Blow It Out Your Ear with Trevor Risk
Local man describes everything terrible about the music business in Vancouver.
Recently I got in a Twitter fight with David Crosby. Well, “fight” implies there were two sides battling. It was more like me questioning his logic and him and his sycophantic followers just calling me infantile names instead of addressing the point. This isn’t surprising. Boomers, especially music industry clods, are mostly known at this point for preaching being part of a “peace and love” generation, but they make ad hominem attacks, did drugs made by militias, and drove cars made by Nazis. It’s all very predictable in 2017 dealing with any of these types of artists who made more money than anyone should have during a bloated period of music financials.
The vestigial point that the starter spore of Melissa Etheridge’s child was trying to make is that streaming sites don’t pay artists anything. His argument was a very thin caterwauling routine about how his latest album hasn’t made him any money—I’m sure anyone reading this far into a long-form bitch-piece about the music industry can tell that there are some very obvious holes in his argument. Not the least of which is that David Crosby’s likely got a legion of toadies getting high sniffing his farts, telling him his latest work is genius. If Crosby could fast track past the great unwashed and get a new brain transplant like he did with his liver years ago, he might have enough time to realize that the people telling him he’s not making any money are the ones taking his money.
Two or so years ago, I skimmed the umpteeth article where an artist complained about not making money with the new streaming model. I believe it was Portishead who was up-to-bat for making loud noises about not having the same income they did when CDs were $25. They named the amount of money they made in their last quarter and it caught my eye because I thought to myself “Wait. That’s only $200 more than I made this quarter, and nobody listens to my band.”
I won’t run down my CV, but I’ve done most jobs in this business (except agent, which is a position I’m waiting to be replaced by an app). So with my album, I did the 40 minutes worth of work uploading, ISRC coding, and licensing my own music. There was no make-work middle-person between me and my audience, and despite having meagre attention paid to my release (minus a pornographic music video that feminist pornographers latched onto accidentally) I made some money. It wasn’t enough to float my life, but it was nearly as much as famed trip-hop legacy act, Portishead.
The first issue that artists don’t seem to understand about streaming is that it’s not all just one medium. On-demand platforms like Spotify are as different from streaming radio as the record store is from terrestrial radio. Screeching that “streaming doesn’t pay” is grouping together varying platforms that shouldn’t be. They also all payout different amounts and percentages. Furthermore, back in the days of record sales, artists and the people on the take they employed, would see a cash bubble on release day from sales, and then it would dissolve, later hoping to revive those numbers with special edition releases and television/movie syncs. With all the streaming platforms, if an artist creates something for the ages, the payment never stops. It’s continuous. It’s almost like how we ridicule athletes for going broke, but they make what’s expected to be their life’s income in 1.8 years, and at the age of 23, while the rest of us stretch it out, and usually make most of our income in our 50s.
It’s shocking to me (not actually that shocking anymore, having worked with artists for so long) that artists can’t tell that the people who are telling them that Spotify et al. are the bad guys, are the exact people who are taking that money. Artists can do their own work. A label stooges’ starting salary is below the poverty line. It’s not difficult to do that job. The thing is, artists don’t think they should have to do it. It’s not their job, in their mind. My friends with business degrees constantly say they do not understand the music industry. If you put it through the filter of business semantics, you can see why. Artists aren’t the commodity, the music is. They aren’t the labour force, the label employees and managers are. This is the only way I have explained it to business people: imagine you were an egg farmer, and the chickens yelled at you all the time about how you were handling and selling the eggs, but they refused to do anything other than sit in their coop and squeeze out product.
On a larger scale, what bothers me most about the whole argument is that NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE WORK. Artists used to be interesting. They used to say provocative things, and lead the entire culture of fashion and slang and everything else that was cool. Now the ranking list of influence in popular society goes something like:
1. Instagram models
2. Satirical Twitter accounts
5. Celebrity pawn shop owners
6. Right wing pundits online
7. People yelling at right wing pundits online
And it’s because musicians and pop artists don’t do anything now other than talk about how the sausage is made, which is about as interesting as when your girlfriend comes home from work, sits you down and goes over the mindless minutiae of how Colleen is a total bitch and calls too many meetings. Playing the guitar as a form of musical expressions is speaking in a dead language for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest one might be that the language guitar owners are speaking in is baby talk, and their parents are the ones stealing their allowance.