TapThe Record Industry is Hurting

When you hear the frequent reports in the last few years about how file sharing has killed the music industry it all looks rather grim for the artists. This is particularly noticeable when major artists like Metallica and Lily Allen make the case rather than just the industry associations bleating about it. But are they mistaken and just puppets of the record companies; certainly in the early days of their contract their position must seemed rather precarious, subject to the whims of the promoter and woe betide them if they stepped out of line.

On the other hand there have been many critics of the record industry, such as Roger McGuinn, who have said that it is an unfair game often leaving the artists with nothing at all or in debt. As Lily points out, it is the band that pays for the studio, production, video, marketing and promotion and they have to refund this back to the record company out of their 15% of the royalties (if they are lucky). The advance they get is just to keep them alive.

This recent analysis by Times Labs shows that the majority of income for an artist is live performance (and I think it applies for the smaller venues as well as the stadium shows) and that has been steadily increasing even over the period supposedly hit by illegal downloading. As you will have seen from the Lily Allen article, some major artists believe that downloads often serve as tasters—samplers for the artist’s work—and that real income comes from later business. I don’t begrudge the artists any of this. An artist on tour works incredibly hard often at the cost of their health and relationships. I’m still glad I turned down the offer to do it some years ago.

I am not condoning pirating, particularly not wholesale music file sharing, but for sampling it does no more harm than a radio show. That it why I am very pleased that services like LastFM and Spotify allow it to be done legitimately. I have had reasonable success with my efforts to “Go Straight” which I did because I felt that I had rather overstayed my sampler welcome, by nearly 40 years in some cases, and the records I had recorded were often the best ones even though I had made some amends by buying follow up albums. Of course, by now, my efforts are more often benefiting the charity shops as they are mostly out of production.

I would certainly be sad if CDs disappeared off the shelves and everything went to iTunes and other commercial downloads, as I like something tangible for my money and convertable to other formats but I can see that the whole industry needs a shake up even if the record companies can’t.

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