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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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The Sin That’s Killing The Music Industry
Friday, August 22, 2008

There is an interesting story going around the net that Rihanna, despite having some of the biggest hits of the past half decade, only has 20G’s in the bank. Now, I have no idea if this story is true, but I can say I know this has happened to plenty of other artists in the past. Massive hits don’t necessarily equate to lined pockets. Why is this? For many it’s a result of signing bad recording contracts. Avoiding such contracts has been the reasoning behind more and more artists going indie. The problem is that while artists don’t deserve to be stripped of their earnings the record industry still has the correct model for putting out music; it just has the wrong people working within it. The model of record labels being one stop shops for everything an artist needs, from recording to touring to promotion, is exactly what every artist is looking for. The problem comes when there are too many of the wrong people in positions of power at those labels. That, in turn, makes the labels places no artist would want to be. Sadly, most record labels fall into that category in 2008 and there’s one reason behind it – Greed.

Yes, all it takes is one of the seven deadly sins to sink an industry and the music industry has chosen greed. To be fair, it’s not just the greed of those in the offices, there are also some greedy artists out there, as well. We’ve all seen plenty of artists that aren’t content with living a nice, normal life off of their work and feel they are owed “the finer things in life” simply because they’re doing something artistic (note, this is different from artists who feel they’re owed something because their labels actually, in fact, owe them something). The main issue isn’t with the artists, though, it’s with the label people who have become determined to squeeze every possible dime out the artists on their roster. The Rihanna story, if true, is yet another example of this.

Artists on major labels only get about ten cents to the dollar of every album sold (unless they sign a deal with Puffy, then they get even less). The other ninety cents goes to the label for all the work they do for the artist, including marketing, promotion, distribution, etc. Up until recently the artist used to get a much bigger share of tour profits and merchandising, but in a stroke of both greed and stupidity the industry has designed a few deals (*cough cough* 360 deals *cough cough*) to work those profits more in the label’s favor, as well, furthering the divide between artist and label. Again, this is all about greed. Greedy industry big wigs, just like greedy artists, feel they should be driving expensive cars and living a lavish lifestyle.

There is, of course, a very easy solution to all of this - stop being greedy (did I really just quote a DMX song?). I remember speaking with Dres from Black Sheep about this a while back. He noted he felt like he had made it when he bought a house. Not a mansion, a house. This is the correct line of thinking and we need everyone in the music industry to take a swift blow to the head from a blunt object so they can realize being rich isn’t the goal, putting out great music and living comfortably off of one’s work is the goal. If you’re an artist and you can live off of your music without having to work a side gig to pay your bills, shouldn’t that be enough? And if you’re at a record label and you’re doing your job well and you go home to your own place every night knowing you’re doing something to support quality music and it’s paying all the bills, shouldn’t that be enough?

Nice things are nice, that’s why they’re called nice things. They're not, however, necessary things. Many folks in the industry have mistakenly labeled them as so. This is why we have Rihanna being broke and label heads still claiming poverty.

Don’t get it twisted; all those things record labels are claiming are killing the music industry aren’t the real problem. The only thing that’s really killing the music industry is pure, unadulterated, greed.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:46 AM  
  • At 9:31 AM, Blogger Hex said…

    The new endorsement heavy deals that most bands are getting offer them comp deals on clothes, equipment, technology and whatever -- and for most touring groups with no real needs for property assests or whatever, especially young rock bands for whom getting to ride on a tour bus is actually part of the brass ring -- the pitfalls in the contract arent' apparent until the buzz about them is already starting to fall.

    The key now seems to be getting artist advances and signing bonuses for the length of the contract.

    There was a point where after the initial success of their early album and their "blowing up" on MTV, Limp Bizkit (yeah, I know -- but they're from my hometown) went without an updated deal from their label because they were holding out for a lump sum bonus to be paid upfront before comitting to anything.

    The good news for the artist is, they got it. But I sometimes wonder if fighting the label so hard worked (in part with the waning popularity and backlash that they eventually suffered) really hurt them in making future deals within the industry.

  • At 1:04 PM, Blogger Thirtyseven said…

    Having $20,000 in the bank is being "broke"? What planet have I been living on?

  • At 1:27 PM, Blogger Braille said…

    Artists who don't "write" their own songs make much smaller percentages. It's not always simply a "contract" issue. For example, Rihana didn't write "Umbrella". So the people making the most coin off that song are the people who wrote the music and wrote the lyrics. It's not always just an issue of shady contracts..... artists who don't write their own material have a huge disadvantage. Rihana might write some of her stuff, I'm really not sure... but if she doesn't, then she is lucky to be making as much as she does. Artists who don't write are basically "hired" voices and "hired" faces. And although they do play a HUGE role in the song, they don't OWN any piece of it because they didn't create it from scratch.

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