A surprising shady tale regarding DistroKid

jonnybutter

Senior Member
Believe me, I don't like it either, but I also recognize that the entertainment industry continually evolves.
But that's just a description. The music industry is not a virus which involuntarily 'evolves'. It is a business in which people make choices all along the way. I'm not blaming you of course. I'm just saying that the choices various players make matter. Nothing is inevitable.

I think this needs a solution, and that we have to come up with it. Otherwise, what ultimately happens to the business (and to the art) when 99% of artists can't make money from selling their music? We can't all sell t-shirts or accordian samples, or teach other musicians how to...what? starve? The implication of this model is: no more professional music business going forward. If 99% can't make a living, that means no pro music business, eventually.

Money doesn't care about the music business or about the art - when they've sucked the value out of the music business, they will just move onto the next thing. But some of us do care.
 

Polkasound

Senior Member
Otherwise, what ultimately happens to the business (and to the art) when 99% of artists can't make money from selling their music? We can't all sell t-shirts or accordian samples, or teach other musicians how to...what?
This sentiment has been echoed throughout history with each technological advancement going back to the invention of the locomotive. The fact is that suppliers in every industry must continually adapt to how technology affects supply & demand.

If you were a drive-in theater owner in the 1990s, you faced a tough decision: close the business, or find a way to remain one of the very few still operating today.

When DJs killed the wedding business for live bands, I re-marketed my band as a cocktail-hour band to work alongside DJs, and that's how I am still being hired for weddings. With streaming killing the concept of profiting from music sales, I face a tough decision: give up recording music, or find a way to keep selling music.


The implication of this model is: no more professional music business going forward. If 99% can't make a living, that means no pro music business, eventually.
I disagree. The fact that only a very small percentage of indie artists are profiting from streaming music sales doesn't mean the ones who aren't won't be able to make a living. For most indie artists, album sales were just a modest source of supplementary income anyway. It was never their bread and butter.

Regardless, many artists are embracing and adapting to the way things are. For example, instead of spending thousands of dollars producing a studio album, they can spend $0 making a video with an iPhone and uploading it to YouTube, and it may go viral. What it really comes down to is one's level of adaptability and determination.
 

jonnybutter

Senior Member
This sentiment has been echoed throughout history with each technological advancement going back to the invention of the locomotive.
Sorry, but that's not an answer. Why is the current streaming model necessarily an 'advancement'? For whom? I have a feeling we are ultimately going to have to agree to disagree here :grin:, but what I'm trying to get across is that calling the streaming model the way it is set up now an 'advancement' is a value judgement. It's not just a natural phenomenon. In some countries live musicians are still paid very well, and a DJ is not considered a replacement. That's a value judgement too. It's not simply supply and demand.


I disagree. The fact that only a very small percentage of indie artists are profiting from streaming music sales doesn't mean the ones who aren't won't be able to make a living. For most indie artists, album sales were just a modest source of supplementary income anyway. It was never their bread and butter.

Regardless, many artists are embracing and adapting to the way things are. For example, instead of spending thousands of dollars producing a studio album, they can spend $0 making a video with an iPhone and uploading it to YouTube, and it may go viral. What it really comes down to is one's level of adaptability and determination.
I think there was a time when selling physical product yourself, i.e. CDs or even vinyl, was worth it if you kept the profit. But that's another story.

A large chunk of the very catalog Spotify (and the rest) and big publishers and labels rely on for streaming income wouldn't exist if the current model had been in place in the 60s-80s. No Joni Mitchell, no Velvet Underground, no Taj Mahal, no Randy Newman, no Zappa, no John Prine, no Shalamar, etc etc - no 'midline' or loss leader artists. Actually, this trend started before streaming. It's not really about technology.

As I say, I don't know what the answer is, but the current model isn't it. Just as the advertising model to support content on the internet isn't it.
 

Polkasound

Senior Member
Sorry, but that's not an answer. Why is the current streaming model necessarily an 'advancement'?
You're kind of misconstruing my words. I didn't say streaming was the advancement. The advancement was in internet bandwidth technology. It made streaming possible. And if there was no demand for streaming, it never would have become the industry standard. I agree with you that streaming itself as an "advancement" is subjective.


I think there was a time when selling physical product yourself, i.e. CDs or even vinyl, was worth it if you kept the profit. But that's another story.
This has typically been the case for indie artists. You'd pay for the production and promotion, but then you'd keep all the profits.


As I say, I don't know what the answer is, but the current model isn't it.
If we're talking about overhauling the royalty system altogether, that would be another subject for another day, but one that would be worth having. I'm not entrenched enough into the business end of things to be able to say whether or not my $.003 stream royalty is fair. All I know is that it falls in line with what royalties have always done... rewarded only musicians who have hit songs. Royalties were never considered a viable source of income unless you had a hit song. Nothing has changed in that regard. What's changed is that a royalty-paying system has made direct music sales obsolete.
 

d.healey

Senior Member
"Twenty years ago, if someone wanted to hear all 18 songs on a band's album, they'd pay the band $15 for the CD.
What percentage of the $15 did the label/publisher take? I've heard that in years gone by it was possible for a record to go platinum without the artist making any money. So they'd go on tour and use the record as the advertising to sell tickets.
 

jonnybutter

Senior Member
And if there was no demand for streaming, it never would have become the industry standard.
Is there demand for the entire history of recorded music for $10 a month, or semi-free? Gee, what a surprise. You were talking about artists adjusting to technology, from the locomotive onward. I don't argue for fun, so I don't want to misconstrue, but I didn't think I did.


If we're talking about overhauling the royalty system altogether, that would be another subject for another day, but one that would be worth having. I'm not entrenched enough into the business end of things to be able to say whether or not my $.003 stream royalty is fair. All I know is that it falls in line with what royalties have always done... rewarded only musicians who have hit songs. Royalties were never considered a viable source of income unless you had a hit song. Nothing has changed in that regard. What's changed is that a royalty-paying system has made direct music sales obsolete.
This isn't really right. If you were the writer (+ publisher too, especially) of material, you didn't have to have a hit to make a living from mechanical royalties when there was physical product being sold. Performance royalties (radio, muzak) weren't much if you didn't have a hit, yes, (though if you did have even a minor hit, it was worth real money). But today, streaming royalties - both performance and mechanical - are very very low. Forget about making a living from those. I'd say they do indeed need to be re-thought.

Artists in the early 70s started to get more savvy and formed their own labels and controlled their own publishing. You absolutely did not have to have a hit (which has always been a slightly vague term) to make a living. You might not get rich, but you could be a full time musician/band who makes records and tours. The labels were like banks (and some artists got loans from actual banks, which was probably a better deal). As long as you could pay your note (literally or figuratively), you could stay in business. All I'm saying is: if you can't make money on tour anymore (even *with* a hit), and you make nothing on recordings either...wtf? The model doesn't work.

"What percentage of the $15 did the label/publisher take? I've heard that in years gone by it was possible for a record to go platinum without the artist making any money. So they'd go on tour and use the record as the advertising to sell tickets."

Aside from the really crappy deals labels offered, they were also very 'creative' about accounting. You owed them whatever they said you owed them. They had many ways to pretend that your recording supposedly never made a profit, no matter how many units were sold, because they decided - creatively - what the expenses charged to your project were. You paid for every expensive pencil you used, every executive's priceless time 'consulting' your project, promotional costs (which could be anything) etc. etc. Yes, artists could sell tons of units and owe the label money!
 

Polkasound

Senior Member
Guys, my comments and opinions have had nothing to do with record labels and publishers. I'm discussing the situation strictly from the perspective of the indie artist who has neither. I hope that clarifies.
 

jonnybutter

Senior Member
Guys, my comments and opinions have had nothing to do with record labels and publishers. I'm discussing the situation strictly from the perspective of the indie artist who has neither. I hope that clarifies.
Fair enough, although every master recording has an owner (which is usually a label but would be you otherwise) and every composition has potential publishing rights, which you own if they aren't assigned elsewhere.

I know I'm veering into the political here, but I think not in the usual sense. As long as there was a certain amount of excess money sloshing around, however small - as long as the music economy wasn't fully 'rationalized' - we could argue at the left-liberal or right-liberal margins. But most of that excess is now being, or has been, siphoned upwards, esp in the US.

So, we can't escape the question: do people exist to serve 'the economy' or does the economy exist to serve people? Is the music business primarily about *music* or is it primarily about *business*? In the past you could say it was 'kinda both'. But now it seems to be the latter, and if so, it's going to be the end of that business, at least as we know it. 'Investors' will suck the value out and move on - and not think about the replenishment of that value, bc they don't care about that. Those of us who love music will be mostly amateurs in that case, which is not all bad! But we're losing something by giving up professionalism, too.
 

d.healey

Senior Member
Guys, my comments and opinions have had nothing to do with record labels and publishers. I'm discussing the situation strictly from the perspective of the indie artist who has neither. I hope that clarifies.
In that case the article you're writing is comparing indie musicians who sell their own music, to streaming services which are publishers. That's not a fair comparison. A better comparison is to compare an indie musician selling their own music on CD to an indie musician selling their own music through their own website or something like a gumroad page.
 

Polkasound

Senior Member
every master recording has an owner (which is usually a label but would be you otherwise) and every composition has potential publishing rights
I intentionally left all other potential sources of making money through music out of my article because they were and still are improbable for most indie/polka musicians.


In that case the article you're writing is comparing indie musicians who sell their own music, to streaming services which are publishers. That's not a fair comparison.
The one and only point of my article is explain how direct music sales have been rendered obsolete by streaming. Streaming is now how consumers buy music, so the comparison is very fair.


A better comparison is to compare an indie musician selling their own music on CD to an indie musician selling their own music through their own website or something like a gumroad page.
When my article talks about CD sales, it's encompassing ALL CD sales... direct, wholesale, retail, etc. An Eskimo is no more likely to buy an air conditioner on Amazon than directly from a manufacturer.