The Trouble With The Music Industry
Open with a title that's the title of Steve Albini's seminal article all those years ago. (I'll find a link and post at the bottom if it's still on teh webz.) Yeah, I've got balls, I'm no Steve Albini! But like him, I grew and came of age in an era well pervaded by the music industry industry that was born of share croppers and the landlord's radio station days. The was no nurturing, it was cutthroat, it was dirty. I watched publicans and bookers keep pushing the price down and down and down. I grew up in a small city of 60000 to 80000 people in the longest period I lived ther, in the smallest state of Australia, where just laughed along at the Hobartions who ingraciously called my cown "Inceston" (The Black Bobs is closer to Hobart, MATE.) To an Australian that strained emphasis means the exact opposite.
But I digress a little, I do that soz not soz.
Just at the grass roots level, there was nobody actually trying to help young artists or, if they were, they were greedy letches and, even when judge told some so, They came out prison smelling of roses, while the guy who testified against them? His career stalled for WAY too many years. As Hunter S. Thompson put it in his crepuscular book, "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas..."
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.
He was a shithead, but Hunter had his moments and did report exactly what he saw... Whether drug addled or drunk. Yeah, he was a shithead but right on the money with that line.
Ironically, when Fear and Loathing was published, the music biz was in a bit of a hippy nuturing phase. A bit of one, not a lot. Bands were still having to lawyer up a lot. George Harrison's "Sue Me Sue You Blues" kind of showed how even being your own label could be fraught. Poor George, like the forgotten middle kid. I suspect the experience was traumatic watching friend go to court over misunderstandings and bad record keeping.
Fast forward through Prince's run in with his first label, how they claimed to own his name, or he claimed they claimed that. I forget, I could wiki it, I guess, but have more trust in the artist because, well, the HST quote up there &261D; and we might hate Hunter, we might love him, we have to trust him on that quote because, well, Netflix dramatisation of Spotify's history, "The Playlist." Six episodes of six key perspectives, but Daniel Ek's and the record industry's treatment of the hard working unsigned formerly signed artists actually is. The actual payout to non-label, successful gigging artists US$12 a month. Spotify pays the artist 0.4 cents per play. To make $12 you need 3000 unique streams! Christ go play in your local pub, even those thieving sharks have better terms! And definitely join your musician's union, they can't always do a lot but some unions can blackball venues for underpayment, some offer legal services. Australia's musicians union is Musicians Australia, a branchof one of the biggest and most effective union's in Australia, The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Sadly, they seem to have done little to solve "The Trouble With The Streaming Industry." as of yet. I used to work with one of the highups in the MEAA when she was a journalist. If she's seen "The Playlist" she'll be organising meetings. A staunch fighter for Journalists and all branches of the arts industries.
So far, it's been a whinge, yeah sorry, dear reader, you needed to hear the truth. If you haven't already got the song as an earworm, Go listen to AC/DC's "Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll.)" I'll wait...
This classic Bon Scott era (rest his giant heart, I miss him on my TV screen, and if you're all "who the fuck?" What the actual? Call yourself an ACDC fan?!) Like most popular lyrics people give this one a party spin, but this is a VERY brave protest song! That first verse!
Ridin' down the highway Goin' to a show Stop in all the byways Playin' rock 'n' roll Gettin' robbed Gettin' stoned Gettin' beat up Broken-boned Gettin' had Gettin' took I tell you, folks It's harder than it looks
The second verse? There's also a downside. Bon was a hard drinking guy who had not many other interests than singing for his bands, like many fronters (not frontmen, women front bands too, as do trans, intersex and non-binary people. Lets call them lead singers of fronters), Bon was on edge leading up to gigs and on an endorphin high he needed to come down from and he drank to go to sleep after a gig. It eventually killed him. Brian Steps in the saves the album, it gets renamed for the Young Brothers' ol' mate's passing. Bygones
Yer, still whinging, but I'm leading to a positive hook, and here it comes, thank you for your patience.
What if we created nurturing collectives? We old timers, I mean, but not to exlude the youngsters, they have skills to share, too. (Strewth, I sound like a new-age-evolved Alf Stewart! Stone the bloody crows!)
Serious hat back on, soz, I'm the neurodiverse triple threat, autistic, ADHD and ODD. I hear music from my friends fishtank filtration... SERIOUS HAT STEPHEN! FOCUS! The nurturing thing is important because A&smp;R systems were never about the best talent, first they were a way of "keepin' the negroes quiet on mah plantation by offerin' a meaningless reward." I stress, I am lampooning the redneck there, not the sharecroppers who were still effectively slaves, even long after emancipation, and were trapped there by poverty. We got early blues recordings out of this era, Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, so many, but never forget the modern A&R contract with a young artist was born as a way of some redneck or other exploiting black people or poor people generally. What if reimagined the music industry as a collective of artists, built around a studio?
Small independent studios struggle in a cut throat music buisness environment. Many start up and go under in a year. Young startup bands are still getting robbed, had and took. The latest thief in the market IS Daniel Ek, and Apple are no better, honestly, especially for these young Paduans. They need their Ben Kenobis to guide and train them, experienced old stagers, no energy left to fight for their own career, but who can pass on an age old wisdom from the road and studio, in a nurturing, jedi-like way and everybody in that food chain gets fed without eating each other. Seriously? Cannibalism is class treachery.
So, in the worst sleepless night of my life, not even a moment of dozing, I hatched a plot for a network of local music collectives. I have a mate building a pro studio, proper soundproofing, acoustic treatments, who might like the draft idea. It's based on everybody paying, not always with money, work is payment, finding rare talent and making it bloom might be collateral enough, knowing their product will pay out. Maybe not millions, but fair wages for everybody in the process. Everybody gets paid, from ad revenue in each quarter of the radio clock of a small, local streamer, hosted at the studio, from download sales with a basic PayPal store, A Square site, whatever, a local collective, connected to other local collectives as people take up the model.
Built as an association, allowed to pay wages to those teach, produce, "agent" for the young artists. Built to allow for work performed for the "club" to count towards studio time or for studio time to be simply bought if people have already saved the cash, with producers and engineers paid for recording, mixing and credit royalties. The club would never own the artist's rights, simply a non-transerable licence and the artist's rights would remain with the artist to as they please or need to further their career. The artists would always be free to move to more, erm "professional" labels (I sneer) but would always be entitled to guidance about said contracts, before they sign. The club would retain the licence to any pre contract media of any member that becomes a signed artist but would always pay that member their spin times royalties.
Whatcha think? Could this model work? Or was Hunter frustratingly right? God! I hope he was wrong.
And, that sleepless night. Forgive me my typos I have literally been feverish and brain fogged from lack of sleep. Please accept my apologies.
And that promised reference: The Baffler, Dec 1993 - The Problem With Music: Steve Albini TL:DR - "Some of your friends are probably already this fucked." The last episode of Netflix' "The Playlist" is so telling.
Yep, there's also a downside