Why We Steal Music

Today the British Government said they would start penalizing music thieves by jacking their internet accounts.

You don’t have to scratch your head too much to recall that Jim Carrey or Schwarzenegger got about $25 million to perform in their movies, or to remember the $280 million dollars it cost to make Titanic. I’d like you to ask yourself a question: why in the hell do you know these facts? They are not important to your day-to-day survival, yet they are part of pop common knowledge.

Now ask yourself this: How much did Eminem’s last four Albums cost? What about how much it cost to market and promote U2’s integrations into the iPod? What? No answer? The reason you have no idea is because whenever you learn how much an actor is getting paid, it’s not a fact that was uncovered by hard-nosed investigative journalism. It’s in a press release. The film industry wants everyone to know that it’s costing them a truckload of cash to entertain you, the public.

Over the last 60 years, while the movie industry has been investing millions a year in educating us about their costs, the record companies have not invested dime-one on this area. They have not taught us music’s cash value.

You probably don’t even realize it, but one important reason you don’t feel easily comfortable sneaking into a blockbuster movie is because subconsciously you figure, “It’s only nine bucks, what the heck, they spent $100 million to make it.”

When have you heard that Michael Jackson’s History video cost almost $2,000,000, or that Mariah Carey’s second record company paid her close to $29,000,000 to not deliver the remaining four albums of her contract and leave the label? Did you hear that a 50-piece orchestra was hired for $20,000 a day for an artist who is a known prima donna, instead of using a synthesizer for about $1,500? Do you think that hiring an orchestra helped sell more records than the synth? No, but the record companies spend gobs of cash on developing new artists and keeping old ones in the public eye. They just don’t advertise it. They don’t educate the public about their woes. Instead, they produce music videos about the high life style the artists enjoy, and they give away the music for free in various venues such as radio and TV, hoping we’ll get hooked on their new prodigy. The same business model used by drug dealers.

So when a technology comes along that allows anyone with a computer to pilfer a record company’s inventory, who would think twice about using it? Music already feels free and many feel as though they have a right to it.


It is a law of commerce: you cannot sell something if there is no perceived value in it. You simply can’t. Suing people who steal music, as the RIAA did in 2003-8, is not really educating the public. It scares them a little, and perhaps this was necessary, but the conceptual effect is probably no different than TV companies suing viewers for making a tape (or DVD) of a movie shown on the air and then lending it to a friend who can’t afford their own TiVo.

I concede, the analogy is not a parallel one in terms of the legal merits, but to the legally unsophisticated public, it feels the same. They walk away thinking, “Wait a minute, I’m not stealing. You already give this to me for free. It was free when I heard it at the mall and on the radio and on my MTV. I’m just ripping it and sharing my tastes with friends.”

Of course, from a copyright perceptive, this is ridiculous. Copyrights were designed to give authors almost absolute authority and monopoly over the use of their work—for a limited time. Regardless, record companies simply cannot get people to voluntarily abide by the law at this late date in the game. The law itself is too complex.

So how do they reverse this? How do they get people to see the monetary value of music when they’ve spent 60 years getting you to believe that you are entitled to it for free? They could try to re-educate the public. This would probably take another 15 years, if they start today, assuming there were no obstacles. And there are many.ISP spending millions to “educate” the public that music should be free, is a large wave pushing back on the minuscule efforts that the RIAA spends on winning hearts and minds.

Should they have thought about this years back when internet companies approached them with new business models?Maybe.The tech-biased press likes to make the public think that record companies shut their doors to internet possibilities.But, what if they had no choice but to say “no” to them?What if internet companies were bent on stealing their music no matter what?Would we learn about that truth given the way the media portrays the music business?

What I could prove everything I just said? I will in my next blog.Stay tuned.


53 responses to “Why We Steal Music”

  1. Age Demands says:

    This is why I only like 2 bands. Green Day (Pinhead/Foxboro Hottubs) and The Beatles. Less expensive, and no desire to download bootlegs.

    This solution works for me.

  2. Jimi says:

    Is that seal as in sealing wax, or steal & a typo?
    Great commentary as always, & hints very obviously to the excesses of the major label moguls who rape in…uh, RAKE in the money they never deserved in the first place & need to spend it other places so it looks like they’re doing something.
    Like those million dollar military toilets.
    Same old shi f t

  3. Phil Johnson says:

    I’ve been saying this for years. People just don’t understand the money or time it takes to put out even one song, let alone a whole album.

  4. Chuck G says:

    The analogy between movies and music is a good one. Movies, when presented “free” are on broadcast television years after their initial release and interrupted by commercials. A sacrifice the consumer understands and can pay to avoid. Maybe there’s a lesson?

    On the Rap/conspicuous consumption front, equally valid. Take an artist bragging about how the law doesn’t matter to him, then begging you to abide to insure him the life of perceived luxury. What???

  5. Mike McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    There has long been a double standard that has applied to musicians and the clergy, in which those who use their services seem to think that they are entitled to do so for free. I would like to see the shoe on the other foot, where the average working stiff who steals music routinely or expects a member of the clergy to counsel them, marry them, etc. is instead told by his boss, “You do great work and many are benefitting from what you do. But I’m not going to pay you.” Will said working stiff be on the job five minutes later? I doubt it.

  6. Andrew says:

    I dont steal music.
    I could but I dont.

    Prosecution will work. sorry plain and simple.
    prosecute thiefs.

    Thats your answer moses.

  7. Ed Dell says:

    Not only does the music industry not bother with press releases, they expect the media to provide a free ride through reviews in the printed media with never a dime for ad space. They seem to behave as a kind of aristocracy to whom obeisance and awe are due. The only exception is the British Gramophone.

  8. Too true, unfortunately. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across who think the only cost associated with making a record is the CD manufacturing. “Why should I pay $15.00 for a CD that only cost 50 cents?” They are also the same people who assume that everyone who ever made a record is rich. It makes my head hurt.

  9. C Dubya says:

    Hey Moses,
    I like the theory that being more like the film industry can make us feel warm inside that there is hope for stemming illegal downloads, I just don’t see it. Movie budgets are significantly larger than record ones hence probably why there are no press releases, saying Eminem’s new album cost $5Million (not exactly sure what it cost but just making a wild assumption) to produce its pales into significance with Movies ranging in the $100 million + range. The reason the movie industry has had it so good is that movie files are large, even with today’s compression methods and a fast connection it takes at least a few hours to download a movie – illegally that is. MP3s are small in size and take a minute or less to download. The movie business is just ahead of the curve in regards to technology catching up with them. Movies are also harder to download and view in respect to having many more codec’s etc so is quite beyond the scope of the casual internet user where downloading an MP3 from limewire and playing it is child’s play. Personally I think we have to go down the road of making the illegal downloading difficult, going after limewire and ISPs for starters, ISP whether they like it or not are accessories to crime. I know the general public don’t see downloading an mp3 as a crime, but let me tell you if people could log on to a website (fairly anonymously in their eyes) and download money which is stealing in the majority of the populations eyes they would do it. We have all heard the stories of the smart bands stealing credit card details and buying their tracks off iTunes, this is theft and they get punished with jail time but millions of people around the world download music illegally and nothing happens. I don’t know what the answer is; I know people hate DRM etc as people say I already bought it once I don’t want to pay for it again. However there are countless analogies why this is just bull dust. Just a few, I already paid for a Big Mac why should I pay to eat another one. Hey I already bought a new Chevy why should I have to pay for the new model for my wife/partner/friend. Anything that is software based will get stolen it’s the nature of the beast. This problem is a great discussion point and I look forward to more discussion and hopefully someone smart out there can come up with an answer.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Good points all, but in the 1980s movies only cost about $20 -$40,000,000 still more than an album but i think the industry would have done better from educating the public about its costs.

  10. Keith says:

    As an angry socialist, I think we musicians should be state-supported.

    I don’t want the money anyway… just the applause…

  11. JC says:

    They also completely fuck artists… lie to them constantly, build up their hopes and dreams, tell them all these grand plans they have that they have no intention of following through with and totally use them as write-offs. My band on Wind-up was screwed worse than most. We were told a year and a half after the record was finished–that it cost us $599,000 and that we used up not only our 1st record budget, but our 2nd and a good portion of our 3rd and that we had no money to tour with. Good thing they had a solution! They eventually gave us an ultimatum to sign an incredibly one-sided, terrible deal that would become common in the industry. They were going to start a “recording budget” for us so that we could record a 2nd record… they were going to provide us with a half-million dollar expense account for touring, wardrobe, equipment, etc., and they provided each band member with a guaranteed monthly salary for a fixed period of time. How great, right?! Wrong! All they wanted in return was 50% of our merchandise royalties for life, 25% of our ticket sales for life, and even MORE of our record sales revenue! Me, being the only NYer and the most inquisitive and educated one in the band had LOTS of questions for the label. I asked to see the ledger for our record and was shocked to see that we were charged not once… but three times–$20,000 for tape. We didn’t use one inch of tape, but ran through a 24-track Studer directly into Pro Tools.

    You’ve done so much to educate artists on the deceitful practices of record labels Moses, and for that I applaud you. I feel NO sorrow or pain for the labels whatsoever though. What I wrote above is only a fraction of the Hell we went through over a (5) year period of our lives that we will never get back. Maybe I should write a tell-all book too? I have LOTS of dirt and drama… enough to make a major motion-picture that might generate enough to have Jim Carrey play me in the movie!


  12. JG says:

    Hey, have a little pity on the orchestra musicians. These people train intensively from the time they are six or seven years old. They get paid relatively nothing. It’s impossible to make a living for 99% of classically trained musicians. Substituting them with synth not only cheapens the sound, it puts highly qualified musicians out of work. Classically trained musicians make beautiful music. Don’t begrudge them the few dates they get these days.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      I’ve received another response focusing on the Orchestra comment. Y’know I love classical music so, I’m not insensitive to the plight of REAL musicians, but c’mon, give me a break, the point of the piece is how record companies don’t inform the public about their hard costs and thus contribute greatly to the de-valuation of music. Can we get an amen for that?

  13. steven gotts says:

    excuse me if I am naive about this. but aren’t recorded companies giant “payday in advance” rackets providers. In my 35 years in the business I have come to understand that the “payday very, very rarely comes” and the artists must pay back everything out of their minuscule percentage to reinburse the advances the over marked up services the record companies require you to go to (can we all say “kickback”) values in audio and video production, promotion, hotel rooms, meals and airfare. and if you only make it to billboard at 98. your debt to these crooks is sold to collection agencies, your property seized and your wages are garnisheed for life. and if your cd makes millions for the record company, you will get $80,000 to pay back $750,000 in over marked up production costs. Ill call my rebuttal “why record companies steal from gullible talented people” with this scam. sorry, Im not buying it. I feel as sorry for the the big record companies as I do to Bernie Madoff for going to prison.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Much of what you say is true, but I have never heard of a Major (Big Four) label selling an artist’s outstanding recoupment to a collection agency. I don’t even think that would be possible under the common terms in a standard major label contract. Just a slight adjustment to an otherwise relatively true statement.

  14. Barbara Graham says:

    This is so true! I represent the indie label that just put out the new Ginuwine album, so I saw firsthand how much was spent on recording costs, promotion, etc. I was downright INSULTED when I saw all the sites that had the entire album up for free downloads on the day the album dropped. Ginuwine does not live a lavish lifestyle and has a wife and kids to support, and these freeloaders make it that much longer before the guy is recouped (if ever) and starts to get paid at all. All so they don’t have to spend $9.99???

  15. Fuzzbucket says:

    There are a couple of other dynamics at play here. These people don’t see themselves as stealing from the artists; they are getting back at the Fat-Cat record labels that don’t deserve the money. Focusing entirely on the cost of CD manufacturing to justify stealing music conveniently excludes the time, effort and money spent in the writing and production processes. Additionally, there is the rightly deserved perception that the labels routinely rip off their artists anyway. Actors in films are paid whatever they are able to negotiate and the studios absorb production, promotion, and manufacturing costs. Record labels have always charged back to the artists EVERYTHING associated with the making of a record before the artist sees a penny of their royalties, which are usually disproportionately low to begin with. I don’t think the downloaders believe they are actually the ones hurting the artists. They see them as collateral damage. They would have been ripped off in any event. These are people who don’t recognize or acknowledge the concept or value of intellectual property…unless, of course, it’s theirs. Digitized books aren’t free. Films aren’t free. Hell, digitized graphic art isn’t free. Why is music the sole exception?

    Also since the digital revolution made recording technologies accessible to the masses, every knucklehead with a laptop, a Rode mic, a Behringer mic-pre and a cracked copy of Ableton Live believes that he can make recordings that can compete with anything that came before. And, to be fair, occasionally they’re right. Alanis Morrisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” was recorded on ADAT’s & probably cost a couple of thousand dollars to produce.

    Finally, I think that issuing press releases about $20 million dollar contracts for A-list actors has more to do with positioning the actor and generating interest in the film than it does with the studios wanting you to know how much it costs them to provide entertainment for you.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Ah, you’re making my point for me. Why is music the exception, you ask, when people feel they should pay for everything else. The answer is because record companies have not “educated” the public. And don’t be so naive as to believe that people don’t know they a re ripping off the artists when they P2P. They know. These same people would sneak into concerts if they could also.

  16. Nick Bishop says:

    “Prosecution will work. sorry plain and simple.
prosecute thiefs.”
    The same way that prosecution cuts down on drunk driving, drug sales, and theft? It’s too too easy to find free music. It’s like asking everybody to turn in that $10 bill they found on the floor to the lost & found. I would speculate that the majority of downloaders are high school kids and college students. Both have low cash, both are exploring music. My dad hasn’t bought a new album in a decade. Pretty sure he’s not bootlegging the latest Jonas Brothers joint.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Moses. To add, there was a survey done about two years back asking people about their feelings toward music. The survey found that people still love music, and for many it is an integral part of their life. So what’s with not spending the $.99 on a tune? It’s an emotional attachment, but there is a disconnect between people’s heart and their wallet.

    Moses, don’t forget that the 20-40 million movie range in today’s terms is still a very respectable budget. Movies like Juno still come under the 10 million dollar range, and many dramas and indie films still cost in the low 7 figures.

    Keith said “As an angry socialist, I think we musicians should be state-supported. I don’t want the money anyway… just the applause…”

    I’ve heard this argument before. All artists want to express themselves, but applause don’t put no food on the table. And not every artist wants to perform and travel every day. Getting paid well for your work is a way to continue to do your work. Where’s the drive to dedicate yourself to any profession if there isn’t a way to live off of it.

    And this speaks directly to what Moses is saying. We think musicians just sit in a basement and come up with a tune and then the adoring masses lavish them with money. The truth is, many musicians, even the knob-twiddling producers and the work-a-day DJ, dedicate years of their life to their craft. Yet we give them zero value for that.

    I spent two years practicing to be a DJ. Every day for 6-8 hours. MBA’s don’t invest that time. And that was before I even started paying my dues. There’s never anything said about that. It’s not common knowledge that Britney Spears had to every shopping mall and Wal-Mart parking lot from Pensacola to Phoenix before she got big. All we see as the general population are these rappers spending gobs of money on BS.

    Even if huge amounts of dollars are not spent, there is a lot of time that goes into these works. Time is money. Pay for your music. Continue to spread the word.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Another great response. One thing about that survey mentioned above, it also showed that file sharing was down due to fear of lawsuits. So, they do seem to work at least a little.

  17. DannyG says:

    This article hits the problem right on the head – Great article!

  18. sindee says:

    Always love reading your thoughts but there is another reason too unions! Dga sag and wga are strong and via a strike send a message. The music business doesn’t have a union that is so powerful. And personally I’m anti unions but they work.
    Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  19. Jeaux says:

    Moses, you wrote: “The answer is because record companies have not “educated” the public.”

    Listen, amigo, if the public at large was ever REALLY educated as to what the record companies were up to, they’d never buy another recording. Ever!

    When Warner Bros put out the first Dr. Demento album, they collected 11 existing master tapes from 11 various artists. They they assessed each artist, including the ones who were dead, $3000 each for “production costs!” In other words, splicing them together and EQing the bunch. So, that’s right, each artist had to wait til their $3000 in “production costs” was paid off til they could collect any royalties.

    Then Warner lied about the album sales. They claimed the LP was killed off in early 1976, after a mere 9,000 units were sold. (“Mere” enough to get the LP into the Billboard Top 200 at the time.) The fact is they didn’t recall the LP until 1989, 13 years later. By then 80,000 units had been pressed and sales had topped 74,000.

    Me, I’m just one of the guys still waiting for my royalties. Next time you see Stan Cornyn kick him in the nuts for me.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      OK, you’re right about all that. But the film industry does a lot of that fancy accounting crap also. The difference is that they help the public understand the cash value of the product. Record Companies do not.

  20. Dolapo Kukoyi says:

    Great Article Moses,Like u read my mind as at yesterday in Nigeria some Music Artistes began a hunger strike asking government to Intervene in the issue of piracy (at least we know now if we never knew that its a worldwide problem) and i was just thinking to myself what can we do to arrest this problem. I agree with C Dubya music industry stakeholders need to invest more in Technology. Prosecution is one thing but with P2P sharing how many people would you be prosecuting. I think the line toed by the British Government is a step in the right direction. On the costs of producing music i agree with Nick Bishop what goes into a song is much more than the money spent in producing the song. Lets keep thinking Hopefully we will one day come up with a solution to minimize this menace.

  21. Audiolife Blog » Blog Archive » Why Do We Steal Music? says:

    […] CLICK HERE to read the full article, but please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below on piracy or what you think is the reason for why we steal music. […]

  22. Hhmmm. I think you bring up an interesting point about the public not really knowing what goes into music (cost and time wise). But I don’t really think it would matter if they did. The only reason that movies and books aren’t free yet is because they are still to large and bulky (books to wasteful to print and video to large in file size) to easily be shared. Once they are, they will suffer the same fate as recorded music. You can “say” that music isn’t free but the truth is music has always been free. Plastic and vinyl discs, no. Music, yes. Do artists spend an enormous amount of time and money on recording? Yes. But that doesn’t change how economics function. The newspaper industry is going through the same thing and I predict that news reporting as we know it will disappear.

    I realize that I am in the minority on this issue. But I don’t view file sharing as piracy. Piracy (in my opinion) is when a person or group steal or duplicate a work and then sell it for profit. File sharing is just that. Sharing. If Billy down the street bought a CD or download, then put it on his PSP network and charged 25 cents a download, he’s practicing piracy. Through the book at him. But if he is telling his friends what kind of music he loves, he’s doing the artist a favor. I look at it as word of mouth marketing. Like making mixed tapes that you share with your friends, only faster. Punishing music lovers for this practice will only drive them toward artists who aren’t opposed to this new paradigm.

    Artists in the traditional label system never truly got paid for their recordings anyway. They traded them for tour support and marketing (if they were lucky enough to be “chosen” by the label to deserve such special attention). I say, trade your music in for word of mouth marketing. You might be surprised at how well you do once those “thieves” are devoted to your art.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Well, there’s a big hole in your theory. Shall I tell you what it is? Well, OK, here goes… Even if you re-define “piracy” in your terms: unauthorized copying for a price or profit; P2P “file sharers” are still pirates. You see very very few P2P users just copy music and give it away. Most allow access to their computer’s music files through a network. The expectation is that by allowing access they, in return, get access to other files that they don’t own. So you’re guy is really getting far more than 25 cents for copying music and giving it away. He’s getting unlimited access to hundred of thousands of music files. That has a cash value, believe it or not. That value is set by Statute so that artists, who don’t usually have the money to litigate, can get the “big stick” in a settlement negotiation. That’s why the fine is $150,000 per infringement. Not because each download has a monetary value of that, but so that the offending party is incentiveized to settle without dragging the case on forever and exhausting the artist’s resources.

  23. Moses, that isn’t a “big hole” in my theory. I am well aware of how actual file sharing works. I didn’t bring it up because it’s irrelevant. Digital music is free. Where you see a bunch of people stealing left and right, I see a new form of public radio playing anything worth hearing and not what some label decides.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much. Any attempt to legally work around it or create a digital lock and key system (DRM) will just help create a new path for the free item to reach its goal. Like water on dirt, it will find a way down…

    Digital music WILL find a way to the listener, free of charge.

    I was simply saying that by allowing what is going to happen naturally (if not down right supporting it) you might possibly create new revenue streams and opportunities you may not have thought of.

    By attacking P2P users (arguably the new music marketing machine) you marginalize your brand and ultimately, your success in this new music business we all find ourselves in.

    I’m not saying that you don’t have the right to fight the good fight. But if you insist on swimming up this new economic stream, be prepared to exert maximum effort for very little gain.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Jeff’s hole grows bigger with his response. In radio the artists has consented to have his music exploited and gets compensated with a performance royalty. In P2P he get’s nothing except the knowledge that someone somewhere appreciates his song enough to steal it.

  24. Lucster says:

    There are far too many imbalances in the arts world to have any hopes of educating a hard-working public. Don’t get me wrong Moses, you’re right that this *could* work though I believe, if ever successful, it would only work to spark the sentiment of the general public (those who don’t practise piracy anyway) in favour of pushing government to act in the artists’ favour. Whatever costly action that might be (more tax on blank media anyone?).

    The trouble I see is the other arts. Much in the same way there is an imbalance in your analogy, until such time as the world rejects so-called artists framing the lunch they just barfed and calling it art, we’ll have a public that doesn’t take us seriously. Trouble is, there will always be some dimwit with too much money more than willing to cough up (pun intended) $10,000,000 for said barf.

    Much the same way, someone mentioned Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill was executed on a low budget, the very same technology that is enabling piracy is also enabling the blooming of the Independent Artist. Suddenly, I too can fart in a jar, call it track 1, and issue a CD. The only difference being that if it were Mik Jagger’s fart, the CD would sell millions of copies and be featured on no less than 17 primetime shows because, let’s be honest, there are plenty of dimwits around who would pay $10,000,000 for a tastefully framed regurgitated lunch from Mr. Jagger, no?

    That’s all pointless rambling from me. Thanks for listening. Now, let me get to the prediction:

    The future won’t exactly be as you indicate. It’s putting far too many horses before the cart. There’s plenty of examples right now in the true indie world of artists raising money from their fanbase *before* going into the studio. A kind of “reverse music business” where they get their “advance” directly from the fans rather than from the bloated record companies. You like my music? Want more? Pledge money and once I get to my pre-set target amount, I’ll go into the studio, record, release and send you a personalised, signed copy with a t-shirt to boot!

    “But hey!” the fan will say, “Jimmy Jim Junior issued their CD for less than half that cost! What gives?” And there, Moses, is where the education will come in. The artist can then justify to their fans the reason why their CD will cost more than Jimmy Jim Jr and, if the fans are satisfied, the artist will benefit from their generosity. If the artist responds they wanted to pay for some bling for the girl he or she is dating this week, well, it might take a bit longer to raise the cash to head into the studio.

    Smarter public = smarter artists. Pirates? They’re out of the picture cause nobody cares whether or not any discs sell cause they’re being produced on demand rather than being manufactured ahead of time and sitting in a warehouse in west Texas.

    Will Mik Jagger raise $10,000,000 before the Stones’ next album? Most likely. Even if the first track is called “Mik farts in a jar”. For the rest of us, the amount of money we raise will be directly related to the level of talent expressed in the artists’ last outing.

    Sorry… really feeling wordy tonight. Finally, in closing, I’d like to come to the defense of the classical musicians. I am not classically trained but I can certainly attest to the fact that you seem to have devalued this entire cross-section of the music industry in order to make your point Moses. Your article was great. Your response to JG was a little insensitive.

  25. Love the article! Moses, your earlier articles exposing the tech companies
    motives to giving away music just to make a bigger buck on their “hardware players” seems to continue to perpetuate this “freebie” mentality of consumers…maybe its time for Major and Independent record labels to reign it all back in. Make themselves the exclusive source for purchasing music at.(????) Just start over – and like you said, bring the details -maybe- in a back story as to how the artist made the record and what it costs to produce it.(re-educate)*While the RIAA of course stands on the corner with a big sign reading, “Thou Shalt Not Steal -or Else!”

  26. toxic avenger says:

    Unfortunate this drivel was posted for the general public. The real theft is by talentless bottom feeders who have access to a distribution system that can’t be shut off. Music does not promote useful arts or science, especially th crap made today which is just noise pollution.

  27. Moses, again you have missed the point entirely. Let me answer your latest response like this:

    I would rather have someone go out of there way to steal my song from a p2p site than get a spin on commercial radio station and earn some odd half of half a percent (that actually goes to the label anyway… if ASCAP or BMI actually get around to sending a check.)

    If you can’t figure out why I feel this way, then you will never understand how this is all really gonna work (and, in some cases, already working).

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Ah, Jeff, well now that you’ve made your point clear I can address it. I’m happy that you enjoy giving away your prodcut, but there are literally 1000s of artist who don’t feel that way. Now, you’re not going to tell me that we should all feel the way you do, or that the way you feel is the “right way” to feel about this. P2P forces a choice on artists than the vast majority do not want. Most artists that I work for, in fact I think I can say ALL (and you can see the list here)want to get that half of a half of a quarter of a sixth of a percent. B/c it adds up to millions. Your “distribution” choice will put no food on your table. And as yet, no one, and I mean no one, has been able to form a business model that is profitable from a 100% give-away plan.

  28. Moses, I have already stated that I don’t expect other artists to feel the way I do about this matter. I understand that there are thousands of artists who don’t want things to be this way. My larger point is this: It doesn’t matter how I (or anyone else) feels about it anymore than it matters how we feel about gravity.

    People used to be able to sell music and make money. Now (using the traditional model) they can’t. It’s that simple. Any attempt to change it back to the old model, legally or technilogically, will fail.

    You say:”P2P forces a choice on artists than the vast majority do not want.” What choice is that? There is NO choice for the artist. If you make your music available in any way, it can be obtained free. Period. You think that I want it this way? Then you don’t understand where I am coming from at all. What I am saying is that it IS this way and we should try to solve the problem with innovation rather than writing articles claiming that if we just do x,y and z, we can get everything working the way its supposed to again. That isn’t going to happen.

    You said: “Most artists that I work for, in fact I think I can say ALL (and you can see the list here)want to get that half of a half of a quarter of a sixth of a percent. B/c it adds up to millions.”

    Millions? For who? For the labels who end up putting the money right back into the payola system? Independents aren’t getting radio play on commercial radio (at least not enough to amount any significant dollar amount) so I like to see how you came up with this “millions” figure.

    You said: “no one, and I mean no one, has been able to form a business model that is profitable from a 100% give-away plan.”

    Who said anything about 100% free? Certainly not me. I was simply trying to make the point that it isn’t a good practice to treat your customers as criminals.

    You said: “Your “distribution” choice will put no food on your table.”

    This is just a flat out incorrect assumption on your part. My distribution model does put food on my table. And I would be happy to create a list of other artists you can link to who are doing just fine by giving away music. Just ask.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Well, I see Jeff and I won’t agree on much here. However this part I can respond to.

      “People used to be able to sell music and make money. Now (using the traditional model) they can’t. It’s that simple. Any attempt to change it back to the old model, legally or technilogically, will fail.”

      I have to disagree. My clients make enough money to pay my $300-$600/hr fees. These fees allow me to charge pennies to consult with smaller artists who cannot afford my commercial rates. 10% of all the money I take in goes towards advocacy efforts.

      So those 50% or 10% royalties on “sales” are adding up to quite a lot for some artists. Is it the minority? Of course. But the point is that that minority makes so much f-ing money that they finance the rest of the smaller fish. They pay Card Rate for studio time allowing studios to do spec work for indies, they pay lawyers $600/hr so that lawyers can do pro bono work for up and coming artists, they pay me good money so I can devote time to researching and reporting facts about the industry, instead of just speculation based of biased news articles and (god forbid) blogs.

      In short it’s the success of the pay-for-music model that allows you and others to have the luxury of the choice to make your music the free bait in your business model. Enjoy this freedom now b/c if, one day you can verify selling (or in your case giving away) millions of copies of your music, you’ll be approached by advertisers, and others wanting to license your music. They will base their asking price on your revenue. If you have little to none, you’ll wish you had made a different choice today.

      Also, very soon (a few years) most illegal P2P will be shut down or converted into legitimate models. People relying on these networks for “promotion” will have to find new outlets.

      For more on this rational go forward to the next article in my blog.

  29. Well, while I understand the business model the way you’ve laid it out, I predict it won’t continue for more than another decade. My ability to give away music has little (if almost nothing to do) with the your current way of operating. And again, I need to point out that I’m not against a “pay-for-music” system. At some level this will always exist. What I have been saying all along is simply that, by accusing your customers of stealing simply because they choose to pay what the market will bear (i.e. FREE) then eventually you and your business model will be replaced by another. Litigation is not a business and over time will not survive the market.

    And I should also note that A: advertisers will negotiate a fee based on how many perceived listens any given track has, not what each individual track sold for. (and I understand that they do use profit margin as a guide, but it is not the only way to measure value)

    And B: Any P2P network that is shut down will simply be replace by some new model of information sharing technology. Any P2P turned legitimate model simply won’t be able to survive using subscription and ad revenue… this has been demonstrated over and over again.

  30. Looking forward to it. 🙂

  31. C Dubya says:

    Hey Guys
    After pondering this issue some more I think the thing the film industry has successfully achieved that the music industry hasn’t is the quality issue. The movie industry is continually changing the way they deliver their product. Moving from VHS to DVD to Blu Ray they are increasing the size of their product not decreasing it like music ala MP3’s. People go out and buy that 1080P HD Screen so they can watch their new $25 Blu Ray disk which would take them a week to download from the internet if someone had put it up there. I suppose the real issue is the majority of people are visual, I am sure more people have watched a Harry Potter movie than read the book. Most people can’t easily tell the difference between various quality music files as easily as seeing a high quality movie. Yes we have SACD and DVD audio but they were never really embraced. That’s where the major labels made the mistake not getting behind DVD audio as people were already familiar with DVD so the natural progression was DVD audio. They embraced the CD after cassette/vinyl but seemed to not bother after that…… thoughts?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      It’s true the majors have gone slowly into new visual formats. This is because they tend to see themselves as an audio product. Now as for comparing MP3 as an example of labels downgrading their product, there I disagree. Labels in 1999 hated the MP3 format (still do). It sounded trashy and had no DRM. This was only one of the reasons they were not able to reach agreements with P2P companies that were trying to license back then. Labels waned a better format but the “Napsters” (used as a generic) wanted the easy-to-pipeline MP3 format. It’s important to remember that the MP3 format, as the “download standard” is a result of a push by tech companies, not labels.

  32. Peter Tanham says:

    Hi Moses,

    A very well written article, but I’d have to say I completely disagree with your conclusions and logic.

    It’s a shame that only one commenter -Jeff MacDougall- seems to have picked up on this (and only in his first comment, the rest seem to be a matter of personal choice about distribution).

    This all boils down to simple economics. Digital music is now in infinite supply (I can download more songs for free on the web than I would ever have time to listen to) and therefore cannot command a price. It’s simple economics, and is just like trying to charge a price for water or air.

    I would agree with Jeff that music recording was the first to get hit because it’s just easier to download than a full movie. DVD sales are declining just as fast as CD sales, it just took 5 years longer for broadband speeds to allow it.

    The music industry, as opposed to the recording industry, is doing just fine. Concert tickets are selling more these days than 10 years ago – there are only a certain number of tickets for a given concert, therefore they are scarce in relation to demand, therefore they can command a price. This is the same with cinema sales, rising as DVD sales decline.

    This is all just simple economics, and has very very little (if not nothing) to do with the production cost of either music or movies.

    A good example to prove this are books. Nobody trumps up how expensive they are to produce, they are all illegally downloadable online, yet books sales are barely dinted. This is because digital books aren’t the same as physical ones, where as digital music (e.g. from limewire) is just the same as music on a CD.

    Digital music is not scarce in relation to demand, it is in infinite supply and has no marginal cost of production. These are the reasons that it is, for the most part, free – or as you put it, “why we steal music”.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Nice response except for one thing, I think you forgot to mention the part you disagree with. The only affirmative opinion I make in the article is that music companies didn’t do much to educate the public and so devalued their product. Are you disagreeing with that?

  33. Greg Nisbet says:

    To me, a lot of this discussion is too much about what should be the case rather than what actually is. There are plenty of artists, music production folks, and even record industry execs who can argue both sides of this with equal vigour.

    The fact is that freely available music has existed in some form for a long time now, and, whatever their motives, music lovers will take advantage of this en masse. There are people thinking very hard and trying just as hard to build systems that tap into this sentiment and ensure that both musicians and those who have supported them (within and outside of record companies) get paid enough to have the tools they need not only to make more music but also to live decent lives.

    I would think that, in your writing and your consulting, you’d be using your experience and expertise to offer some valuable ideas on how to accomplish that.

  34. Greg Nisbet says:

    No, I think you’re bang on with that one.

    My intention was to reference the discussion in its entirety, and I find more to disagree with in your comments than in your post.

    Rather than getting into picking your comments apart piece by piece, which you would then no doubt refute with equal aplomb, I would love to hear more from you on how to take advantage of free music. Looking at the last line of your original post, perhaps I will get my wish…

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Tips for that are what I give in consultations. I give some of that away for free in the blog and a lot in my books. Of course things change almost monthly and to get the latest techniques, well… I gotta charge for something, right?

  35. Greg Nisbet says:

    Indeed. A man’s gotta eat.

  36. Tape Mixing says:

    “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S Thompson

  37. […] as to what the record companies were up to, they’d never buy another recording. Ever!” (www.mosesavalon.com)  This was actually from an artist himself.  Clearly he is angry about how he was treated by a […]

  38. Shapey Fiend says:

    I think artists need to learn to make music cheaply. Hip hop and electronic music have been dominating in the last 10 years because they can record, mix and master the music themselves on a laptop. They can put out music quickly, cheaply and frequently. Most rappers at the moment release multiple free mixtapes/albums before attempting to make a ‘debut’ record. Then hopefully they’ll make money from touring. You don’t even see that many group acts because sharing the income between 5 people isn’t feasible.

    Hopefully things will start to swing slightly back the other way and more people will be willing to pay. Anything has to be better than the old model anyway. I’d guess 99% of musicians were broke before the internet. Now it’s just gone to 99.5%.

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