16, 2012


Even if he's right about all of this, it doesn't matter. The old model is dead and it's unlikely that anything more lucrative for the artists will rise to take its place. Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, et al pay less than the old retail/label system because people are no longer willing to pay as much for music.

Actually, I'd guess that these days most people aren't willing to pay ANYTHING for music. Part of it is that the era of widespread piracy devalued it and part is that the public's fickle attention has turned to other distractions (apps, video games, Facebook, whatever).
posted by The Lamplighter at 9:04 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I'd guess that these days most people aren't willing to pay ANYTHING for music"

Not true in my case, but then again I'm 37.

That said, a lot of smaller bands have always made as much, if not more, on touring and selling merch themselves.

Not sure if the young whippersnappers these days are as interested in going to shows as I was. I certainly hope so.
posted by bardic at 9:06 PM on April 16, 2012


While the .Zip file was a real game changer for musicians, especially banjo players

I feel like I'm missing out on the joke on this one. Can someone explain it to me?
posted by mannequito at 9:09 PM on April 16, 2012


.zep man!
posted by juiceCake at 9:22 PM on April 16, 2012


I think the problem is that we don't value music (or the arts in general) enough to maintain a sustainable business model. If the new boss is worse than the old, it's because the new boss -- us -- really isn't as invested as the new boss likes to think the new boss is.

And how could we be? Times are tough, and the horizon looks very bleak. The current great recession is probably not going to end within our foreseeable future, and this probably signifies a permanent downgrade in our standard of living and consequent priorities. Collectively, we're all kind of like the financial supporter of some talented someone that we just can't afford anymore. "I like your music, but I just can't keep paying for it. I've got bills to pay. Something has to give, and this week, I think you're it."
posted by treepour at 9:25 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


The bills can wait. I want to listen to Key Lime Pie now.
posted by weinbot at 9:27 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


But imagine being an independent artist and trying to borrow money from someone to make a record. In this day and age no one is ever gonna loan an artist money specifically BECAUSE of widespread illegal file-sharing. Digeridiots pounding tables and shouting “intellectual property is not property” makes the investment environment even worse. I mean would you loan anyone money to make an album these days? I wouldn’t.

By my count, in the last nine months I have loaned independent artists money to make six albums and one concert. As have enough other people that all those albums and that concert received enough funding to happen. Of course, the mechanism by which I made those loans (and, really, they weren't even loans so much as donations with the understanding that I'd get a copy of the album if they ended up making it) was yet another parasitic tech company taking even more money away from the artist, so I guess maybe it'd be better if they just hadn't made those albums or put on that concert.
posted by hades at 9:30 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, et al pay less than the old retail/label system because people are no longer willing to pay as much for music.

Music is now an app, a feature, an inclusion.

Which may, to some degree, be a recursion, but I think that Lowery has a hint of a point in that geek triumphalism from the Vergizmadget audience is fucking unseemly. This too will pass, and there will be whining from the gamers and gadgeteers.

"I like your music, but I just can't keep paying for it. I've got bills to pay...."

Only if those bills are the broadband bill, the mobile phone bill, the Netflix sub and the $9.95 in Facebook credit to grow some more virtual turnips: the somewhat disposable income of the main music-buying demographic has been diverted over the past 15 years. They drink its milkshake.
posted by holgate at 9:34 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not to put too fine a point on it, but given the chest-beating over his geek credentials at the beginning, the omission of the crowd-funding model at the end is particularly odd. Even if somehow he hasn't heard of kickstarter or indiegogo or the like, I'd expect him to be aware of the street performer protocol and other precursors to the current distributed funding landscape.
posted by hades at 9:37 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Musicians need to transition to become the new digital bards.

I loved that article, the new music distribution model really sucks and does not give a damn about creating more music from the profits. That's a huge loss.
posted by roboton666 at 9:50 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I'd guess that these days young people aren't willing to pay ANYTHING for music"
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:54 PM on April 16, 2012


Another song about the rain. That's all this is.
posted by holdkris99 at 10:20 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


 But what many of you forget is that IT IS MY CHOICE whether I choose to give away my songs or sell them.  IT IS MY CHOICE how and where to distribute my songs.  IT IS MY CHOICE to decide which websites get to exploit my songs.   Like it or not, the right to control one’s intellectual property (like songs) is a constitutional right.

Incorrect. Both the Berne convention and the Copyright Act of 1974 require compulsory licensing. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act has compulsory licensing for non-interactive websites like Pandora. So, no Mr. Lowrey, it is not a constitutional right.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:21 PM on April 16, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Music publishing" means something different than what you're trying to describe here, jferg (sorry for being pedantic, but I was really excited to read a debate about internet-based music publishing and ...sad trombone...).

I thought the article was somewhat interesting but boy, it's hard for me to hear someone defend the record labels when the labels are still deducting manufacturing and packaging costs from digital sales. What is this packaging you speak of?
posted by queensissy at 10:41 PM on April 16, 2012


queensissy: "What is this packaging you speak of?"

Well, someone's gotta stuff them bytes into the data packets and line up the data packets in the router right? You go through a shit load of envelopes and stamps doing that I tell you what.
posted by idiopath at 11:01 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


good read.
posted by huckleberryhart at 11:04 PM on April 16, 2012


What is this packaging you speak of?

It's XML, baby. You think all those angle brackets grow on trees?
posted by flabdablet at 11:06 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everywhere I look artists seem to be working more for less money.

So is everyone else.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:07 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Everywhere I look artists seem to be working more for less money.

So is everyone else.


Yeah, it's called a shitty economy. Everyone's working more for less money except the 0.1%.

(Though, I will say, Spin Doctors, Gin Blossoms, and Cracker was my first ever concert, and Cracker won the night)
posted by dirigibleman at 11:15 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Christ, so many straw men that I'm gonna go download some Cracker albums that I bought in a different format rather than ripping them myself.

I'd generally given up piracy in favor of Spotify, but nineties nostalgia needs Napster, huh?
posted by klangklangston at 12:11 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, et al pay less than the old retail/label system because people are no longer willing to pay as much for music.

That's not true (or at least, not proven). It's not so much that people don't want to pay the same as they did in the pre-digital age, it's that there are so many more choices in how you want to consume your music.

Pre-digital there were roughly two ways to get your music fix: buy records or listen to the radio, with records being where the money was. In such a simple environment it's relatively easy to control prices and keep them artificially high -- with most of what you paid for a record not going to the original artists. With the increase in sales channels and ways to get your music fix, this is no longer possible and hasn't really been for a long time.

Let's not forget record sales started to tank at the end of the seventies anyway and it was just the invention of the cd and the need of all those yuppies & thirty to fortysomething baby boomers to replace their collection with new, scratch free digital never going to lose its quality media that kept it going in the eighties and nineties. the music industry was dying long before Napster came along.

(Pet theory: the record industry got big on the tastes of teenage and early twenties baby boomers, then started to collapse once they became adults and started families and suddenly didn't have the disposable income anymore to buy several records each week.)
posted by MartinWisse at 12:26 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like David Lowery, and I've seen him in concert in both Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker many times, from the 80s to just last year. He's a really smart guy who obviously knows more about the business of making music than a lowly fan like myself ever will. But I can't help but sniff a whiff of sour grapes about this -- he came up at a time when the first cracks in the monolith of the music industry were widening into chasms, and I imagine life was pretty sweet for a popular college-radio favorite whose music was both quirky enough to attract the indie rock crowd and palatable enough to get on FM radio. Record companies, as he notes, were desperate, flinging money at anyone with an asymmetrical haircut and a hope of becoming the next R.E.M.

He basically goes on to say that he misses the days when he was overpaid for underperforming. If the band ended up pocketing 40% after advances and royalties, well, those records weren't exactly flying off the shelves. His band profited from the largesse of industry insiders who made essentially a bad bet: they thought Cracker was gonna go huge, and Cracker did not go huge.

Well, those days are gone for good, and I imagine it must be rather grim for Mr. Lowery to look out from a club stage that's considerably smaller than the ones he used to play and count the few gray heads lined up at the merch booth to buy CVB onesies.

But he let slip something telling, I think. It's as if he wished, just for a moment there, that he'd been in more of a "niche" band. Playing, say, black metal.

Interesting.

What's significant about black metal? I see a lot of similarities between the metal scene today and the punk scene of thirty years ago-- small labels catering to passionate fans who live for the music, talk about it relentlessly, and spread it around with their friends. Bands making music that's designed to be provocative, even offensive. Music that kids define themselves by.

See, the thing I think David Lowery is missing in his analysis is time and age. Recorded music keeps piling up. Every generation confronts a bigger stack of it than the previous one.

Thirty years ago, when I started buying records, there was THIRTY YEARS LESS MUSIC TO BUY. A fan of rock music could take $100 to a good used record store and walk out with a trunk load of vinyl that would draw a line from Robert Johnson and the Carter Family through Howlin' Wolf and Buddy Holly all the way to the Stones and the Beatles and the Kinks and the Who. OK, now I've got a handle on the Old Stuff, I can move on, you know?

But now there's so much more music! So many branches and directions and diffusions and mutations! Music made from other music, for cryin' out loud! Whole new genres to explore!

And it's not like disposable income has risen, or the time Jane MusicFan has to listen to New Stuff has expanded.

Purely from a practical standpoint, a whole bunch of music HAS to be free, JUST TO BE HEARD. And though I mourn its passing, the age of the Devoted Listener seems to be drawing to a close, too. Music's portability is great and all, but when was the last time you invited friends over to listen to a new record? Does that even happen any more?

He makes good points about the changing economics of the business, but I'm afraid there's a hard truth at the bottom of it that he's unwilling to face: It might just be a bad time to be in a thirty-year-old psychedelic ska-inflected indie rock band, Mr. Lowery.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:43 AM on April 17, 2012 [44 favorites]


I have loved David Lowery's work since "Take the Skinheads Bowling" and "the Day Lassie Went to the Moon" and don't get me started on "Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart" or "Key Lime Pie", amazing works that shaped me (and I have bought multiple times on cassette, vinyl, (unpaid) Napster and iTunes) . I have been reading David's essay, posted over the past few days, and I can't find with anything I really find fault with, except, I want an answer: what's the fix?

I really want an answer from him, but I don't see one. The best I've seen recently was here, a comment I favorited but can't find now, about a statutory license regime that artists and audience could opt into. Artists get paid, we get to listen and remix.
posted by bigbigdog at 12:52 AM on April 17, 2012


Ah, found it. This to my addled mind is currently the best proposal to "how to fix this" I've seen that doesn't involve "buggy whips, man, you just gonna make buggy whips all your life, man, I know a guy he's a legislator or some shit, you give him enough money he'll keep your dollars flowing."
posted by bigbigdog at 1:05 AM on April 17, 2012


Where, where's the dollar bills?

I am saddened and confused by David Lowry going after the work of Kristin Thompson (of the FMC and Tsunami). What next, Ian McKaye keys Hope Sandoval's car? Jello Biafra takes a shit on Chuck D's stoop? Mary Lou Lord spin-kicks Robert Smith in the nuts? I hate this world.
posted by fleacircus at 1:41 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


he doesn't seem to get the significance of the computer based revolution in recording technology, which, for artists who are willing to learn the techniques and the processes involved in recording, reduces costs considerably - no one charges you an hourly rate to record music if you own the studio

and yes, it's a large and difficult skill set to learn, but it's not secret knowledge - and it's not more difficult than learning how to play an instrument, write songs and arrange them
posted by pyramid termite at 2:55 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have always assumed that the internet marketing would mean more opportunity for more bands but less opportunity for bands to become well established stars and possibly less money even if they do.
posted by caddis at 3:15 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


no one charges you an hourly rate to record music if you own the studio

No, but you do have to buy your own amplifiers, pre-amps, mixing desks, microphones, noise suppressors, etc, etc. Until you've made a lot of recordings, it's not cheaper.

(I guess it probably is cheaper if you're making electronic music with few hardware requirements, of course.)
posted by Dysk at 3:45 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


He does own a studio. A working studio, with real costs and real bookings and real equipment. I'm fairly sure he's looked at the cost structures in a detailed manner.

Generally speaking, if you want to sell music at a professional rate, you've got to produce it to professional standards. It costs bucks, your PC with ProTools on it notwithstanding.
posted by Wolof at 4:09 AM on April 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


ProTools is probably the least expensive component of any studio.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 4:41 AM on April 17, 2012


If he's a ham, I wonder what his call is? Hmm ... There are three David Lowerys listed on QRZ.com:

* KE4DIS - DAVID H LOWERY - DECATUR, AL
* KF4KRF - David C Lowery - Richmond, VA
* W5DML - DAVID M LOWERY - PLANO, TX
posted by scruss at 4:52 AM on April 17, 2012


he doesn't seem to get the significance of the computer based revolution in recording technology, which, for artists who are willing to learn the techniques and the processes involved in recording, reduces costs considerably - no one charges you an hourly rate to record music if you own the studio

Here's where i do agree with him. You need a real studio and real production to make it sound worth purchase. He's right to call it a as it is--my experience with my own home studio is that it's really hard--especially in terms of time--you can't get good results without significant investments in time. That doesn't inclde mastering, either.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:55 AM on April 17, 2012


If he's a ham, I wonder what his call is? Hmm ... There are three David Lowerys listed on QRZ.com:

* KE4DIS - DAVID H LOWERY - DECATUR, AL
* KF4KRF - David C Lowery - Richmond, VA
* W5DML - DAVID M LOWERY - PLANO, TX
posted by scruss at 7:52 AM on April 17 [+] [!]


He lives in Richmond.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:56 AM on April 17, 2012


no one charges you an hourly rate to record music if you own the studio

No, but you do have to buy your own amplifiers, pre-amps, mixing desks, microphones, noise suppressors, etc, etc. Until you've made a lot of recordings, it's not cheaper.

(I guess it probably is cheaper if you're making electronic music with few hardware requirements, of course.)


Not to mention sound dampening walls and dividers.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:58 AM on April 17, 2012


I'm sympathetic to his arguments and I like his music but the plain truth is that treating a recorded performance as a sort of precious substance to be hoarded and polished and doled out cautiously for vast sums of money was basically a thing of the 20th century and its time is passing. Before then there were no recordings, full stop. The 20th century's technology made broadcast of data on a limited number of channels possible; publishers and distributors chose who the world heard and if you were chosen, you got rich (or got ripped off). In the 21st century, our technology has changed to allow infinite channels and infinite choice partially driven by the gestalt of social groups.

Lowery is going to need stop whining about how things have changed and embrace the "true fans" who will care enough about his work to support him financially. What he misses, what they all miss with their whining about piracy, is that most of his true fans don't know about him yet, and so his goal should be to get his music out there as widely as possible by any means necessary, so those new people CAN find him, and then will become willing to support him in his endeavours.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:05 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I’ll make technologists a deal, I’ll give up my song copyrights if you give up your software patents. Software patents are even less unique than your typical song. So this should be easy right?
Seriously?? Where do we sign?

(not that I'm really a "technologist". Or have any patents)

Anyway, his anger is a bit misplaced. I'm sure he's right about file-sharing eating into musicians' incomes, but surely the real problem is that (as BitterOldPunk says) there's just so much more music around now.

He's facing the same problem as any supplier does when demand falls at the same time as supply is increasing. The system of risk/reward sharing between record companies and musicians that he describes hasn't broken down because copyright law doesn't adequately protect recorded music. It's breaking down because record companies no longer control the legal distribution of music, which means that musicians can publish themselves, which means that a lot of musicians do publish themselves even if they don't make much money, because being a musician is cool, which means that the money is spread too thinly to be able to support the old model.

In economic terms the market is becoming more efficient, and just like in any other market this isn't a lot of fun for the people who used to be able to live off the inefficiencies. I'm sympathetic, but I can't see how to fix the problem without somehow making it harder for people to publish their music again. Jacking up the penalties for copyright infringement and shutting down chillingeffects.org isn't going to help.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:12 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Generally speaking, if you want to sell music at a professional rate, you've got to produce it to professional standards. It costs bucks, your PC with ProTools on it notwithstanding.

ProTools? In the full accounting, ProTools is, for all intents, *free*.

You need people who know how to record and mix, you need the space to do so, and you need to give up the time to do so. These all cost you *vastly* more than ProTools.

What the digital chain replaced was analog tape and, to some level, analog mix desks. Everything else is either same, or takes the same effort and cost to use correctly. The mechanical cost of editing is cheaper, but who cares if anybody can mix and bounce tracks, or burn them to a gold master. It's not the mechanical act of creating a master that makes you a great artist or producer.

It's knowing how to create it and how best to set the equipment to capture it, and the digital chain hasn't done shit to help with that. Don't get me wrong -- the fidelity and reliability gains of the digital chain are important. But really, what the digital recording chain did was take the cheapest part of a studio and make it cheaper.

You still have to spend time, labor and rental -- and, of course, every minute you spent recording is time you're not spending promoting, or touring, or creating new music to record.

Lowerly makes that point and doesn't finish it. It used to be the labels doing the promoting. You have to do it now. Promotion is both an actual and a time cost -- and the artist in the new model now shoulder it. Recording used to be a label risk. Now, it's the artist's risk.

I think people are going to read more hate into his iTunes screed than he has. He clearly looks the big streaming services as the better part of the world, because they do, at least, reliably pay. He's annoyed (and rightfully so) about having to use an aggregator, and his statement about credit card fees is dead on. I think he does minimize payment risks somewhat, but he's right to point out that for Apple/Google/Amazon, they have very strong methods already in place to help mitigate them. He also misses out that Apple and Amazon do some promotion -- not as much as the old labels did, but some. Getting your record on the front page of iTunes is huge.

But, in general, and in many specifics, what he's saying is what I'm seeing in what little connection to the industry I have left.

It may be that we were wrong all the time. It may be that music isn't important enough. It may be that the ultimate disintermediation of the business will be there is no business. I think that's sad, but judging by the number of people I know who won't pay for music if they can get it for free -- so they don't.

I don't know. But I feel Lowerly is speaking much truth here, and I think he is *exactly right* to lay into the digerati about this. The line about "I'll give up my copyrights when you give up your patents" is compelling. They digerati want content to be free, but fuck you if you want methods to be free.

And, of course, the best statement about this was already made.
I can get a tip jar, gas up the car.
Try to make a little change down at the bar.
Or I can get a straight job. I've done it before
Never minded working hard, it's who I'm working for.

Everything is free now. That's what they say.
Everything I ever done, gonna give it away.
Someone hit the big score. They figured it out
That I'm gonna do it anyway even if doesn't pay.
--Gillian Welch, "Everything is Free"
posted by eriko at 5:32 AM on April 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


That was sure a self-indulgent trainwreck of an essay. He's lucky he hit his jackpot back in the day when there were more jackpots to hit. Whining about how hard-done-by he is by the advance of technology sure can't be good for sales of his back catalog. You'd think that every time someone bought a Cracker song on iTunes he has to shell out a nickel.

Oh, that's interesting. A semi-successful band from the 90's can still *have* a back catalog twenty years later. You can go right now to iTunes and get Cracker's debut album. No lines, no waiting for a five-hundred disc re-pressing, no calling around to record stores to see if they have one or can order you one, no browsing the used bin every Saturday afternoon hoping to catch it.

Maybe that unreasonable amount of money that Apple makes is the *value* they provide to David when someone younger than that 1992 album can go from hearing David's old band's name for the first time to digging on "Teen Angst" in less than a minute, while paying David, the label, and Apple for the privilege.

So like a quant. He only sees the risk Apple/eMusic/Amazon/etc are taking but ignores the value they're providing.
posted by graftole at 5:35 AM on April 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Things are shit all over, man. Maybe he should do his next song as a kickstarter project and get paid upfront. Music is just too easy to copy. Now if we could only digitally copy food, land, houses and girlfriends, we could dispense with this producer/consumer shit.

And I don't think most programmers like the idea of software patents either. That's the businessman's shit.
posted by DarkForest at 5:36 AM on April 17, 2012


He makes good points about the changing economics of the business, but I'm afraid there's a hard truth at the bottom of it that he's unwilling to face: It might just be a bad time to be in a thirty-year-old psychedelic ska-inflected indie rock band, Mr. Lowery.

Did you miss the part where he owns a commercial recording studio and his wife is a successful concert promoter? I didn't get the impression that he personally was hurting for cash or failing to make a living off music.

To me, by far the most interesting part of the article -- I'm surprised no one's discussed it here -- is his revelation of how the New Digital Model has shifted power from labels to distributors, and more importantly, has shifted power from people with an interest in making money from content to people with an interest in making content free. That's the nut. And that's important, it gives the lie to the bullshit people spew about saving artists from the record companies. I'm sure he's a touch rosy on the subjection some respects. But the fact that the label's interests and artist's interest were aligned in one key respect -- both want to make money selling music --- is very important. Whatever a label might do to try and screw the artists out of their slice, both artists and label wanted the pie itself to be as big as possible. That's simply no longer true, in the New Digital Model. Important parts of the distribution chain are instead interested in having artists give away as much as possible for free --- because they want as much free content as possible to sell ads against. This is bad news hughes for artists, and every other technical argument to be made on the point is irrelevant.

What concerns me more is that at least musicians have a live product and associated merch people are willing to pay for. It seems to me that a lot of the incentives work the same for other forms of art, with no such proven ancillary revenue streams....
posted by Diablevert at 5:36 AM on April 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


ProTools is probably the least expensive component of any studio.

ProTools? In the full accounting, ProTools is, for all intents, *free*.

Is this the day when nobody understands the word "notwithstanding"? I'll note the date for next year.
posted by Wolof at 5:43 AM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe that unreasonable amount of money that Apple makes is the *value* they provide to David when someone younger than that 1992 album can go from hearing David's old band's name for the first time to digging on "Teen Angst" in less than a minute, while paying David, the label, and Apple for the privilege.

As he points out in the essay, big box record stores used to run on 20% margins, indie record stores on 40% margins. Apple's in the middle there. Yet there are quite obvious costs associated with physical distribution that are utterly eliminated by digital distribution - tons of costs, in fact. Rent, warehouses, shipping, breakage, employees, etc., etc. Apple doesn't need 30% to stay in the black on the ITunes store. It takes 30% because it has near-monopoly power in the space.
posted by Diablevert at 5:45 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"It takes 30% because it has near-monopoly power in the space."

It's a pity that Capitol Music Group or Virgin Music Group didn't make a more equitable agreement with Apple that would have paid David a bit more out of each digital sale.

I don't think the problem there is that Apple has too much market share at the moment. I don't think the higher percentage of sales (according to his slides) going to the artist has anything to do with Apple's cut.
posted by graftole at 5:58 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Lamplighter: "...Part of it is that the era of widespread piracy devalued it..."

I would would add that the music industry itself laid the groundwork for this by conditioning the artists and the record buying public into thinking of artistic expression as commodity. The mechanisms for filesharing just made the race to the bottom much quicker.
posted by bionic.junkie at 6:06 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Remember when people would pay $40 for a 4 kilobyte cartridge that let them move a colored square around a maze? MAN, those were good times.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:07 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's a flawed diatribe, but he does make some good points. Selling ads against someone else's content that you didn't pay for is completely parasitic, compared to record companies that were just largely parasitic. People do make uninformed arguments to justify stealing music, like the cost of Pro Tools versus the cost of labor and other studio expenses to make a great recording. (Has the price of grand pianos dropped dramatically in the digital age?)

Copyright law is totally messed up. There is no way to put the cat back in the bag on digitization and privacy. But big companies making money ripping off musicians is totally wrong, and the tendency to claim that musicians are just behind the times and don't realize how much internet companies are actually helping them adds insult to injury. No wonder he's pissed.
posted by snofoam at 6:32 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think the problem there is that Apple has too much market share at the moment. I don't think the higher percentage of sales (according to his slides) going to the artist has anything to do with Apple's cut.

Well, I would agree with that in this respect --- the iTunes store, being the digital equivalent of a record store, makes money when people sell music, and is therefore not part of the problem (or at least, not a big part of the the most important problem). Apple and Jobs were quite clever and ballsy in coming up with the iPod, iTunes ecosystem --- as he acknowledges in the article --- in coming up with a model that cost far less than its analogue equivalent to run yet generates a better profit margin than that analogue equivalent. Yay, capitalism. But I don't get this attitude of "you should be grateful to apple for taking their 30 %" --- why should he be happy about that? If they were taking 20% he'd be making more money.
posted by Diablevert at 6:38 AM on April 17, 2012


People do make uninformed arguments to justify stealing music, like the cost of Pro Tools versus the cost of labor and other studio expenses to make a great recording.

People pay for Pro Tools?
posted by empath at 6:38 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I'm surprised this post wasn't titled No Krugerrands for David.
posted by snofoam at 6:38 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Diablevert: But the fact that the label's interests and artist's interest were aligned in one key respect -- both want to make money selling music --- is very important.

The label's interests and the signed artist's interests were aligned in this respect. An artist who had no way to sell recordings other than on the "local music" racks at a couple of indie record shops in the suburbs certainly didn't benefit from the labels' control over distribution.

What he really seems to be complaining about, other than file-sharing, is that there are just too many musicians willing to sell their music too cheaply, and the old gatekeepers can't make them stop anymore. Even if file-sharing magically went away and all of the streaming services in the world instantly removed anything with the tiniest hint of copyright infringement about it, there would still be vast numbers of people giving their music away or selling it cheaply on itunes. It wouldn't all be very good and most of it wouldn't exactly be produced to the highest technical standards, but it would be good enough for the average person listening to shuffled MP3s through their earbuds on the bus.

But since he's apparently not willing to blame musicians for being scabs, all he can do is complain about the tech industry being full of deluded freaks who worship a false god of their own creation.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:40 AM on April 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


What he really seems to be complaining about, other than file-sharing, is that there are just too many musicians willing to sell their music too cheaply, and the old gatekeepers can't make them stop anymore.

"Too cheaply" is going to be 'free'. There's just no way of stopping it.
posted by empath at 6:45 AM on April 17, 2012


I feel bad for making another comment, but "SO LIKE A QUANT!". He talks about how in the old days, nine out of ten signed bands didn't make money, and got subsidized to some extent by the one that did make money. He calls this the "jackpot". That wasn't the jackpot. He's whistling past the graveyard.

The jackpot was getting signed in the first place.

On another note:

"But I don't get this attitude of "you should be grateful to apple for taking their 30 %" --- why should he be happy about that? If they were taking 20% he'd be making more money."

Maybe. By his rough numbers, he'd be making more on Google Play or Bandcamp. Well, if he could charge $9.99 an album he'd be making more. That Cracker debut album goes for $6.49 on eMusic, so given that example VMG would have had to get a 31% split in their contract with eMusic versus the 20% split he got with Apple to stay even.

An artiste (as opposed to a working musician) makes money from an audience, not from playing music. The extra money Apple gets is the cost of entry into the iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTunes market. Life still isn't fair, but at least he knows what the deal is, and isn't just paying for A&R guys to do rails with radio market execs.
posted by graftole at 6:52 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


er... VMG would have had to have gotten him a 31% split. Grammar, my enemy.

Assuming VMG actually cared about Cracker. Cracker is just the band. They could have gotten anyone to be the band =).
posted by graftole at 6:54 AM on April 17, 2012


No mention of artists licensing their songs for commercials? I thought that was an increasingly important revenue stream for indie artists.

I enjoyed the article. I'm a happy Spotify subscriber, but I'm very ambivalent about the microscopic cut.
posted by Vhanudux at 7:16 AM on April 17, 2012


I think the endless rationalization that goes on with regard to free music actually does hurt the future prospects for musicians being able to someday create a working business model where they are able to sell their art. Sure, record companies are dicks, the RIAA are dicks, DRM is stupid, copyright law is ridiculous, recorded music didn't exist before the 20th century, bands can tour and sell shirts, home studios are less expensive, the internet can be used to attract fans, some stuff isn't available legally, some people will always do it for free, you can't roll back technology, etc. These are legitimate issues, but they are used to devalue music. By the time there is an easy way to get music at a fair price that goes to the artists, the market may be essentially gone for a bunch of wrong reasons that don't have anything to do with whether it's okay for an artist to make a living selling their work.
posted by snofoam at 7:18 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Music's portability is great and all, but when was the last time you invited friends over to listen to a new record? Does that even happen any more?

I didn't know that anyone ever did that. I wonder if other people my age (mid-twenties) have ever done that, and not because it's something they heard people used to do, but because it's something they just thought of doing on their own.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2012


Just like any economic situation, if we want fairness and equity we can't rely on a free market to provide it. It is cheaper and easier to make a song that gets listened to, so music is cheaper. Yes, good music production is expensive because you are paying labor costs for skilled labor. But you don't need good production to get heard any more. Thanks to a numbers game, we can all listen to the random folks who did the right thing by accident in their free time, for free. There are grants and subsidies for those situations where we as a society want to reward activities that are not (or are no longer) economically viable. Big picture, what really killed that business of playing music was recording and radio. It used to be guaranteed that if you could play a dancable song you could earn your dinner. That time is long past.
posted by idiopath at 7:35 AM on April 17, 2012


* recording, radio and electric instruments / microphones - it used to be you needed a big band to make a big sound
posted by idiopath at 7:38 AM on April 17, 2012


> Music's portability is great and all, but when was the last time you invited friends over to listen to a new record? Does that even happen any more?

My friends and I get together to play music for each other, but we are huge nerds.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:39 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't know that anyone ever did that.

I used to all the time when I was importing records from the UK, but now I just use stuff like turntable fm.
posted by empath at 7:59 AM on April 17, 2012


> They digerati want content to be free, but fuck you if you want methods to be free.

Oh come on. It's no secret that a sizable number of those employed in the tech sector hate software patents. In fact I'd even wager that most of the people applying for software patents don't believe patents are a good thing. That is, I bet Andy Baio's experience is not unique.

I think software patents are more like DRM than copyright. A few powerful people believe that their work will be shamelessly stolen without such protections, and the rest of the industry goes along with them. Meanwhile the majority of people are stopped from doing legal, productive activities by these restrictions.
posted by Monochrome at 8:19 AM on April 17, 2012


>the rest of the industry goes along with them

If you want to make your work Open Source, or free, or Creative Commons, or copyright-free, or what have you, no one is stopping you.

The primary problem comes when you don't want your work to be shared for free, and it happens anyway, at a massive scale; when, in violation of the deal struck when Customer C pays you Price P for a single, personal copy, C's copy is released into the wild and spreads virally.
posted by darth_tedious at 8:33 AM on April 17, 2012


What he misses, what they all miss with their whining about piracy, is that most of his true fans don't know about him yet, and so his goal should be to get his music out there as widely as possible by any means necessary, so those new people CAN find him, and then will become willing to support him in his endeavours.

Well, it's complicated. There's a good piece by Stewart Lee, picking up on a comment by John Hegley, about how having 5,000 fans paying a tenner a year translates into a decent living. But stand-up comics have a better sense of their limitations: they play small venues, don't tend to tour internationally (or even nationally in the US) beyond big festivals, and they don't have massive overheads. Seeing a stand-up live is a bonus. So you have Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari (and in the UK, the Go Faster Stripe comics) who are in a better position to innovate, because what the hell.

Applying that model to music is trickier, because there are a few basic assumptions about the business, one of which is that artists travel and perform. The irony of the digital/networked era for music is that as the audience for music expands geographically -- no more expensive import CDs, for the most part -- the economic viability of playing to that wider audience decreases in equal measure. Perhaps it's a sentimental luxury of my generation's experience of music to treat gigs with such esteem, since there have always been plenty of places where you were pretty much stuffed for broad access to live music, but it's those memories that stick, just as my parents have stories about seeing Dylan and the Beatles in the 60s.

For the American music business, the ability to travel and perform has always served as some kind of compensation for an activity that basically paid subsistence money with no benefits. If making and performing music operated by rational means, nobody would do it.

No mention of artists licensing their songs for commercials?

Or Dance Central? (Get out of my head, 'Hey Mami'.) Like I said, music's an app these days.
posted by holgate at 8:43 AM on April 17, 2012


> Oh come on. It's no secret that a sizable number of those employed in the tech sector hate software patents. In fact I'd even wager that most of the people applying for software patents don't believe patents are a good thing.

I think the mistake Lowery makes several times throughout his writing is confusing Apple, Google, et al, "The Businesses" with "The Digerati" or "The Techs Who Work for The Business". The needs and wants of "The Business" are frequently very different than the needs and wants of the people who work for it, and Andy Baio's situation is a perfect example of that case.
posted by jferg at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>Music's portability is great and all, but when was the last time you invited friends over to listen to a new record? Does that even happen any more?

>I didn't know that anyone ever did that


Yes, this sort of thing used to be a regular feature of life in America for those between the ages of ten and twenty-five (give or take some years on either end). It was a major way like-minded people connected in my youth.
posted by slkinsey at 9:04 AM on April 17, 2012


I pay Pandora, and they pay the artists.

If you can figure out how to get Pandora to pay me or even give me an accounting of what they owe me, I'll give you a 50% cut. I'm sure it's different for those on major labels, of course.
posted by malocchio at 9:09 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want to make your work Open Source, or free, or Creative Commons, or copyright-free, or what have you, no one is stopping you.

...until you find yourself the victim of some patent troll with deeper pockets than yours, who has been sitting for years on a bogus document passed by a clueless patent office functionary that says he's the inventor of any conceivable method of adding two and two to get four.

It happens a lot. Most large software outfits have a fairly substantial collection of spurious "inventions" and with a few notable exceptions they run a tacit gentleman's agreement not to wield them against each other. Well, maybe not a gentleman's agreement. Probably more like Mutually Assured Legal Destruction.

But woe betide the small developer who doesn't have an army of corporate lawyers on tap. There's a hell of a lot of time wasted re-coding perfectly good software in order to sidestep patents that should never have been granted in the first place.
posted by flabdablet at 9:38 AM on April 17, 2012



The most virulent of these folks are almost always unsuccessful musicians. It fascinates me. I can only surmise that part of their anger seems tied to the hatred of the record companies that rejected them. Successful even marginally successful musicians are often viewed as some kind of traitors. A special kind of hatred is reserved for these apostates. The file sharing/ cyber locker industry has figured this out and purposely stokes stokes them with a faux populism. I would say it’s juvenile but it’s really more medieval. That’s why I call them Freehadists. People like me are actually looking out for these young musician’s rights. I am trying to keep the new boss from screwing them. They dont’ realize they are doing the work of The Man. But I digress.


Lovely ad hom. "They're just jealous"? Seriously? Oh, and -5 points for calling people made up perjoratives. It makes you sound like you're 12.

I’ve embraced many of the things that those on the tech side of the music business want musicians to embrace. But what many of you forget is that IT IS MY CHOICE whether I choose to give away my songs or sell them. IT IS MY CHOICE how and where to distribute my songs. IT IS MY CHOICE to decide which websites get to exploit my songs. Like it or not, the right to control one’s intellectual property (like songs) is a constitutional right. It is also part of every international human rights agreement. Technology company funded blogs that think there should be no song copyrights are actually advocating violating my constitutional and human rights!

They ain't violating his rights. Maybe in Europe, but you don't have a right to copyright in the US. All the Constitution did was give Congress the right to pass copyright laws. Also, while he may have the CHOICE to distribute his songs in a legal fashion, he most certainly doesn't have the ability to decide that in any physical sense. Bits are bits, and you can't stop the copy of bits. For someone who uses the quote "Information wants to be free. Information wants to be expensive" he doesn't understand it very well. It's more referring to the dicotomy of the fixed cost versus margininal cost of information. The Internet is a giant machine for copying bits from one place to another. Trying to stop this gives new meaning to the term Sisyphean.
posted by zabuni at 10:01 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The music industry today still relies on good songwriting, and performance has always been the primary source of musicians' income. Few bands made enough money from album sales to pay off their advances. The old system consumed itself.

Good songs still rise to the top, but they still need promotion. Musicians today must either promote their own work or hire someone to do it. Has-beens need to find a way to leverage their prior glory, even if it means playing cruise ships.

"If you want to change the world, shut your mouth and start to spin it."
posted by Ardiril at 10:18 AM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


>until you find yourself the victim of some patent troll with deeper pockets than yours

...which is indeed an incentive to patent or proclaim copyright; but having done so, you are still at liberty to license the rights to your work.

You can probably even offer someone license to use your work for free.

So the issue isn't a matter of whether or not to charge money-- it's a matter of whether or not you retain the right to make that decision.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:20 AM on April 17, 2012


Well, when the bulk of the work you've done consists of wrapping obvious concepts in obscure legal jargon to make them as vague and incomprehensible as possible in order to disguise widely-understood prior art as your own invention and sneak it past an overworked, underskilled patent examiner, I for one would rather you didn't do that.
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 AM on April 17, 2012


Did you miss the part where he owns a commercial recording studio and his wife is a successful concert promoter?

This is really all that needs to be said. His paycheck and lifestyle depends on the same outdated business model as the major labels (in fact, depends ON the major labels).

I know a handful of working musicians who make a decent living. None of them require this business model. None of them even require iTunes/Amazon, which are just extensions of the old way. A talented person or band with a little business sense will survive -- often quite well. (This is just as true today as it was 25 years ago when I was in bands, btw. It's just easier to distribute and market yourself today.) They may never have a house as big as Lowery or get to do as much blow, but it's well above minimum wage.

There will always be a Brittney or Gaga for Lowery and wife to make a few bucks on. Real-life musicians don't need them.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:55 AM on April 17, 2012


What he really seems to be complaining about, other than file-sharing, is that there are just too many musicians willing to sell their music too cheaply, and the old gatekeepers can't make them stop anymore.

Er, where does he say anything even resembling that?

What he says, quite consistently, is that the figure between the artist and the listener used to be a label and a record store, which took sizable cuts, and now it's a content aggregator, which takes everything. Because aggregators make money whether or not you pay for the song, they are happy to give the song away for free, which lowers the price of music.

A lot of people here think that the problem is that music just got less valuable, as other distractions took over. And there's definitely a lot to that---kids now define themselves by console of choice as much or more than band of choice. But I wonder if that doesn't get the causality a little backwards. People place a higher value on things they pay more for. As music becomes free, it's natural to conclude that music is worthless.

It's true that music will continue to be made even if there's no money at all in it---people like making music, and like being heard. The grim part is that music-making will then become a hobby, and like all hobbies, it will become property of a dillitantish elite. Much of the engine of 20th century musical innovation was kids in the slums of Liverpool or the projects of Staten Island committing to working like crazy to make music that would be so mind-blowing it would catapult them out of poverty. If music can no longer do that, then poor kids will stop being all that interested in it. Like Ol' Dirty Bastard said, "Who the fuck wanna be an MC if you can't get paid to be an MC?"

As for selling songs to ads: The idea that a songwriter's objective is to get his song used in an ad is so depressing that I'd rather not contemplate it.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:31 AM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The grim part is that music-making will then become a hobby, and like all hobbies, it will become property of a dillitantish elite. Much of the engine of 20th century musical innovation was kids in the slums of Liverpool or the projects of Staten Island committing to working like crazy to make music that would be so mind-blowing it would catapult them out of poverty.

I really, really don't think that's true. I've never met any musicians who did it to make money. If they had any mercenary motivations at all, it was usually trying to get laid, and you can always get laid from making music, even if you don't make a dime at it.
posted by empath at 11:40 AM on April 17, 2012


Which isn't to say that there aren't any musicians who make music to get paid -- only that that wasn't their main motivation for making music to begin with, and if they found out they could get paid for it, it was a nice bonus, but never really the point. What getting paid mainly lets you do is not have a day job.
posted by empath at 11:42 AM on April 17, 2012


empath, you must not know very many professional musicians. Most people who get into music do so because it's interesting and fulfilling to them. Similarly, most people who get into sports or mathematics or computers or languages or debate team do so because it's interesting and fulfilling to them.

But people who pursue a career path as a musician do so in the anticipation of getting paid for it, just like the people who pursue career paths as footballers or quants or programmers or translators or lawyers do. I hate to disillusion anyone, but professional (and even semiprofessional) musicians make music precisely to get paid. If you don't believe this is true, try to get a professional to play a wedding "just for the love of it." Good luck with that. When you get to the point where you're making music for the love of it with no care for remuneration, you are either a dilettante or a hobbyist.
posted by slkinsey at 12:04 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


empath: I dunno how many major rappers you've met, but they'll certainly tell you that getting paid was high on the agenda, as would John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, or Lightnin' Hopkins. Again, I think this is a huge difference between music as a pastime of middle-class kids goofing around, and music as a hustle of poor kids looking to get ahead. And for my money, the latter has been more productive than the former---I'll take the Wu-Tang Clan over The Strokes any day.

I also enjoyed Lowery's comparison of the digital music landscape to Soviet collectivization. Obviously hyperbolic, but it does resonate with the point that the Soviets thought that removing individual rewards would have no impact on productivity, or might even increase productivity, and this proved very untrue.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:07 PM on April 17, 2012


try to get a professional to play a wedding "just for the love of it."

A) I don't think wedding bands and djs are going to stop getting paid.
B) Nobody would miss them if they did.
posted by empath at 12:50 PM on April 17, 2012


music as a hustle of poor kids looking to get ahead.

Those kids are mostly begging people to listen to their music for free.
posted by empath at 12:52 PM on April 17, 2012


>>try to get a professional to play a wedding "just for the love of it."

>A) I don't think wedding bands and djs are going to stop getting paid.
>B) Nobody would miss them if they did.


Perhaps this deliberately misses my point, which is that professional musicians don't, generally speaking, perform for free.
posted by slkinsey at 1:09 PM on April 17, 2012


> The primary problem comes when you don't want your work to be shared for free

That would be a violation of my copyright whether I produced software or music. But software patents are an entirely different kind of law. That's why I find it so galling when someone confuses the two to make a sweeping statement about what "the digerati" value.
posted by Monochrome at 1:44 PM on April 17, 2012


I'll just note that there have always been some musicians who independently make a nice living selling and/or publishing their recordings and/or performances. They manage to do it because they recognize that they need to take the time to learn how that works.

Those who hand "the business stuff" off to businessmen are gonna get The Business.
posted by Twang at 1:46 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


On certain topics, Metafilter is shit. This is one of them. I spent some time reading that article all the way through, only to come in here to read a pile of comments that basically prove the commenters didn't Read The Fucking Article.
posted by awfurby at 1:52 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this deliberately misses my point, which is that professional musicians don't, generally speaking, perform for free.


Right, and you can't pirate live performance yet. But I'm when you're talking about mp3 sales like this article was talking about mp3s, and the people who create the vast, vast majority of new music recordings aren't generally doing it with the expectation that they'll ever make money from it, and most of them never did.
posted by empath at 2:35 PM on April 17, 2012


Mike Masnick rebutted the Facebook version of this rant a while ago. Lowery was not amused.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:53 PM on April 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lowery was not amused.

Wow, talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. He ups the ante from sounding merely a tad unaware in the presentation to coming off as a complete idiot in his rebuttal. His "I'm a mathematician therefore I know stuff" argument is so self defeating it's a wonder he survived writing it down.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:32 PM on April 17, 2012


"What he says, quite consistently, is that the figure between the artist and the listener used to be a label and a record store, which took sizable cuts, and now it's a content aggregator, which takes everything. Because aggregators make money whether or not you pay for the song, they are happy to give the song away for free, which lowers the price of music."

If he had actually said this in a coherent or cogent way, there might have been an interesting article there.

"I also enjoyed Lowery's comparison of the digital music landscape to Soviet collectivization. Obviously hyperbolic, but it does resonate with the point that the Soviets thought that removing individual rewards would have no impact on productivity, or might even increase productivity, and this proved very untrue."

Yeah, no, that was where I realized Lowery was an idiot, at least on this topic. When Lowery is shipped off to the gulags for not licensing his music to the state, then we'll talk.
posted by klangklangston at 3:40 PM on April 17, 2012


>>Perhaps this deliberately misses my point, which is that professional musicians don't, generally speaking, perform for free.

>Right, and you can't pirate live performance yet. But I'm when you're talking about mp3 sales like this article was talking about mp3s, and the people who create the vast, vast majority of new music recordings aren't generally doing it with the expectation that they'll ever make money from it, and most of them never did.


What does that say about snything? The vast, vast majority of people making music are not professionals. The vast, vast majority of people making music also aren't very good. The difference is that, whereas in 1981 a crappy garage band had to make its crappy recordings on cassette tapes for no money, nowadays they can record on a Mac and make crappy mp3s for no money.
posted by slkinsey at 3:52 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]




> Mike Masnick rebutted the Facebook version of this rant a while ago. Lowery was not amused.

Wow. I hadn't seen that piece of it, but it kind of makes me wish I hadn't spent time making this post in the first place. I've followed his Facebook posts for a while, and while they're sometimes a bit ... emphatic ... I've never seen anything quite that venomous. I'm starting to lean a little towards "sour grapes", where before I was leaning a little towards "decent points sometimes badly made".
posted by jferg at 4:29 PM on April 17, 2012


I didn't know that anyone ever did that.

sure they did - i remember one day in college that i was invited to hear a new album by a new artist

first, i heard this piano, then this odd sounding woman moaning that "jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"

by the end of that little visit to that guy's dorm room, i knew music would never be the same
posted by pyramid termite at 4:47 PM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


These sorts of tirades consistently fail to even attempt to justify why the previous system that governed the music industry (from the 60s or whenever to the 90s or whenever) should continue to exist.
posted by blue t-shirt at 5:08 PM on April 17, 2012


Yeah, no, that was where I realized Lowery was an idiot, at least on this topic. When Lowery is shipped off to the gulags for not licensing his music to the state, then we'll talk.

Metaphors aren't infinite, dude. If I say my love is a red, red rose, I do not mean that my love derives nutrition from photosynthesizes.

Here's the comparison, in case you're actually confused: Soviet agricultural planning, even in its ideal, brutality-free form, was premised on the idea that making rewards for productivity collective, rather than individual, would increase productivity, since everyone would share in the gains, and work would be its own reward. Similarly, today's digital utopians insist that musicians make music for the love of it, so they'll be happy to make it without monetary reward, because really it's all about having fun and there's more music in the world when everyone makes it for free. In both cases, this is wrong.

There will be more music (there is!). But there is less great music, and that's not just me being old and grouchy and hating dubstep (which isn't that bad, really). The fact is, making decent music is something anyone can do with a little practice, but making terrific music is really hard. It takes a whole lot of time and energy. And if you're not getting paid, you just can't put in the time and energy unless you're already rich (and then the incentives are much less). The Beatles didn't play three shows a night in Hamburg cellars just because they loved music---if they just loved music, they would sit at home and play it, rather than cranking out covers for drunks when their fingers hurt too badly to strum properly. They did it because it was the way to make a living making music. But the discipline of doing that made them into the musicians they became.

As for Masnick: Was the Facebook version as different from the actual talk as presented? 'Cause Masnick spends his entire piece defending iTunes, which Lowery singles out as less evil than everything else.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:15 PM on April 17, 2012


The vast, vast majority of people making music also aren't very good. The difference is that, whereas in 1981 a crappy garage band had to make its crappy recordings on cassette tapes for no money, nowadays they can record on a Mac and make crappy mp3s for no money.

A lot, lot, lot, lot more people can. Which improves the odds that some of it will be music that you like. And if you like it, then you can support those artists however you like, and if nobody likes it, then nobody was going to pay them to make music anyway.
posted by empath at 5:54 PM on April 17, 2012


Similarly, today's digital utopians insist that musicians make music for the love of it, so they'll be happy to make it without monetary reward, because really it's all about having fun and there's more music in the world when everyone makes it for free.

No, it's just that increasingly you can't hope to make a living treating bits like physical goods. You have to find other business models (e.g., Jonathan Coulton or Louis C.K. or Radiohead or Trent Reznor etc.)

As for Masnick: Was the Facebook version as different from the actual talk as presented? 'Cause Masnick spends his entire piece defending iTunes, which Lowery singles out as less evil than everything else.

He may have changed that. The facebook rant was taken down before the SF talk went up, so it's not clear what the differences were.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:57 PM on April 17, 2012


Lowery's comments on that techdirt piece ChurchHatesTucker posted are... something pretty special. Then he leaves the thread and is replaced by an anonymous poster with a remarkably similar discursive style. What an angry, angry man.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:38 AM on April 18, 2012


Well there was some good stuff in there and some...other stuff. It's nice to see some concrete figures on where artists stand, because that information is often lacking in the more philosophical discussions on the music industry. The most glaring problem I see has to be his equivocation of record companies and online music stores and underground streaming services and torrents and legitimate streaming services. They're repeatedly referred to collectively as "the new boss", but they're all quite different and none attempt to replace record companies. Take a look at the slides comparing a 1996 CD and a 2012 album. Clearly, legitimate services providing digital downloads are "the new record store", if anything. For a signed artist, I see no reason why the record company could not negotiate a better deal for the artist (higher percentage) just like they may have done with a record store.

So far as his grievances with those streaming websites that make no attempt to pay artists, a more proper analogy would be the people who sell bootleg CDs and DVDs our of the trunk of their car. So far as youtube, well "But I HAD to also put it on YouTube." contrasts starkly with his quotation of Morrissey: ”you could have said no, if you wanted to, you could have said no”.

The only way any of this is going to change is if we can offer incentive to everyone involved - the artists, labels, distributors, listeners, promoters, etc, to do things more equitably. Here's a quick thought on this: You have a cross-platform application that uses mixed server-based and P2P distribution. A person signs up and generates a private encryption key, they connect to the main server where they can upload music they own the copyright to or purchase a license for a song. Once an official version of an album is uploaded, MD5 hashes are created, this identifies "a song, in a format". Once it's been downloaded and verified, people can choose to offer their upstream connection to share the song, for which they will be compensated a small amount (like fractions of a penny, just to make up for bandwidth and reduce server load). Songs can be re-downloaded with the private key, licenses are held on the main server and on individual computers. Licenses can be re-acquired after verifying identity with the main server. Benefits: low distribution cost, artists can set the terms of payment, listeners get verified clean copies of music and support the artist while optionally getting a small amount of compensation if they decide to provide bandwidth, music can be re-downloaded once purchased. Seems like a start. Oh, and feel free to use my intellectual "property" however you see fit. Once it's out of my head, it's out.

BTW, eMusic was great and I used it for a long time. I don't know how much went to the artists, but I was glad to know at least some did. It was really the best online music service. Then they betrayed their user base, changed their terms like 3 times after "locking people in" to a rate, and shafted a number of indie labels, who then left and took their catalogs with them (which I had paid for licenses for) thus preventing me from downloading the music that I'd purchased. I finally left. I tried, and it was good while it lasted, but the concessions made to a couple major labels were the final nail in the coffin. I wish there was still something like it out there now.
posted by nTeleKy at 9:08 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


BitterOldPunk that's one of the more interesting points I've read in this debate! There really is so much music out there now that not only do you need to acquaint yourself with everything that's already been done, there is piles of great new stuff every year. As music software gets cheaper and more available, we'll see even more of this... without Spotify and Youtube it would be close to impossible for me to find new music that I really like.
posted by cell divide at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2012


"So far as youtube, well "But I HAD to also put it on YouTube." contrasts starkly with his quotation of Morrissey: ”you could have said no, if you wanted to, you could have said no”. "

Well, I think he's got a practical point about "HAD to put it on YouTube", because material WILL go up, and I think a lot of artists would rather have an official YouTube channel where they can at least exercise some quality control.

Which is exactly what happened to one of the bands I work with. They tried to enforce a fairly rigorous policy of "NO YouTube" (as is entirely their right), and it just became too much of a time-consuming whack-a-mole game. So they changed their policy so that fans could send a copy of the material they want to post to one of the band members, and if they get the OK, then they can go ahead and post it. Stuff that doesn't go thru this fairly quick & easy process still gets DCMA'd, but it's a fuck-ton less time-and-energy-consuming for the band, and now if you search for this band's name on YouTube you'll see interesting stuff like European TV performances & long-lost videos of obscure songs from their catalog, and almost none of the "crappy-shaky-distorted-holding-a-cell-phone-over-my-head" kind of videos.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:18 PM on April 18, 2012


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