Hey Everyone, Iggy Pop Says We Can All Be Rich!

It should never come as a big surprise when we hear an aging musician spout off their antiquated opinions about digital music distribution.  I mean, you’d be pretty pissed too if you used to sell millions of CDs for $20 and now if you’re lucky a half a million people will buy one or two songs off the CD for a buck (if they don’t just stream it for free or pirate it).

However, it should at least come as slightly more of a surprise when it’s a punk icon like Iggy Pop, a man who by all accounts doesn’t give a shit about social norms and traditions, a man who is known for early career antics like whippin’ little Iggy out on stage to get some air if you know what I mean (and if you don’t… I mean he used to show his cock to the audience during performances).

Iggy Pop’s hot take is a little different. He’s not upset about not making any money, in fact quite the opposite; he takes issue with how easy it is to become a rich performer now. The Guardian reports that while Mr. Pop was promoting his new documentary at Cannes, he had this to say:

The digital age has made collecting money so incredibly efficient. When we started our band we didn’t know what publishing was. Now you can push a button and get rich quick. It might get to the point where it’s going to grip everybody by the shoulders and shake us and then throw us down and get rid of us.

Did you hear that everyone?  Iggy said we can just put some shit on the Internet and we’ll be rich!  There are so many things wrong with this statement/mindset that I barely know where to begin.

Sure, Beyoncé can go ahead and release an album digitally with little to no hype (as she did with the self titled Beyoncé in 2013 and then again with Lemonade this year) and instantly start seeing the cash roll in, but that’s because she’s Beyoncé. She’s been doing this for about 20 years now, built a name and a massively loyal fan base, and continues to create a product that a large number of people want to consume (and some of them even want to pay to consume it!)

The other thousands of artists attempting to get rich through the ease and convenience of digital distribution? They’re not doing so well.  DMN reported in April that a Canadian independent label received about $1,700 US for over 2.5 million YouTube streams.  That’s shared among “roughly a dozen artists”.  Earlier in the same month, DMN posted another article about an indie band in France that made 27 euros in a little over a year.  That’s about $30 that this band received in 15 months by “pushing a button” and instantly having their music available worldwide where anyone can listen to it. Not exactly keeping them neck deep in baguettes is it?

Shitty streaming royalties aside, if anything it has made discovery just as hard, if not more difficult. It may seem easier than slugging it out in disgusting clubs back in the day for $10 a band member, hoping you might get lucky enough to perform in front of some label rep who needs a “fresh sound”, or sending your demo tape in to every radio station or label that might give you a shot, but now there’s so much out there, the market is so saturated with artists in every genre, being discovered still means you need the right balance of talent, marketability, and of course, luck.

Luck still plays a huge part. Fun fact: Justin Bieber is a multi-millionaire because Scooter Braun doesn’t know how to search properly. He discovered him by accident while looking up another singer. What if Scooter Braun knew how to use Google? Who would be our easy target instead of Bieber? He’d possibly still be hanging out in his mom’s house an hour up the highway from me making YouTube videos. Meanwhile some other 22 year old would be idolized by millions of teenage girls and be made fun of for a haircut he had 5 years ago.

And just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean anything. Rebecca Black made a name for herself with Friday, the hilariously awful viral hit that should prove exactly what Iggy Pop’s talking about; just put something, ANYTHING, on the Internet and you’ve got your college tuition paid with some booze money left over. But it’s the exception, not the rule. There were a dozen or more teenage girls whose families spent the same $2000 Rebecca Black’s family did with Ark Music Factory that didn’t have anything more than a poorly made video to show for it. Just because it’s on YouTube doesn’t mean you’re instantly going to be famous, and just because you’re famous doesn’t mean you’re going to be rich (believe me… over half a million fans and 130 million views on YouTube gets me all of the hate tweets a real celebrity gets with none of the mansions or Maseratis).

And meanwhile, why is Iggy Pop defending the old label ways of doing things, suggesting that it was better back then? You’d rather people end up slaves to major companies, having their music pimped out for commercials, cartoons, and video games, and seeing pennies on the dollar, sometimes even fractions of pennies, in royalties? That doesn’t seem very punk at all. Sure, that French band made $30. But that’s THEIR $30. Their hard work and talent isn’t going to pay for some music exec’s boat (well, for $30 it’d be a toy boat for their kid’s bathtub, but you know what I mean!)

Perhaps even more hypocritical is this excerpt from the Guardian where he mocks EDM:

While he likened analogue technology to “throwing an amp into the spirit of man,” he grimaced as he mimicked a techno beat. “It’s like: woah, you know! Why don’t I just die now.”

Iggy recalled being on a beach recently when “a big yob from Serbia” approached to praise his music while also saying how much he enjoyed “new techno and electronic”.

“You gonna be polite,” said Iggy, recalling his response, “but then when the guy walks away you’re gonna be like: ‘Oh fuck you, Igor.’”

Doesn’t he realize that this is pretty much exactly how people felt about punk and harder rock in the 70s and 80s?  “Oh, this is just some noise, this doesn’t take real talent, these people can’t even actually sing or play instruments.”  Now it’s “Oh this is just a bunch of stupid computer noises, this doesn’t take real talent, not like punk and metal where they play their own instruments, that’s real music!”

But back to digital distribution and the ease of being discovered. Thing is, this will always be someone’s mindset. I’m sure in the 70s when Iggy Pop was starting to make some money, there was some 69 year old dude saying “back in my day, we couldn’t just make money by pumpin’ out a bunch of records, all we had was a smokey room, playin’ instruments that didn’t plug into the wall for 40 people who weren’t even payin’ attention, AND we kept our clothes on while we did it, and all we got was some free whiskey and a room for the night at the hotel we were playin’ at, and that’s the way it should be. Now it’s way too easy for these kids to get discovered and get paid.”

It’s funny, for an industry that is all about the next new fad, the next big thing (jazz, R&B, rock and roll, punk, funk, disco, boy bands, girl groups, dance and every other genre that’s come and gone and come back again), it’s one that seems deathly afraid of change.

NOTE: Considering the only way he got this gig was because he’s famous on YouTube, Buckley might be a little bias about digital distribution.

Image by Alex Const, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).

20 Responses

  1. L. Bart

    It was never easy to get attention and become rich making music (or anything else).

  2. Irvin Valdivia

    Iggy pop is right, now every single asshole on the internet can release a digital album complaining about nerdy shit and earn an amazing total of 2 bucks for sale, luckily i dont know someone who does that, am i right buckley?

  3. SomeGuy


    Another reason I no longer subscribe to DMN.

    • Buckley

      You no longer subscribed to a news site because they post an op-ed once a month from one person? I find these types of comments generally come from people who weren’t subscribed to begin with (especially when they’re completely anonymous, you’re clearly not even logged in).

  4. Tully

    Nice article. I thought Iggy was making a brilliant point. If it’s so easy for the virtual world to cut out the middle man, then human artists are next on the block.

    • Buckley

      Someone’s always going to have to make music. Cutting out the middle man (labels) would be great if it were possible. Fact is, they’re still a necessary evil to create massive artists (like Beyonce). But being able to “push a button” and distribute your album is a good thing, a great thing even for smaller unsigned indie artists that have a dedicated following. I’m not a musician, but I use Bandcamp, and lose only 15% a year between them and Paypal on all my content sales. If I had to be “represented” I’d be losing a lot more. And MAYBE they’d advertise enough to get me more well known, sell enough albums to cover that loss… but why? Now my talent is paying to feed a bunch of other people. Maybe that seems selfish, but that’s not something I’m interested in. Artists should feel the same way. They can’t cut out the musicians. Instrumental EDM isn’t and will never be more popular than pop music, probably not even more popular than rock music depending on the polls you read, and even then someone’s still gotta do it, someone would still be getting paid to create it.

  5. Anonymous

    great, dmn sneering at iggy pop because he doesn’t know as much as you do about the digital music industry landscape or whatever corporate bollox-speak you’re using this week

    without geniuses like iggy pop breaking down barriers no marks like yourself wouldn’t have any music industry to report on.

    show some respect

    • Anonymous

      Amen! Whatever one’s feeling on Iggy’s take on this, many us here aren’t in this business without Iggy crashing into our worlds in the 70s or whenever.

      It’s not his domain to be an expert on these matters and it’s his right have his opinion, however it differs from my own, better informed one – and yours.

      I’ll repeat the above sentiment: show some respect

      • Just me

        +1 Respect is earned, and Iggy has done the time.

        • Lux

          Sorry for breaking the circlejerk, but this isn’t about Iggy being influential or not, in fact, it’s acknowledged that he’s a punk icon, however, this is about Iggy taking issue with digital distribution without knowing how it actually works

          Just because he’s a punk icon doesn’t mean he can’t say or do no wrong, and to “It’s not his domain to be an expert on these matters” Yes it is if he’s going to have a concrete opinion on this matter, otherwise he’s just spewing uninformed nonsense, and he deserves criticism for that, punk icon or not

      • Nabbit

        Iggy has the right to have his opinion, but other people have the right to hold opinions about his opinion.

  6. Anonymous

    “Did you hear that everyone? Iggy said we can just put some shit on the Internet and we’ll be rich! There are so many things wrong with this statement/mindset that I barely know where to begin.”

    I really wish you hadn’t bothered

  7. Antinet

    Instead of listening to this joker whine, readers should look at Iggy Pop, and take away the real lesson – which is that if you force out enough bravado, young enough, while still attempting to be genuinely original and industrious enough to find some good enough collaborators to play with, that maybe you can duplicate the adventure that Iggy Pop has lived. Maybe….

  8. The Dude

    For the life of me I do not understand the hate Buckley is getting here. He’s completely right to call Iggy Pop out just as Consequence of Sound called out Flea the other week for similar comments.

    The fact of the matter is that transparency is dependent on where you’re sitting. Yes, for independent artists you have more transparency as you are controlling every aspect of your career – but Iggy’s claim that ‘getting rich’ off your music publishing is as easy as ‘pushing a button’ is inaccurate and ill-informed.

    I’m not so sure how much longer I’m willing to believe the whole ‘we didn’t know what publishing was’ or ‘we didn’t know what a copyright was’ argument from older artists. Obviously it’s much easier to seek out the information today than it was in the 1970s, but I would argue that there wasn’t an interest or willingness to learn more about the business or the rights of artists in the first place. His poor analogy appears to be a symptom of his continued lack of knowledge and he clearly has no interest in trying to better understand it.

    Again, EDM shares many similarities to how punk started. One could easily turn the proverbial tables on Iggy Pop and claim that as with The Idiot (David Bowie), he needed someone to help him write passable songs off his latest album (i.e. Josh Homme).

    And people wonder why a lot of rock music has lost its appeal to younger listeners. When every week you have another aging rock star coming out and complaining about how new musicians have no talent, how it’s so easy for them, and how much better it was back in their day, you’re not going to win too many fans. Sounds to me like they are becoming exactly what they hated in their 20s.

    At the very least, differentiate between the major label mainstream that we hilariously saw paraded on the Billboard awards and the actual rock music scenes that exist off the radar. If Iggy, Flea, and Gene Simmons are so overly concerned with the future of music, how about they take their millions from the years of the old record industry and start their own labels to develop new young artists or get new, young local bands in every city to open for them? No, they’d rather sit in their box seats and complain.

    • Buckley

      Thanks. I’m used to this, you take a contrary position and you’re going to upset a few people. The fact is that if this was Deadmau5 or someone saying “oh everyone has it too easy now, anyone can be famous”, and I wrote this article, these same people would be like “oh he’s right!” But it’s Iggy Pop, and he deserves a free pass for some reason. I’m not really up for giving free passes… everyone’s equal. Great that he’s a legend and a major influence, at no point did I dispute that… but he’s incorrect on this subject. Glad some are able to look at it a little more objectively.

  9. drummer from mn

    FWIW I laughed out loud a few times on this article…not so much from the subject matter (a crying shame) but more from the writing style…Buckley – thanks for writing here – thoroughly enjoyed it.

  10. Sandy Cassy

    Buckley baesically I believe u in anythng evr pls jst stay 4evr.
    If u evr meed sum1 to tlk 2 I am here 4 u.
    U get soo much h8 and I dont no why.
    I <3 u

  11. Devil's Advocate

    I think part of this is because Iggy went against the odds, to some extent. For example, when Elektra gave contracts to both The Stooges (Iggy’s proto-punk band) and the MC5 (a close contemporary to The Stooges in Detroit), Elektra gave the MC5 a $20,000 pay rate and gave The Stooges only a $5,000 pay rate. Despite setbacks like these, according to Spotify, The Stooges currently hold approximately four times as many listeners as the MC5. The music Iggy made was not to the sensibilities of most, as you mentioned in the article, but someone else decided that he was a good enough musician or whathaveyou, so they gave him a record contract. From there, his talent let him rise to an even higher degree of success than was expected. These days, people can post videos on YouTube and gain that fame and success. I think that’s why he’s saying that.