Musicians must be compensated for their labor. While musicians create music in a number of ways, very few are paid for the time they spend making music, especially those musicians signed to record contracts. Prince, David Byrne and Courtney Love have described how recording contracts trap artists in highly exploitative relationships with their labels. The fact that an artist must recoup their advance before they make any money exploits the vast majority of recording artists because few ever recoup their advance. Alternatively, not signing a record contract and playing small bars/clubs is no way to pay for a mortgage. This means that many musicians are forced to work multiple precarious jobs to make ends meet while most would like to find a way to earn a living from performing, recording, and writing. For instance, a study in Austin, TX found that three-fourths of musicians who earn all of their income from music make less than $25,000 (pre-tax). Enough is enough: musicians deserve a living wage. Continue reading
Read “The New Distribution Oligopoly: Beat, iTunes and Digital Music Distribution” in Media Fields Journal‘s special issue on Digital Distribution.
Digital music distribution changed everything, and yet it changed nothing. Stoking the techno-utopian vision of the Internet in the late 1990s, Napster signaled the promise of a decentralized music distribution system that eclipsed the authoritarian stronghold of the major record labels’ distributors. People thought that by exchanging music as bits and bytes, the recording industry oligopoly would be overthrown as musicians gained the capacity to distribute music to fans directly, part of what Tom McCourt and Patrick Burkart term the “internet nirvana theory.” The Internet brought the possibility of a robust music commons where everyone has access to all music; a commons which could be used to create new culture. But the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law in 1998 restricting the free flow of digital information using Digital Rights Management (DRM) before Napster was even developed. Where major record labels always controlled distribution under physical media regimes, the DMCA, along with repressive surveillance of peer-2-peer (P2P) file sharing networks, has allowed the major labels to reestablish their dominance in the digital era.
iTunes is the largest music retailer . . . ever! It makes Wal-Mart seem small, and just a few years ago Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and other big box retailers put record stores out of business. Many people saw the Internet as a way for independent musicians to circumvent the major record labels’ grip on music distribution. As it turns out, the Internet has done little to help independent artists get their music to new fans. Yes, there is the occasional exception to the rule from Justin Bieber to OK Go, but the exception only reinforces the rule. My essay appearing in Popular Music & Society entitled “iTunes: Breaking Barriers and Building Walls” explores the way that iTunes has created the same barriers for independent musicians through digital distribution as existed from physical distribution.
After three decades of fighting, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is finally about to win a battle against a music reproduction technology: the tape cassette. Sony recently announced that it will no longer produce the once popular Sony Walkman. The Walkman became synonymous with portable personal music. While the cassette technology lost out to the CD Walkman long-ago, this is notable because of the impact that the cassette had on the recording industry as a whole. Continue reading
Whenever some new use of the internet to download music comes along, the Recording Industry Association of America tries to shut the action down through litigation . . . unless of course the action was created by iTunes. This time around Apple is interested in cloud computing where iTunes users can access their music database via streaming technology from anywhere there’s the internet. Users would upload their (legally purchased) music onto an Apple server and always have access to their music. Sounds good, only this idea is not new nor has the RIAA been approving of this structure in the past. Continue reading
There is a lot at stake with the development of digital music and the ability to download it over the internet. One of the biggest confusions occurs when the Recording Industry Association of America discusses file-sharing as something that will end recorded music as we know it. If you listen to the RIAA, you are liable to believe that there will no longer be recorded music if file-sharers keep “pirating” music, but this is not close to the truth. Yes, major record labels could lose their dominance in the market place, but does that mean that music is dead? The RIAA has been claiming that the disintermediation provided by the internet will lead to the decline and ultimately the failure of the recording industry. The decline of the recording industry, however, is not the end of music. While the recording industry cannot exist without music, music can exist without the recording industry (even the music industry can exist without the recording industry). Continue reading