Trusted Sources: Who is Lying About Music and Why
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.
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 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.
“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.”
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…
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?
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…
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,