Big Business’ Rip-off of Musicians Has Gone Big Government Crony – Opinion

Many stories have been told about musicians being ripped off by music labels in the history of recording music.

Incredible Revelation: Record labels Screw Artists

I am not surprised.

The early 20th Century was a time when blues artists were nearly incessantly and brutally robbed blind. All they accomplished was to lay the groundwork of American rock, country and pop music.

These foundational blues singers died in poverty. Some later musicians like Eric Clapton have gone out of their way to find these artists in their squalor – and pay homage by paying them for re-recording their songs. (Though Slowhand apparently wasn’t 100% consistent. Others…way less so.)

How the Blues was Stolen. And Then Stolen Yet Again.

“For the bluesmen of yore, the tradition of copying standards was a way of life. But when big business got involved, this honorary way of working was ripe for abuse.”

Ah yes – the entrance of Big Business into the music business. Labels were many small entities that had been run for decades by musicians. Who seemed to work under the operational model: “I got ripped off – so I’m going to rip off.”

After music started coming in big (thanks to Ray, Chuck, and Elvis), it became a business. And then came the tipping point into Big Business: The 1976 Peter Frampton live double-album “Frampton Comes Alive!” which Gibson Guitar Company described thus: “The gazillion-selling live set that changed the music industry.”

It certainly did – for the very much worse. The Sauron Eye of Big Business took note of the massive music coin being made – and took over the music industry.

Pre-Frampton, joints like Atlantic Records got big – because of music. Post-Frampton, conglomerate big businesses that owned potato chip, car, and shopping mall empires – then acquired joints like Atlantic records. The beginnings of the end of good music….

And then Big Business did what Big Business does – consolidate so as to maximize market power.

What the Big Four Record Labels Did to Become the Big Three

“(J)ust three major record labels rule the global roost. EMI was once one of the big boys—but Universal Music purchased EMI in 2012. So, where once there were the Big Four, now there’s just the Big Three….These three labels can make up almost 80% of the music market or even more – depending on the year.”

This Big Business stranglehold on music hasn’t worked out so well for the musicians:

“A label will give back something like 20 percent of their royalties – so someone like Lil Uzi Vert, who I think made $8 million from one song, will only receive $2 million back after they take out his advance and all the money they spent.”

I am fairly sure Uzi Vert’s label didn’t spend $6 million recording and marketing that single song.  This is a very small amount for a label in this age of digital streaming, downloads and online marketing.

“25 percent of the (Suggested List Retail Price) SLRP goes back to the record company immediately for what’s called a ‘packaging charge’ – that’s the label literally charging the artist for the plastic case in which his or her CD is sold.”

This is what most of the times happens.

“(F)or every $1,000 sold, the average musician gets $23.40.”

Wow – 2.34%.  It seems right.

How to Sell One Million Albums, and Not Pay $500,000

And now that Big Business is involved in music – Big Government is involved in music. Big Business is obviously involved in music. Because of cronyism.

Congress has put forward a bill – H.R.4130 – American Music Fairness Act – that addresses how musicians are compensated,…but somehow manages to not at all address the ongoing, rolling rip-off of musicians in which Big Music has long been engaged.

The bill gets radio stations to pay for the music they play – including from overseas stations. They’ll pay the same rates as other music platforms.

This is a good thing. But this money won’t go to the same anti-musician Big Music systems that exist.

This new revenue stream will deliver Big Music many additional hundreds of billions of dollars – while Big Music yet again screws the artists with the same minuscule percentages.

The bill is being championed as “pro-musician.” And it is – to the infinitesimal 2.34% extent it goes.  A true pro-musician bill, however, would correct the absurdly concentrated power Big Music has over artists.

The artists, you know. These billions in music wouldn’t exist without them.

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