The Internet has been abuzz with Emily White, a intern at NPR, and her article about how she has never bought music and probably never will. and the response from David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. Lowery's response is a powerful piece of writing, and contains some valuable insights into what the old music industry did well, but it's also a mess. He has some weird conspiracy theory that the "free culture" movement is funded by large tech companies as a stalking horse for their issues. Speaking as someone who's raised a fair bit of money for that movement, I'm here to tell you that he's just wrong. For example, most of my wages when I was at the Electronic Frontier Foundation were funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. He also blames the tragic suicides of two musicians on the free culture movement and the alleged effect this has had on musicians' fortunes. Even if you stipulate that the fall in those musicians' fortunes could be blamed on the "free culture" movement (a pretty weird idea in itself), this would logically put the blame for all musicians' suicides prior to the Internet's disruption of the music industry on the shoulders of the major labels.
I thought Lowery's piece was so badly flawed, with its conspiracy theories and sloppy appeals to emotion, that it didn't warrant a response. But others didn't feel the same way. Techdirt's Mike Masnick has posted a guided tour of the best rebuttals, including Jeff Price from Tunecore on the real data on musicians' income in the Internet age; Steve Albini on the false picture Lowery paints of a golden age of the labels that never existed; Jonathan Coulton on the perversity of mourning for a loss of scarcity; former Warner Music CTO Ethan Kaplan on how the labels cut their own throats by fighting innovation; Travis Morrison from Dismemberment Plan on how access to music and compensation for artists are separate issues. Taken together, it's a series of bracing reads and a strong tonic. Here's some of Tunecore's Jeff Price:
Previously, artists were not rolling in money. Most were not allowed into the system by the gatekeepers. Of those that were allowed on the major labels, over 98% of them failed. Yes, 98% .
Of the 2% that succeeded, less than a half percent of those ever got paid a band royalty from the sale of recorded music.
How in the world is an artist making at least something, no matter how small, worse than 99% of the world’s unsigned artists making nothing and of the 1% signed, less than a half a percent of them ever making a single band royalty ever?
Finally, as much as I hate to say it, being an artist does not entitle the artist to get money. They have to earn it. And not everyone can...
Revenue to labels has collapsed. Revenue to artists has gone up with more artists making more money now than at any time in history, off of the sale of pre-recorded music.
Taken a step further, a $17.98 list price CD earned a band $1.40 as a band royalty that they only got if they were recouped (over 99% of bands never recouped).
If an artist sells just two songs for $0.99 on iTunes via TuneCore, they gross $1.40.
If they sell an album for $9.99 on iTunes via TuneCore, they gross $7.00.
This is an INCREASE of over 700% in revenue to artists for recorded music sales.
I think it's a good rebuttal of the David Lowery piece because it's based on firsthand reporting and a conversation with the guy in charge of distributing the music from over 10K indie labels through Spotify."