Vol 4, Issue 1: Who’s Really at Fault for Declining Sales, Heightened Piracy & Lower Standards of Music as an Artform?

Back in 2008, I wrote a kick-off column on this very SAME subject with the same title. At its finale, I largely concluded that the major record labels (and their songwriting teams) who are merely interested in perpetuating the same talentless predictable garble that is more “commodity” than “music” by any standards, are the ones at whom we should be pointing the finger. While I believe that this argument still maintains partial validity today, as much as any Leo hates to face the music (pardon the pun), looking back with glasses less rose-coloured, I believe that my brutal fall-out with my former major label undoubtedly must have been seeping into my subconscious as I was writing that piece (chalk it up to a “down with the man” moment).

Agreed, mainstream music quality and originality has gone by the wayside since the 90s. Agreed, it is ridiculous to expect artists to be able to pump out consistently solid material every six months. Agreed, the market is over-saturated with talentless wannabes who solely rely on their sex appeal and/or controversial images whose producers (and their array of digital manipulation effects) are the true talents for making them sound even half-listenable. Agreed, every band that is played on modern rock radio sounds exactly the same. However, as much as the major labels are at fault for creating this predicament, music consumers AND even some musicians themselves are really doing a shitty job if they ever want even a smidgen of hope of turning things around.

I mean it’s one thing to steal from Lady Gaga who is represented by big money (though mind you, her deal is likely not as sweet as it appears to be, ie: if her album sales don’t reach a certain target, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d have to pay back all of the money her record label loaned her in good faith plus interest), it’s a whole nother to steal from a self-funded independent artist whose career will (no word of a lie) fizzle out if they aren’t even able to break even on their record sales (albums do cost money to record and manufacture not to mention all of the time and emotion an artist invests…but right, that’s not worth anything).

But that’s just it – somehow and somewhere along the lines music consumers convinced themselves that they are justified in taking all the music they want for free and that a “true” artist creates music for the love of it, and therefore should have no expectations to receive any form of compensation (even if it’s just to cover their baseline and never profit).

WORSE, fellow artists and even some musicians themselves have fallen into this mentality, accepting it as A-okay, making them feel justified in calling persons such as me “sell-outs” because I feel that if someone desires my music, their desire signifies that they attribute value to it, and therefore I should be compensated accordingly
…it’s NOT like I’m expecting to reel in billions here, no I just want a measly $10 an album for 10 tracks – seems fair to me.

What does it say about the buying public to you if you can have your supposed “biggest fan” approach you, praise you to high heavens, and then admit they “obtained” (read as “stole”) your entire catalog via Limewire (*Note: Limewire, THANK GOD, has been officially court ordered to shut down its operations. Click the link for more information) ? Yeah, it’s happened to me, and I’m sure many other indies.

So here’s the deal: if YOU are serious about being a professional musician, GET serious about approaching this industry from a business perspective. If you give away your compositions and/or your live show for FREE (except in the case of doing non-for-profit work and/or providing promotional materials to industry representatives), DON'T expect people to value what you’re doing. If you steal from fellow artists, don’t be upset if they do the same to you (that’d be being a hypocrite, my friends).

And finally and MOST importantly, if you hope to have sustainability as an artist, know your worth. Unless you were lucky enough to be born into a family whose credit line never ends, not getting paid for all of your efforts gets old real fucking fast.