There are many companies that genuinely care if you succeed as an artist. These are not those companies.
Pandora cares about making Pandora extremely rich… and what’s wrong with that? The problem is that Pandora also cares about making you poor: with almost militaristic attack, Pandora executives are working diligently to pay artists less by suing publishers, lobbying Congress, and concocting loopholes to lower your royalties. And it’s paying off.
Pandora founder Tim Westergren made more than $15 million last year alone, and he’s just one executive. How much did YOU make off of Pandora last year?
Spotify claims to prioritize the interests of artists, but the business model is mostly focused on making the following groups extremely wealthy:
(a) the major labels, who receive massive upfront, multi-million dollar payments and receive ownership shares that they don’t share with their artists.
(b) shareholders like Goldman Sachs, who couldn’t care less if you and your band are making a living.
(c) Wall Street, which definitely isn’t concerned about your career.
All of that impacts your paycheck. Remember, the more money that gets paid directly to the major labels without any accountability, the less you receive as the artist. The more $9.4 million-in-rent office buildings Spotify occupies, the less you receive as an artist. The more money Spotify spends on PR experts to convince you that you are actually getting a fair deal, the less money you receive as an artist. And the more free accounts Spotify gives out to boost their user numbers and impress Wall Street means the less you receive as an artist.
That doesn’t mean you should pull your music off of Spotify. But it does mean that artists should stop pretending that Spotify has any interest in the welfare of artists, short- or long-term.
Google’s business interests are diabolically opposed to the interests of artists and media companies. Need proof of this? Just try searching for any popular artist, and watch auto-complete drive you to torrent sites, illegal lyrics sites, and maybe a legitimate destination.
That’s just how a search engine works, right? Bulls**t: Google modifies and controls its search results every day to its own benefit (just ask Rap Genius, which tried to game Google’s SEO). If they don’t like you, you disappear overnight and die. But when it comes to obviously infringing and artist-unfriendly torrent sites, Google is happy to (a) accept them as advertising partners, and (b) prioritize their placements over legal sites like iTunes.
YouTube is horribly confusing to artists for a reason. The less you understand as an artist or rights holder, the less money and action you will take. Even well-intentioned artist champions like Jeff Price of Audiam are having trouble figuring out this platform, which is exactly the point. YouTube pays almost nothing, that is, if they are monetizing your video at all.
Does that mean you should boycott YouTube? No, that’s even worse. But stop pretending that anyone at YouTube spends any time worrying about your welfare as an artist (unless you are on of the biggest artists in the world).
(5) Any Streaming Music Company
Ask yourself, are any of these developments good for you, as an artist?
(a) A constantly-lowering subscription price.
(b) A constant increase in the amount of free, ‘ad-supported’ access.
(c) Continued financial instability and a total lack of profitability among all streaming companies (have fun getting paid when it goes ‘pop’).
(d) A constant propaganda campaign to convince artists that streaming somehow makes more than downloads, and doesn’t replace them.
Yes, that may be ‘the future,’ but it doesn’t mean you have to be a cheerleader. So does that mean pull your songs from streaming services? No (unless you’re really, really huge). Otherwise, play the game, get some ‘exposure’ and try to make money off of touring and merch.
(6) Your Label
Some labels construct win-win partnerships with their artists, and genuinely care about being fair. Most do not. Major labels will make you famous, but they will also bury you in bad accounting and task CFOs with actively cheating you. They will take ownership shares in Spotify and not share the winnings with you. They will ignore you once you stop selling or become ‘difficult’.
And if you think indie labels are any better…
(7) Your ‘Fans’
The sad reality is this: most of your ‘fans’ are not really helping you, even if they love you. They are listening to your music, but they aren’t buying anything from you or supporting you in any way. They’ll never buy your vinyl, never attend a show, never purchase a t-shirt from your merch store, and never put food on your table. Many of them will even balk at handing you anything, and call you selfish for even asking.
So, blow them all off? No! Because the 1 percent that do show up for shows, buy your vinyl, and sleep with you are helping you.
And you probably need the other 99 percent to get that 1 percent… that’s just the game these days.
(8) Rap Genius
Remember, Rap Genius only starting obeying the law and paying rights owners when they got sued by everyone. But they’re definitely not sharing any acquisition or IPO billions with you, the artist. The investors that dropped more that $15 million on Rap Genius, however…
BitTorrent is a wild, uncontrollable animal that isn’t nice to you. It steals your food, it takes your entire refrigerator… it tells you refrigerators should be free! Pretty Lights succeeded by gaming BitTorrent Bundles and shifting the emphasis towards live gigs and merchandise. That’s called gaming a hostile system to make money, not collaborating with a friend.
It’s an absolutely awesome scam.
Every year, SoundExchange hordes $100s of millions in unpaid balances, collects interest off of that money, and then eventually keeps tens of millions that it ‘can’t match with artists’ for ‘administrative expenses’. There are thousands of artists you’ve heard of that aren’t getting paid by SoundExchange, yet SoundExchange still collects all of that money, holds it for years, then keeps it.
SoundExchange is interested in hoarding millions for SoundExchange; SoundExchange’s executives are interested in their large salaries and survival. They are not your friends, no matter how big the top-level payouts look.
Make Target a prioritized, exclusive sales outlet, and they might be your best friend. Decide you want to complement someone like Target with other channels, and they won’t even carry your product. Just as Beyoncé.
At least Apple shares 70 percent back to the rights owner, and everyone knows what they pay. But they’ve also made tens of billions off of iPods, iPads, and iPhones, and none of that is shared with the artist.
Don’t think artists deserve a cut of those profits? The iPod, which helped transform Apple into one of the largest companies in the world, allowed fans to upload thousands of freely-acquired MP3s. Without that little loophole, we might not even be talking about Apple today.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon never permitted stolen books on the Kindle. See the difference?
(13) Any Company That Promises You ‘Exposure’
Unless it’s the Superbowl, think very hard before playing a free gig, recording a free video, or doing something for the ‘exposure’. Usually they win, and you lose.
Image by Cory Doctorow, licensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).