Music biz roundup

Here’s what I found worth reading from the first half of September (I posted the best bits of the UMG EMI deal and the Amanda Palmer volunteer musicians fracas separately).

The Internet A Decade Later from

The Internet A Decade Later infographic

The Telegraph Most illegal downloaders ‘are being tracked’

Two stories about automatic takedowns: Hypebot Musician Posts Public Domain Songs, Major Labels Claim Ownership, YouTube Attacks Musician and Wired The Algorithmic Copyright Cops: Streaming Video’s Robotic Overlords. Another one later… 5 Reasons Why Apple Wants to Move Into Pandora Territory—one of many media stories before the Apple iPhone 5 Event predicting a streaming service. There wasn’t one.

Proper Discord I took one look at this story and suddenly lost hope for Digital Music News—something I’ve talked about on this blog, pundits with thin music data, or to put it another way Seth Godin What To Obsess Over

Music Weekly Asia Interesting slice of life in the Korean music underground—15 minute video with the band Used Cassettes.

BBC Omnifone swings to profit as piracy crackdown continues—a tiny company and a tiny profit.

CMU Credit crunch caused EMI deal to go bad, says Terra Firma chief—Guy Hands talks about getting and losing EMI.

Podcast, Nancy Baym Artist-Audience Relations in the Age of Social Media—always worth listening to. What is iTunes’ U.S. Market Share? Is Google Play Disappointing?—some USA download numbers.

The New Yorker The Mogul Who Made Justin Bieber—long, strange and interesting.

PaidContent Streaming Music May Already Be Hitting A Ceiling or No Ceiling in Sight for Subscription Services—possibly one or the other.

PaidContent Music Streaming Helping, Not Hurting, Downloads—the debate continues.

Torrent Freak Warner Bros, Hotfile and EFF Fight Over Bogus Automated Takedown Requests—the increasing problem of false positives in takedown systems.

PaidContent How Ad Agencies Are A Bottleneck In The Video Economy—old thinking in a new market.

UMG close EMI deal

So, yesterday UMG finished dealing with regulators and closed their EMI deal. The worst aspect for me is I have to edit my Major labels page on the web site, I don’t think it makes much difference otherwise. For the last two decades and especially since 2000 the Major labels have acted together and generally taken their lead from UMG.

What is the competitive range of Major label business behaviour regarding iTunes, Spotify or BBC Radio One? They all play exactly the same. Who tries to undercut the others on Pandora? None. Which Major plays in the emerging Internet music business? None.

I see Merlin, Impala and the big indies put in a token objection. How differently do they behave with those same business interests? How do they compete? By following the herd—it’s not really a game for competitors.

But never mind all that, here is the news. These are the most informative links about the UMG/EMI deal (complete with Billboard’s inability to spell “Parlophone”, the legendary record label of the best selling band of all time).


EMI CEO Roger Faxon’s email to staff
Merlin expresses disappointment at Universal/EMI approval
US Bureau Of Competition statement on Universal/EMI approval
Universal’s £1.2 billion EMI bid approved without remedy in the US
The European Commission’s statement on Universal’s EMI deal
Universal’s EMI purchase gets European approval – up to 60% of EMI’s European assets to be sold
Sony initiates sale of EMI catalogues agreed with regulator


Universal/EMI must sell crown jewels to protect iTunes challengers


Universal’s Purchase Of EMI Gets Thumbs Up In U.S. And Europe

The Guardian

Universal-EMI deal: the day the music died

Universal’s Deal for EMI No Longer a Sure Thing, But Still Worthwhile
FAQ on Approval of Universal Music – EMI Deal
Universal-EMI: Lucian Grainge, IMPALA, Martin Mills, Other Reactions to Deal’s Approval
Universal Music-EMI Merger: UMG Struck Gold With PolyGram in the 1990s, Can They Do It Again?

Amanda pays, what do I think?

Well, fair enough. It’s her career.

As you may know I supported Amanda Palmer for using volunteers. Even now that she pays all her musicians including locals, she still uses other volunteers, and I think she was and is right. If she wants to do something different she’s still right. That’s the beauty of DIY. You choose and you can never be wrong.

Here’s the thing. Independent musicians today inevitably start off with a lot of help. They need it, they use it, they love it. I love it. The people who run house concerts, lend instruments and support and feed artists are not normal fans. DIY musicians seem different and act differently to remote businesses that persistently balance the books and try to make a profit. I would rather need people than need money. I would rather have people I don’t know volunteer than see helpers queue up for cash.

But the blogosphere has drawn a line over Amanda’s musicians and made her change her mind. Now, if you publicly sell 24,000 albums and a global tour there are limits to the volunteers bystanders will allow. I think this makes us all worse off. Just imagine if local musicians could join Coldplay, U2 or Lady Gaga on stage for fun, wouldn’t that be rather splendid? Just for kicks? I wouldn’t give them house room but it would be a fabulous thing.

But no. They’re too rich to have that kind of fun. Too rich for volunteers.

24,000 albums is not much for today’s music business. UMG, Sony or WMG would drop you like a stone for selling 24,000 albums. In fact they’d drop you for selling 20 times that many. That’s what they did in 2000. Almost every 500,000 album Major label artist was dropped after the crash started. Major labels today only want platinum artists, if you sell less than a million you’re on life support.

Unfortunately mass media stories tend to set the standard. Every successful Kickstarter artist will be hounded over volunteers now. Amanda Palmer may even be hounded for remaining volunteers until her business is pared down to the dull, purely profitable model the righteous blogosphere will accept. Independent? Not much apparently.

I saw numerous blogs describe AFP as “one of the 1%” or equally ludicrously “a millionaire”. Those innumerate dullards seem to think that $1.2 million (less the cost of 24,000 albums, a world tour, etc.) makes you as rich as Mitt Romney and the arseholes of Wall Street—English readers: the City of London. You can’t educate that kind of ignorance.

Of course, there were others who simply believe every pro musician must always be paid. I disagree with them too, vehemently, but I can understand why they think that. It’s OK for them to be wrong.

My Theatre Is Evil CD arrived in the post  today with free extras (I’ve been playing the download for a week or so). $25 including Kickstarter commission and international postage—that’s art and cheap. As far as I’m concerned Amanda Palmer delivered. The commentators who don’t like her business model would do well to give us something that good and make 24,000 people happy. I won’t be holding my breath.

Steve Albini on Amanda Palmer

So, Steve Albini talked about the Amy letter on his forum, and later clarified his remarks in an interview with Stool Pigeon.

I like Steve. He often makes a lot of sense and has a down to earth approach to engineering and production.

He mentioned a range of different music economies and says he favours self-sufficiency and efficiency. Fair enough.

Then he said:

“Given that the typical budget for albums I work on is less than $10,000, you can take your pick of line-items in her budget, divide by ten and still have an order of magnitude worth of waste from my perspective. I haven’t looked at the breakdown since I first saw it so don’t quote me on it (haha, “don’t quote me”, I just said something funny) but I recall that she skimmed a couple of hundred grand off the top for her pleasure prior to beginning to make the record.”

“Don’t quote me” isn’t particularly funny when you’re providing information for people making up their mind on this. Steve is well aware of the shortcomings of the media and I’m sure he also knows the Albini brand carries a lot of weight. Remember AFP is getting hate mail, this is no laughing matter. Here’s what she said originally:

“for the past 8 months or so, i wasn’t touring – and therefore wasn’t making much income – but every step of the way, there were expenses. so, during that time, i borrowed from various friends and family who i’d built up trust with over the years.

i had to pay my staff and crew to get this album ready as well as keep the ship afloat and headed in the right direction. i also needed to come up with the cost of the recording itself (which was pretty whopping), and any other expenses the band racked up in the meanwhile.
to put a number on all of that behind-the-scenes stuff which just got us to DAY ONE of kickstarter: $250,000.”

Steve says she “skimmed a couple of hundred grand off the top for her pleasure” because he works on albums with a $10,000 recording budget. Electrical Audio Studio doesn’t record an album for $10,000 including living expenses for the band and artist’s staff for 8 months.

On the basis of a flawed recollection about recording budgets he happily extrapolates every line-item in her budget. The gigs, the art shows, the downloads, the CDs, mailbox invasion, the vinyl, the book, the world tour, the USB record players, the one-to-ones… He could have done the lot for 10% (specifically $120,000, and that figure will include an “order of magnitude of waste”). Will someone be checking his budget for that in the press? Sadly not.

I think Steve forgets he has a day job. Amanda has one too but this is it, she is just an artist. When Steve goes on tour to Australia with his band—self-sufficiently and efficiently of course—he owns a recording studio and has a job as a producer to go back to.

That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Maybe Amanda Palmer did pay over the odds for recording the album. I haven’t seen the recording budget and Steve doesn’t claim to have seen it either. We just don’t know. Does it matter? I thought this debate was about paying volunteers. Is everyone now expected to record albums for no more than Steve Albini? How many classical string players does he include in that $10,000?

What started with one disgruntled musician has returned to the question of “Amanda Palmer millionaire”. Well, I grew up loving music. From Eric Burdon and The Animals to Steely Dan, through XTC and The Bevis Frond, to Amanda Palmer. Why do I care whether she got her studio time for a competitive rate? Did Yes get stiffed by Advision? Or maybe Eddie Offord played it straight but Atlantic A&R fiddled the budget? I’m pretty sure Ahmet Ertegun wouldn’t rip-off his artists or their fans, maybe we should look into the Accounts Department? I always suspected Steve Ross was living beyond his means. Hold on a sec, what kind of car does Chis Squire drive?

All these years I’ve been getting artists completely wrong. Instead of loving the music I should have been scrutinising their ledgers for self-sufficiency and efficiency. Now I think about it I’m sure I could’ve got giant polystyrene dinosaurs that worked properly, and for less money.

Should Amanda Palmer pay her musos?

The debate about Amanda Palmer’s money and volunteers

No week would be complete without a music biz storm in a teacup and this week we saw an open letter from Amy Vaillancourt-Sals protesting Amanda’s request for classical musicians to play live for the fun of it.

The media and commentards chipped in copiously of course: On Amanda Palmer’s unpaid orchestra: A DIY-crowd-sourcer’s take

Everyone makes good points but their generalities and over-statements quickly swamped the specific case.

  • Should pro musicians be paid? It is blindingly obvious they should.
  • Will pro musicians be paid every time they play? It is equally obvious they won’t.

I could make 83 points about this too but let’s stick with two or three.

Amy raised the question of Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter $1 million and the media churned out this nonsense: The kickstart millionaire singer who won’t pay her musicians. Most global albums cost well over £2 million these days. Amanda Palmer is not a millionaire—that Kickstarter money has to pay for pledgers’ goodies (see Where All This Kickstarter Money Is Going by Amanda Palmer) and a lot of globetrotting. There is no more $1 million. Trust me, it’s been spent. In fact AFP has raised additional money from investors just to keep going. When she flies her band to Japan, Australia and Europe it costs money.

So how about the full time band? Of course they get paid, and AFP’s inner circle—I don’t pretend to know the details but she has a permanent staff and they too get paid. Forget the social media wankistas, this is DIY. It’s not about doing every last thing yourself on a shoestring, it’s about running your own show and it takes a team to launch a global release with a D2F campaign and world tour. That doesn’t come free.

(There are undoubtedly solitary social media junkies working 24 hours a day in a garret stubbornly in pursuit of their artistic dream with no help from anybody and no funding. When the first example from their ranks sells 1,000 albums let me know.)

Finally there’s the question of AFP’s fans. I did some quick arithmetic on her social media audience, I’m not talking about the headline numbers, just the 1 in 20 who are real fans. The ones who buy her records, attend her gigs, submit artwork, post ideas and feedback—the audience and friends who helped her over the past decade. When she asks for volunteers she’s talking to these people who care enough to chip in and go out of their way for her. It’s preposterous to imagine professional musicians without that commitment would give their time and skills for free.

So it all boils down to this. Should Amy get paid? She’s a pro musician, yes she should be paid for her work. Should everyone who works with Amanda Palmer get paid? Not if they volunteer. Should Amy work with Amanda? Obviously not. Should Amy be offended Amanda even asked? Getting offended by people is not their problem, it’s yours.

Female record producers

Adrienne Aiken of Runway Music answers a BBC News article about “Why are female record producers so rare?”


(Incidentally, I may have turned Comments off without intending to—my spam has gone from 2,000 down to zero. If so, I can’t see where I did it, so if you have any comments please feel free they’re always welcome.)