Trusted Sources: Who is Lying About Music and Why

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It’s hard to go a single week without reading about the “dying music biz.” These stories are often backed by statistics like,“30% drop in sales since 2004.” But where are the facts? Almost all music sales data in the news comes from just four sources, all of whom enjoy painting a negative view.

Moses Avalon

It would seem to me, that if basing career decisions on what you read on a blog or news-source, then you need facts in the piece to be accurate. Right?

And you would think, after a couple of years of debunking stories about how the music business is decaying, that pundents would just give up on the angle. But as recently as this past week we see they have not.

The debunk for today is a term used in journalism called, “Trusted Source.” Journalists are not required to be experts in anything except gathering facts and so, Trusted Sources are accurate reservoirs of inside information which enable journalists to write with authority.

So, what’s the scam? Well, when Trusted Sources turn out to be doling out agenda-driven “facts” and then reporters (often on a deadline) repackage it as objective news.

The Standard

The ethical standard for journalism used to be two independent Trusted Sources to confirm a single fact. In the new economy this is getting harder and harder to maintain, even for top papers. Blogging–which is less journalism and more editorial–has no standard. And why should it? As you’ll read in a moment, even the New York Times, doesn’t seem to care about vetting sources when it comes to the music industry. So why should gadflys and pundents.

Let’s drill down on the facts used by most covering the music biz space and vet who they trust.

1) WIKI WORLD

A large percentage of the music biz Armageddon articles use Wikipedia as a Trusted Source. I have not done exhaustive surveys to confirm this “fact” as it would take years, but it’s not hard to see that it’s true because of the link-backs embedded in their pieces.

What does Wikipedia say?

The downward trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future… this dramatic decline in revenue has caused large scale layoffs inside the industry, driven music retailers out of business (such as Tower Records) and forced record companies, record producers, studios, recording engineers and musicians to seek new business models.”

Really?

I could spend about 10,000 words de-bunking most of what the above, but why bother? The really interesting thing is that this passage has been unchanged on Wiki since 2009, when the first version of this piece was published.

Since then the music space has experienced anything but a “downward trend,” and the business “old model” seems more enforced than ever; labels get artists to sign one-sided contracts, work them to produce hits, promote the crap out of them, support tours and take a piece of everything; the publishers and the PROs lean on everyone, including NASA for a buck. Artists still work the hardest and as a group make the least. Show me the new model.

So, where does Wikipedia get this ”downward trend” conclusion? The link above uses only one Trusted Source: Forrester Research, a market research and consulting firm whose clients are the tech-industry. Forester purchased Jupiter Communication in 2008; one of the first high-level internet research firms.Their reports ($3000+) are bought by Silicon Valleyites.

To keep the consulting fees flowing Forrester would prefer that their clients read about content companies losing ground both legally and publicly to the agenda of companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and let’s not forget– Wikipedia.

The hope being that music companies just lose faith, remove inconvenient rights management software and do away with licenses in order to create a “better consumer experience.”

No record company, film/TV production company that I know of hires Forrester Research or contributes to their data.

So in essence, Forrester with the help of Wikipedia has become a propaganda agent of the tech industry’s war on copyright. With Forrester/Wiki as a Trusted Source music companies will always come off looking like fools.

 

2) THE ECONOMIST

Many a main-stream journalist likes to mine data from the website of the conservative periodical, The Economist as a Trusted Source.The Economist has a high-income earning demographic. Most of their readership are investors and for the past ten years most of their readers have been investing in, you guessed it– tech stocks!!

Why this connection is not obvious to the writers who trust them for “objective” data is a mystery probably best solved by consulting The Economist’s advertising department. The articles about technology have out-paced all other subjects in The Economist’s archives, and my guess is, so has tech related ad-revenue.

So where does The Economist get their information? Get ready for this…

The Economist gets its statistics from the IFPI and the RIAA. (The IFPI is the international version of the RIAA.)

If you’ve been on the Moses Supposes list for more than a year or two you know I’ve already written exhaustively about why one can not use the RIAA as a Trusted Source of unbiased record biz statistics.The short version is because they define “sales” as units shipped, not units actually passed through the entire retail process.

(There are really more differences between the two than one might think. During the illegal Napster era, SoundScan reported that sales were up while the RIAA reported that sales were down. Read more about this on MusicDish or watch this video.)

3) THE PAPER OF RECORD

Many pieces in the New York Times coverage of the music space are aggravating for those in the know, but a Times piece from 2009 really took the cake. Using data from all the above Trusted Sources it tells the story of bands going the indi route and forgoing major labels.

While on the surface it supports the urban legend that bands are doing fine going the DIY route, what the piece is really saying is that majors can’t even get bands desperate for record deals to sign with them anymore.

Of course this is far from the truth. While signings have gone down as a result of the general economic downturn, the number of submissions hasn’t. (Roughly 10,000 a year per major distributor.) Meanwhile, Sony and Universal as distributors continue to dominate with their artists representing over 66% of all units sold in the US.

Regardless, this article makes all the people who invested in tech companies feel good about the deluge of RIAA litigation against their pet stocks and it coddles the companies buying the lion’s share of the Times’ advertising–computer and IT companies.

I can’t help but wonder how many artists and bands in the wake of that article altered their career path because they thought majors were dying.

4) THE RIAA

So, since everyone trusts the RIAA/IFPI, where do they get their information?

Not sure.

We hope record companies report to them honestly, but they are not legally required to tell the truth to their own trade organization. Only what they want the public to know. Why would record companies want the public to think that the industry is in bad shape? Lots of great reasons that I’ve covered in other articles and my books, but basically because crying poverty is part of their business model. Even Wikipedia doubts their veracity. And if Wiki says it…

So…

I hope that this article helps everyone who invests emotionally in these doom-and-gloom pieces to realize that they are not reading first rate journalism, but merely commentary on the opinions of people with an agenda—mostly an anti-content (and therefor anti-artist) agenda.

Reporting from the front so you don’t take it in the rear,

Moses Avalon

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43 Responses to “Trusted Sources: Who is Lying About Music and Why”

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Yeah, it’s a great piece. I really enjoyed reading it. But, I question some of his facts, especially those coming from Tommy. I like Tommy very much and Tommy and I agree on some things and disagree on others, but it would be interesting to see exactly how he is adding up the numbers to get those percentages.

      Music sales did not go down from 2009 to 2010. But in order to have the conversation intelligently you have to first decide what defines “music sales. ” Sometimes we’re talking about number of releases; sometimes we’re talking about number of physical units; sometimes we are talking about digital sales; and almost never are we talking about the radical escalation of licensing fees, which in my view is a music sale.

      • ZoSo says:

        I think it’s really just this simple… if there’s so much money being made, why are the so many less professional musicians making a living now, versus a decade ago?

        I’d also really like to see these so called licensing revenues – what is the source of those and who is reporting them? And, if these licensing revenues are up, why are musicians seemingly not benefiting from these revenues…

        The real story here is Follow The Money. All music is being paid for, artists (and rights holders) are just not seeing any of it. Wouldn’t it be better if Wendy’s, Yahoo, BMW, Mitt Romney, Adobe, Cadillac, LG, Target, Westin Hotels, Priceline, Hyatt Hotels, Weight Watchers, VISA, State Farm, Mini Cooper, etc… we’re paying Tom Waits instead of Pirate Sites?

        http://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/hey-tom-waits-whos-that-bandido-ripping-you-off-now-bmw-adobe-lgcommercial-target/

      • Moses Avalon says:

        The answer to your question is just as simple as the question itself: the reason why all the licensing revenue is not Benefiting most musicians musicians is because licensing revenue is pretty much just enjoyed by the top 1% of recording artists; Those whose recordings are popular enough to garner a $100,000 licensing fee for a Background use in a motion picture.

      • ZoSo says:

        OK, So who’s reporting these earnings? The major publishing companies? Are the major labels reporting these revenues?

        Also, if that’s true, it just means things are that much worse for middle class, working class musicians and the industry has become more stratified, right?

  1. Matthias says:

    Mo, if there was no you, who could we trust about all this?! Thanks again for a grand article, which as alwasy is informative , very interesting and also has that edge of artistic creativity in its voice that resonates with me and I know Im not alone here. As always valuable and enjoyable. Thumbs up, really I mean that.

  2. TC Smythe says:

    I have to wonder if the purported sales drop is more relevant to certain genres of music. I make almost all of my sales in physical CD form. I make folk music, and my fans like to hold a CD in their hands. My fans tend to be older and are not as likely to own a digital playback device at all. They are also less likely to use downloads, legal or illegal. Our CD sales have increased every year for 13 years. Our online sales are all but non-existent, but we’re doing fine. As a result, I pay no attention when the ‘industry’ whines about its troubles.

  3. Great insight Moses. I really enjoy what you write and definitely click the links to support your site. Right off the bat, I’d like to point out that Wikipedia is nothing but an unverifiable “groupthink and share” site. Any monkey can put anything on there and claim a source. In other words, readers shouldn’t believe everything on there. Next, I totally agree that the current model is the same as the old model. We DO need a new model that includes electronic media. I can’t think of any band that has made it big as an indy artist. Major label support is definitely required and if they aren’t making money then someone’s lying.
    The head of our label, GI Jams, hit songwriter, Denny Randell, estimates that for every 30,000 legal purchases, there are 3 million illegal downloads. This is his reason for keeping EVERYTHING we do close hold and NOT released on iTunes/Amazon until the time is right; this is his “new model”. We have distribution from EMI and Rhino and have been waiting for them to make a move for over a year now. Blame the industry? I don’t know. All I know is that it’s taking a LOOOOOONG time! Someone needs to come up with the “new model” that is viable for everyone and NOT the 360 deal as you’ve spoken about before.

  4. Ted Myers says:

    Hi Moses,

    With all due respect, what about Soundscan. Is that not a “trusted source”? I think even you have to admit, when a release that sells 25,000 copies can be a top 5 record on the Billboard Hot 100, there is indeed something very wrong.

    All the best,
    Ted Myers

    • Moses Avalon says:

      The drop in what constitutes a top 40 album or single has certainly been affected by things like piracy, and the new type of data aggregation. But this has nothing to do with Revenue. For example, if 10 years ago you only made $1.50 profit on the sale of an album but this year you make $3.00 profit on the sale of an album it hardly matters you selling 30% less units or if the retail price is 15% less because you’re making 100% more revenue.

  5. Jim says:

    Didn’t the peer-reviewed journal Nature find that Wikiepedia is just at accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica? That’s not saying much, but at least its a measure of Wikipedia’s accuracy and self-correcting mechanism.
    Accurate or not Tech companies have a hard-on for undoing the “old guard” of the music industry. This pissing match will never end.

  6. Neel says:

    Where you note:

    “If you’ve been on the Moses Supposes list for more than a year or two you know I’ve already written exhaustively about why one can not use the RIAA as a Trusted Source of unbiased record biz statistics.The short version is because they define “sales” as units shipped, not units actually passed through the entire retail process.”

    This is a point so many never notice or want to remember. Shipped and sold are the same as light on light off. The RIAA is like FOX news, always reporting with their agenda in mind.

  7. Ted Myers says:

    Yes, but wouldn’t that mean that the RIAA is reporting GREATER sales than actually occurred? This would support the notion that sales are down even more than the RIAA is admitting.

  8. Another winner of an article, Mo! And always remember that we`re dealing w/ the very same media who told us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction….

  9. Eric Bragg says:

    Say, Moses,
    Perhaps you should submit some info to wikipedia? Certainly, one of your primary goals is to help define the new era of music? Then why not submit some information, with some backing data, of course? I believe the people working wiki get their info from others – it’s how they built the site. They obviously have a lot of readers – we might as well be putting forth “lifeful” information. I’d give it a shot if I could, but my “vast expertise” would embarrass the entire lot of us all!

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Well Eric, it’s funny you should mention that. Because I have tried to enter information into Wikipedia. But there is a vast public misconception about how Wikipedia works; It’s not true that anybody can be a Wikipedia contributor. Wikipedia has an intense vetting process about who can and cannot be an editor. Clearly artist rights advocates are not on the list.

      Some pages, called, “unprotected pages” can be edited by virtually anybody. However, most pages on Wikipedia are “protected pages.”

      All pages in regard to the RIAA, the music industry, and the technology industry are “protected pages.”

      You can read all about that process here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:Editing

  10. TC Smythe says:

    Wikipedia Controls the Conversation (and Here’s The Proof)

    Dear readers:

    I agreed with Moses’ last blog post, “Who is Lying About the Music Business and Why” so I placed a comment about my experience, which reflects a different reality than the doom-and-gloom the RIAA would have you believe about physical CD sales. (My sales have gone up for the last 13 years). I thought it was outrageous that a major media outlet would bother to use wikipedia as a ‘trusted source’.

    So after chatting with Moses over the phone, we set out to make it more trustworthy!

    The downbeat sales data on Wikipedia.org’s RIAA page was ancient (2005) so we decided to correct the perception with an update taken straight from the RIAA’s own webpage. The RIAA 2011 press release stated that the record industry has actually enjoyed 5% annual growth, probably on account of the RIAA’s efforts to shut down LimeWire and other rampant piracy. You think they would be happy that someone else did the work to share the good news about their sector!

    We successfully updated the page with a statement:

    “Since the defeat of companies like LimeWire and other high volume piracy sites, sales since 2010 I’ve begun to escalate at the rate of about 5% per year.”

    and added the required annotation which was a linkback to RIAA’s own site.

    One hour later, I noticed our quote had been replaced with:

    “In mid-2011, the RIAA trumpeted a sales increase of 5% over 2010, stating that “there’s probably no one single reason” for the bump.[28]” (they kept our link)

    It’s obvious that someone is actively monitoring that page for edits, and controlling the conversation.

    I really wanted our edit to stick, but I thought it would be a good idea first to research Wikipedia’s guidelines to discover if there was anything I could do about it. Apparently there is not.

    On Wikipedia, anyone may edit any page at anytime, anonymously. That’s why the resource is called ‘wiki’. If he likes, the page’s original creator can insert html code so that he can be notified of any subsequent edits and may react accordingly by restoring the page or re-editing it. If you can shout someone down, or twist their intentions, this is decidedly, against the spirit of ‘wiki’, and cannot be considered a ‘trusted source’.

    I suppose if the new contributor is stubborn about it, he/she can try to wear out the original creator with repeated edits. But once annoyed, the creator can appeal to a ‘Talk’ forum page on wikipedia to complain of ‘vandalism’ and have the page locked from further editing. This is the nature of crowd sourcing both the information and the editorial/control guidelines. This is the very nature of the ‘wiki’ format. The rules are ‘wiki’, too. A bit too utopian for me, since all you have to do to legitimize bad information is to get a crowd of otherwise ignorant 3rd parties to agree you have been picked on.

    Over time, people will learn of this practice and wikipedia’s value will be eroded and I think, ultimately abandoned as a waste of time and a biased source of information. Stick to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

    That’s how it is, I’m afraid.

    TC

  11. Jennifer says:

    I think the issue here isn’t Wikipedia itself, but rather the music industry that clearly is paying PR company/companies to monitor the media (including Wikipedia). They want to change it when it says something they don’t like. Politicians and corporations do this also. Pages I know of that are regularly vandalised in the UK include the Wikipedia entries re. The BNP. The BNP is a Nazi political party that tries to portray itself as respectable and mainstream. Anti fascist campaigners now have worked hard so that a notice on the page says “This page is regularly vandalised”. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is just like all mainstream media in our so-called democratic society: big business uses its resources to make stories biased in its favour. This shows the need for us to have our own media/networks for exchanging information. And the need to work hard to fight the power. However I feel for you because we have to pick our battles and constantly re-editibg a Wikipedia page may not be something you have time and resources to do, unlike a PR company which is paid to do so.

    • mattman says:

      true. and it all makes sence: who controls the cake? the bullies with the big corporate muscles of course. whatever they want to be true is made fact. just like: who writes the history books? the winners. and who wins games like these? mr. nichols. long live independence! wiki (not only) has been taken over. lets get out there, further and through.

  12. James D. says:

    Thank you Moses for your excellent insightful article.

    Accurate information has always been an challenge for the musical artist to obtain. Years ago a musician collaborator of mine was hired to run a well-known music publishing company in LA. The first thing they told him was, “you’re on our side now”. Get it – us vs. them, not we are all in this together.

    To take an intelligent decision you have to accurately appraise and gather information.

    It takes hard work to uncover the true facts of any enterprise. Sometimes the facts are illusive to all sides and not just a manipulation from one side.

    Therefore, make every effort to inform yourself, as best you can, of the true current facts applicable to your situation.

    Always remember, the music business, is a business!

  13. John Beecher says:

    Thanks Moses, for taking up this subject.

    Our record label has existed since 1976. Many labels are listed on Wikipedia; bigger and smaller than us.

    But our attempts to get some of the history of Rollercoaster Records entered has failed, as Wikid refuse to accept a submission. That’s not really important to us as we have managed quite well without an entry, but it seems illogical that so many other labels are listed that do not fulfill the criteria they say we must comply with, in terms of references etc.

  14. Dennis Jones says:

    What happens when books are held on hard drives, not printed and on shelves! Will history be written by the gatekeepers of the hard drives?

  15. Jennifer says:

    Sorry my browser wasn’t working properly on my phone please accept my sincerest apologies. My mistake.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Jennifer,

      I certainly do except your apology. These things happen all the time. But, this is a good opportunity to make an important point.

      It would not have been at all hypocritical of me to censor your comment.

      Nowhere on this forum doesn’t say that this is a wiki or that this is a democratic process. This is my forum. I alone get to decide who gets to have a voice. While I have never censored a comment that was factual, even if I disagreed with it, (like yours) Wikipedia does not have that same luxury. They are supposed to post facts wether they disagree with them or not. The argument here is that they are not posting all the facts. They are only posting facts that suit a particular agenda. And that agenda is, now, clearly, anti-artist

      • Eric Bragg says:

        Woah.
        Amazing how many things in this world have succumbed to controlling hands gripping them tightly. Free energy inventions, freedom to steal music, and now… supposed “unbiased accurate information”! I smell a lot of nasty stuff going on all around us.

  16. Edmund says:

    There are many articles on what Wikipedia really is and who really runs it and their agenda is bought and paid for.
    Anyone who has done even a moderate amount of business in any marketplace soon learns that that higher the dollar amount of business the sharper the knives.
    Read about the actual practices of the Wikipedia gang and how they erase what they dont agree with.

    http://www.wnd.com/2009/12/119745/

    http://www.wnd.com/2008/12/83640/

    http://www.wnd.com/2010/01/120835/

    http://www.wnd.com/?s=wikipedia&sort=&order=&from=&to=&category=&author=

    • Russell Alexander says:

      You’re using Joseph Farah as an example of “what Wikipedia really is and who really runs it”? This guy is nuttier than an Almond Joy. He’s a birther who, in league with that paragon of intelligence, Sarah Palin, has more conspiracy theories than Jesse Ventura.
      I followed your link. His hysterical ravings about what’s written in Wikipedia about him are, at least now, untrue.
      But if you have to make a point, could you use something a little less insane than wnd.com? Thanks.

  17. Maybe the musio industry is dying because of the lack of new talent coming through? When was the last time a new genre came to the forefront? Or could it be that modern tv and radio like to play safe and only promote the same kind of boring music over and over?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      It is not the “music industry’s” job to invent new formates. That is the job of artists. Artists are constantly trying new things and labels are constantly taking risks on them. Most fail. If examined closly, it seems that it is the public who is not interested in new formates, not the artists or thier patrons.

  18. Interesting latest reports suggest that music sales were up 3% in 2012 on the previous year…

  19. terri says:

    Why do you say that it’s an urban legend that bands are doing well going the DIY route. Are you saying that it’s not possible to be a successful musician if you are not signed to a label?

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