Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Music Media

Janis Ian on Life in the Music Business 295

Posted by Roblimo
from the been-there-forever-and-done-it-all dept.
Y'all didn't pull any punches in the questions you asked, and Janis didn't pull any in her answers. But then, the word "outspoken" has been used to describe Janis ever since she recorded Society's Child at the age of 15, back in 1965.

1) How much?
by evilviper

What percentage do you make of the sticker-price of your CDs?

Janis:
As the artist/singer, that's a tough one, because it depends on the contract, and also the sticker price. For instance, contractually I make a smaller amount on records that are priced "mid-line", cut-outs, singles, cassettes, compilations... well, you get the idea! It also depends on the era; my first contract, with Verve (now Polygram) had a royalty rate of 2%. Current royalty rates are 12-20%. Generally, figure that if I was completely paid back, there were no new charges for shipping/ distribution/ advertising/ travel/ phones/ faxes/ artwork/ publicity/ promotion/ manufacturing etc etc, I would make around $1-$2 on a list price of $17.98. Alas, that never happens, because records get high list price only when there's a lot of promotion behind them. On mid-line (you buy it for $12.98), my take drops to around 85 cents, and on down the line.

As the songwriter, I make less if I write the songs - then the record company invokes a 75% clause, where they only pay the songwriter/recording artist 75% of the Congressionally set statutory rate for writing/publishing the song. Their original argument, around 10 years ago, was that artists who insisted on recording their own songs cut the chances of a hit record, because the record company couldn't recommend potential hit songs for them to record.

Also, if you know, how much of that price is going to pay for advertising, studio time, et al., and how much is pure profit for the record companies?

Janis:
Almost impossible to determine; you'd have to know the advertising budget, studio budget etc. On my CD Breaking Silence, which is owned by Morgan Creek throughout most of the world, I paid for the entire record myself, so there were no recording costs. We've sold about 100,000 of them worldwide. I haven't seen royalties.

Do you not find it strange that a 2-hour DVD, with commentary, subtitles, and extra scenes, can be sold for less than $10, while few audio CDs are that low priced?

Janis:
I don't find it strange, I find it reprehensible.

2) Radio Station consolidation
by gorilla

When you entered the music business, radio stations were diverse. In the last few years, this diversity has disappeared. Do you have any comments on this?

Janis:
Maybe it's all part of a great international conspiracy to deprive us of choice while driving us crazy with limited playlists of bad music? Maybe the conspiracy includes not just record companies (who benefit because it's much cheaper to sell a million copies of 1 CD by 1 artist than to sell a million CD's by a million artists to a million different people), but also radio stations (who may need that new refrigerator/trip to Cancun to meet a new artist/free lunch/widescreen TV for the office much more than you or I need good, varied music), and drug companies who are using the incredible psychoses derived from hearing a Backstreet Boys single three thousand times to push their drugs on us?

Seriously, diversity is something record companies can't afford anymore - not the majors, at any rate. I'd go to this article, posted at Linux Journal, which quotes a Newsweet article (July 15,2002) by Steven Levy saying "So why are the record labels taking such a hard line? My guess is that it's all about protecting their Internet-challenged business model. Their profit comes from blockbuster artists. If the industry moved to a more varied ecology, independent labels and artists would thrive--to the detriment of the labels, which would have trouble rustling up the rubes to root for the next Britney. The smoking gun comes from testimony of an RIAA-backed economist who told the government fee panel that a dramatic shakeout in Webcasting is "inevitable and desirable because it will bring about market consolidation." That's really it in a nutshell. "Market consolidation" means the less artists they have to promote, the less ultimate dollars they'll spend. The smaller the playlist, the greater the chance that audiences will buy something from that playlist alone - because that's all you'll be able to find out there.

3) Indentured Servitude
by zapfie

In one of your interviews, you mentioned that contracts with the music industry should be likened to indentured servitude (must produce X albums, but the label has the final say on if what you produce was acceptable). Why do you think so many artists willingly accept these terms? What can be done to promote contracts that are more fair?

Janis:
Ah, you're into a two-fold problem here. Fold one is that the record companies hold all the cards; if you want to be famous, you have to go the mainstream route. If you want huge success, you have to go the mainstream route. If you want worldwide success, you have to go the mainstream route. And until we see our first Internet & Live Shows Only artist sell a million CDs without a label deal, the major labels will be the only mainstream route available. Don't quote Grateful Dead statistics to me - they're the exception, not the rule.

Fold two is that everybody wants to be famous these days, and enough is never enough. Let me use an example: in their mid-20s, my grandparents were thrilled to have a small refrigerator (without freezer) and gas stove with a tiny oven. The house had one TV. My parents assumed they were due a bigger fridge with freezer, four burner stove and three-rack oven, dishwasher, toaster, mixmaster etc. The house had two TV's. My generation went for all that, plus microwave, automatic coffee maker, food processor, and a TV for living room, bedroom, and kitchen. The next generation assumes they're due all of that, plus espresso machine, bread maker, etc. And there's a TV in pretty much every room.

It's the same with being famous. In my grandparent's day, you got famous if you were a criminal or a politician. Artists whose fame went beyond regional were really rare; worldwide fame, even for classical artists, was almost non-existent. Nowadays, with television and magazines making it seem like there are more famous people than not, every artist figures they, too, can get really, really famous. And they want the whole hog.

I think (musing on a personal note here) that's one of the benefits of my not being twenty any more, or even thirty. I'm painfully aware that I will never have another hit record; no label's going to invest that kind of money in me. (As an aside, the big Carlos Santana album cost $750,000 to make, and $1,500,000 to promote. That's a lot of money, and it wouldn't have happened if Clive Davis hadn't needed to prove a point after initially being "retired from active duty".)

Believe me, it took me years to get comfortable with that conclusion. But once I was comfortable, I could look around at my life and be pretty happy. Ten years ago I was still chasing the brass ring, waiting for my 16th platinum record to happen. Now, I'm thrilled that I can gig whenever I want, record what I want, and make a living doing what I love. I know it sounds disgustingly Pollyanna-ish, but there it is.

4) Life without RIAA
by ahknight

RIAA is evil. This is an established fact of life. What I'd like to know, from an artist's standpoint, is how SHOULD it be? Now you sign with a label that helps production and then calls you a hired hand and steals your music. How should it work, start to finish? What's currently broken that's stopping this? Do you have any ideas on how we can fix this for the artist, as a society? How can we get involved to help the artists?

Janis:
Oh God... what a huge question! And unfortunately, impossible for me to answer. It should work so there's a fair contract on both sides; no one disagrees that record companies bear the brunt of the initial cost, everyone agrees that they deserve to make money. The question is - how much money, and at whose ultimate expense?

I don't know that you can blanketly call the RIAA evil. They wouldn't exist without support of the media conglomerates, remember. I agree that they're much, much more aggressive (nosy? greedy?) since Hilary took the reins, but ultimately it starts at the top. And the top is the buyer, the one with all the money.

How should it work? Gee, we should all be good friends, make our deals on handshakes, and always keep our word. That would be a good start. Seriously, I don't know. I do know that record companies have become way too big; there are arguably only five major labels left in the United States, and of those five, four are owned by people in other countries. I do think absentee landlordism is a lot of the problem; how can someone in Germany, or Japan, or Alpha Centauri for that matter, have any idea what consumers and artists in the US are feeling?

Another problem is the lawyers, who are paid for tying artists up as long and as cheaply as possible. And the fact that in the 70s, music became a "growth industry". Through the 50s and 60s, there were plenty of businessmen involved, but by and large they went into the music industry because they also loved music. Sure, they treated artists like shit in the main, but at least they were fun to work with. Somewhere around 1976/1977, you began seeing Harvard Business School grads going into record companies, and there was the death knell. That, and cocaine use by the executives, which made them fritter away their time engaging in pissing contests with one another. That's how these ridiculous artist advances got started. Whoever heard of an artist like Mariah Carey being dropped by her record company, and paid a zillion dollars to leave - only to turn around and get another zillion from another company?! It's absurd.

As to how you can get involved? start with getting political, and voting. Check your own representatives' voting records on issues having to do with this. Support live music, and buy your CD's at the shows - at least then some of the money will funnel right back to the artist!

5) How has the RIAA changed?
by tinrobot

I'm curious - you're an artist who's been in the business for a number of (ahem) years. How has the RIAA changed since you signed your first recording contract?

Janis:
Technically, the RIAA was formed in 1952 to "facilitate the technical standardization of records by bringing together engineers from member companies to develop the RIAA curve, a frequency response specification for optimizing the performance of phonographic playback systems." In other words, they were formed to make sure the science of recording was optimally used by all companies, in formats that everyone could play. In 1958, they decided to copy RCA/Victor's creation of a "gold record" (which they gave the Glen Miller Orchestra), and awarded the first one to Perry Como. When I was a kid, that was their entire job - certifying gold records. There are a lot of rumors about back-door dealings in that process, by the way, none of which I'll go into here, but most of which are on the Internet.

With the advent of Hilary Rosen, the RIAA took on a whole new gamut of "problems", and began holding themselves out as defenders of intellectual property rights/defenders of artist's rights/defenders of record company rights (choose one). And that's what they are now - defenders of various rights they determine are important for the good of the mainstream record industry. Unfortunately, just like defense attorneys, they never ask whether their client is guilty - they just try to get him the best deal possible.

One huge change is the amount of things the RIAA control, and the way they exercise that control. For instance, in order to buy a copy of one of my gold/platinum albums in Nashville as a gift for someone, I have to go to one store that's "licensed" by the RIAA to produce those. That's the only store in Nashville, believe it or not, and they're usually backed up several months (not to mention that the first run is always wrong, and has to be re-done. Once they even spelled my name wrong.) When I asked a friend who owns a framing shop why she didn't try to get an RIAA account, she looked into it, and was told they had to apply. The person they spoke with didn't think they would be approved, because they weren't "the type", and he warned them that it would cost $5,000 a year for the privilege, as well as their having to fulfill a minimum amount of orders. They'd also have to be re-approved yearly. In other words, whoever drops the most sugar in the lemonade, gets to have a lemonade stand.

Another huge change is the money involved. When I was 15 and first nominated for a Grammy, I went to the award show with Arlo Guthrie, and all the industry people were saying "Gosh, if we could just get some radio coverage..." A gold record was one that sold 50,000 dollars worth of units. It was a much, much smaller business, and consequently the stakes were much lower. Now, the record industry is where the movie industry was in the early 60's, and the stakes are huge. Witness Rosen's salary, over seven figures, not counting perks. Well worth lobbying for things she may not agree with!

6) What about the future?
by mshomphe

I don't think many can argue that the overall experience of downloading/ripping/burning music is still prohibitive to many. People will still buy CDs and whatnot because the current technology does not allow for immediate, complete, high-quality copies to be made. In that way, modern filesharing is very much like sharing tapes. This, in my opinion, does help artists.

However, let's take a look into the future. Let's say that technology has evolved to the point where one can transfer complete, same as CD-quality albums in less than a second, and imprint them onto CD (or whatever the current technology is) in even less time. One click allows me to fully reproduce Janis Ian's latest release - liner notes & all. At that point, should artists be worried? Or, to put it more generally, should artists always permit the reproducing of their works?

Janis:
Lots of different questions in there! Let's see... yes, I think artists should be worried. Artists should always be worried about something; it's good for our work.

If you can transfer complete CD-quality albums quickly and easily, then reproduce all the artwork, somehow get it on the CD, have the labels come out perfectly-sized to fit a blank CD box, etc etc? Well, then maybe people will really start selling their CD's on line. Maybe the entire business paradigm will move to online distribution. For that matter, online production is only a few clicks away; I can go realtime with Pro-Tools and be working with my engineer in LA right now, making the next album. It's not as much fun, but it's do-able.

I think, as I said in my follow-up article, that the music industry is going to have to provide more and better content in its CDs. Maybe CDs all become DVDs, and you get not just the music, but interviews, concert footage, games, whatever. I don't have the answer.

I do know that in my own opinion, you can't stop file-sharing. Therefore you've got to come up with a better alternative.

7) RIAA Attitude to all this
by sdjunky

What has been the RIAA's or labels' attitude about your online pieces regarding the "biz"BPO/ and have you received threats (legal or otherwise) for speaking so candidly about it?

Janis:
Stunned silence? annoyed silence? loud and angry silence? Hilary is a very bright woman, one might even say brilliant, and a savvy politician. She sent me a lovely email telling me that while she disagreed with a number of things I said, she admired my writing style.

As to the labels, I've heard from numerous executives, secretaries, and everything in between, saying they agree with me but want to remain anonymous for fear of their jobs.

About the only other fallout is that I was supposed to be on a panel at the NARM convention, and one of the "big five" said that if I appeared, they wouldn't come to the convention.

But as I said in an earlier answer, I know I'm not going to get a major label deal, I know I'm not going to have a hit record, and I know I have nothing to lose. So I don't really care, as long as people keep listening to my music.

8) Can Artist Retain Copyright and Still Make a Living?
by reallocate

How practical or common is it for an artist to retain copyright to their own material? Is there a financial incentive to do that? Does a wish to retain copyright of recorded material have an impact on your chances of signing with a "mainstream" label?

Janis:
Do you mean the record master, or the publishing rights? That's a big difference. And remember for purposes of this discussion that writers still get 50% of the income, even when they don't own the copyright. The publisher gets half, and the writer gets half. You can't (at least, not legally) sell your writer's share.

I own the copyright on about half my songs. I had to buy my catalogue back when I was 21, but as time has proved, it was well worth it. I own the copyright on about half my records, but that's only because I had a brilliant lawyer for many years (Ina Meibach), and because I've been making records "just for the fans" that didn't fall under my contracts.

It's not common, unfortunately. And sometimes not unfortunately! Imagine you're a beginning songwriter; you have no money unless you work a day job. Someone offers to support you for three years if they can own your copyrights for that period. Not only that - they'll pitch your songs, trying to get other artists to record them! I think that's a pretty fair deal, personally. After three years, you can leave, hopefully with some success under your belt. And you'll write more songs.

In terms of records, it's a bit different, just because of the length of time they tie you up. Most publishing contracts are for 1-5 years, with an option at the end of each (sometimes mutual, sometimes just the publisher's). Record contracts are always tied to the production and release of material. There's no way to sign a 7-record deal and get out in 5 years, or 7, or even 10, unless they're willing to let you go.

In both instances, the buyer "owns" the material forever. However, as a songwriter, the buyer never owns more than half of my income. With a record, they do.

Is it practical? depends on the circumstance. It's not for me, but I earn enough to afford a business manager who tracks all of that, makes sure I get my royalties around the world, etc. I'm also savvy enough to check my statements, and I notice when a country is under-reported, or a song is missing. It takes up a lot of time, though.

Would it affect your signing with a major label? Absolutely. There's no way, if you're not a huge success already, you're going to own your own master recordings and get a label deal. And most of the time, you'll have to give up at least 50% of your publishing. All that is incentive to the label, to sign you.

9) FBI files on you?
by small_dick

Your site has some material that implies you were the subject of FBI investigations. Could you tell us more about that? Was it related to your early work regarding interracial relationships ("Society's Child", 1966), or something else?

Janis:
No. In fact, I was a little miffed that it wasn't! The files were started about a year before I was born, when my Dad (a chicken farmer at the time) went to a meeting in South Jersey about the price of eggs. (No, I'm not making this up.) Then my Mom made the mistake of attending a Civil Rights Congress meeting about voting rights. Then they had the gall to open a summer camp that advertised itself as "multi-cultural and interracial". That was the main reason.

Your tax dollars at work...

10) What do record companies offer artists today?
by Just Jeff

Not too many years ago, widely distributing recorded music took expensive equipment and cost a lot of money. Only a large record company could do it. Artists had little choice but to sign their life away to a major record company.

Today, distributing recorded music costs next-to-nothing. Yet the price of recorded music has never been higher. What does a record company offer an artist today? What can a record company do for an artist that the artist can't do herself? Are artists beginning to realize this on their own?

Janis:
A lot. Really.

Start with distribution and manufacturing. Joe Shmo uses the same manufacturer/distributor as Radiohead. Both their records are "released" the same week. Radiohead order two million, and run out in a month - they need more, right away! Joe orders 5,000, and runs out in a month - he needs more, right away!

Who do you think is going to get their records in time? Whose records are going to get into the shops first?

Distributing doesn't cost next-to-nothing, alas, and won't in the foreseeable future. Just think of all the record stores, online companies, etc in this country, and imagine trying to make sure your record is in all of them - and in every city you gig in. Then think about coordinating that worldwide. It's a nightmare. Sign with a distributor yourself? Sure, except there are only two or three major distributors in America, and they don't want you if you can't guarantee reasonable sales (say, 35,000 or more). It's not worth the warehousing and trucking for them. And even if they take you, you're still the one who has to make sure the records are in the stores!

Add to that making sure radio stations have the records x 50 states, or times 20 countries.

So there is a lot they can offer, in addition to paying the upfront costs. Look at it from my viewpoint? Windham Hill picked up my option. Two years later, they asked if I would leave. They paid me enough "departure bonus" money to easily make my next record. So I thought, hey, I'll make it, own it, sign a distribution deal. Until I started looking into it.

Now I'm talking with 3-4 smaller labels, working on a licensing deal - they get it for 5 years, they deal with distribution, promotion, publicity, all that stuff. I get a really good royalty rate, keep the overseas rights completely, and get my US rights back in 5 years. A whole lot easier!

There are two other things a record company can offer an artist that are next to impossible to get on your own - perks, and serious fame. I've had #1 records in pretty much every western country in the world, as well as Japan, and let me tell you - it's really big fun. Forget about the fabulous suites hotels give you for free, the automatic bumps up to first class on planes, the Rolex watches from grateful promoters. Think about the kick of playing to 25,000 people a night.

Think about getting to see parts of a country most Americans can't get into in the first place! I've gotten to go places in Japan that only royalty go to normally, amazing old places. I've gotten to meet people I'd never ordinarily get to meet; kings and queens, novelists, Pulitzer Prize winners, artists I've dreamed of meeting. I've gotten to watch 35,000 people in Holland sing harmony with me. Those sort of perks, that sort of fame, is something that right now (for better or for worse), you can only attain with a label behind you.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Janis Ian on Life in the Music Business

Comments Filter:
  • Yes I do. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Em Emalb (452530) <ememalb AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:05AM (#4312115) Homepage Journal
    "Do you not find it strange that a 2-hour DVD, with commentary, subtitles, and extra scenes, can be sold for less than $10, while few audio CDs are that low priced? "

    Yes. Maybe the rest of the music world will wake up to this too.
    • Re:Yes I do. (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's worth pointing out that producers of documentaries probably aren't subsidizing 50 documentaries that fail for every one that makes money.

      • So, how many bombs does Hollywood produce?

        It's also worth pointing out that each movie has a soundtrack of similar length. Yet, a DVD is close to the same cost as an album. Promotion is just as high, if not higher for movies (when's the last time you saw a toy for an album at McDonalds?)
      • Re:Yes I do. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Enigma2175 (179646)
        It's worth pointing out that producers of documentaries probably aren't subsidizing 50 documentaries that fail for every one that makes money.

        Perhaps not 50, but there are certainly documentaries that do better than others, pulling in more viewers and ad revenue. The difference is that when you are making a documentary you don't just produce a load of crap, throw it at the wall and note which part of the crap sticks. You actually produce a good product. If the record companies would be more discriminating in what they choose to promote, they wouldn't lose so much money backing losers. I don't see why I should have to pay for their incompetence in signing bands. If only one out of 50 of my programs worked, I would be fired immediately. Maybe these people are jsut in the wrong business.

        • by GraemeL (30045)
          If only one out of 50 of my programs worked, I would be fired immediately.

          Someone tell that to Microsoft.
      • I'm not bashing the rich, but from my limited experience (a friend of mine made documentary films in NY) they have a whole lot of money, they don't care to make more, they just produce "art".
    • The thing to keep in mind here is that the business models of movies vs. the business model of music are vastly different up front. Most movies rely on theater ticket sales as their primary income and then the DVD market is just additional cream that comes aftewards. A movie that can't make back it's production costs in the theaters is considered a flop.

      In the case of music, you have to make up all of your production and marketing costs on CD sales. It costs less to make a CD then it does to make a movie, but there's no up-front infusion of cash from an equivalent of a theatrical release to push down the per-unit price.

      Remember, that to produce a DVD, the movie companies have several advantages going in. They know the appeal of the movie based on box-office take. They can decide based on that information whether to invest much in behind-the-scenes material or to just make some simple menu graphics and release it.

      A DVD, in and of itself, is never released at a loss because the expensive part, the movie, is already paid for. Even on a crappy movie, it's worth it to make DVD's for it because a few people will buy it, and it's money they wouldn't have otherwise made.
    • Back in the last century, I lived in the UK for a few years. Music CD's were priced pretty much at a pound-to-dollar rate. I.e., if it cost 18 dollars in the States, it cost 18 pounds in the UK. When I was there, the pound was selling for about $1.60, so that's a substantial markup. Caused a bit of a fuss in the mainstream press, too.

      By the way, software seemed to follow the same pricing formula. Never could figure out why. :-)
  • the second question has been combined with the end of the first answer. grrr!

    Or is /. just moving to XHTML 2.0 already? ;)
  • I dunno (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 (179095) <RealityMaster101 ... m ['il.' in gap]> on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:12AM (#4312165) Homepage Journal

    I hear a lot of bitching, whining and complaing about the record companies, yet I don't see a bunch of these incredibly wealthy artists (not this one, probably) start their own freaking record company. If they're ripping people off THAT much, I would think the artists would have banded together long ago.

    Although I'm not an expert on the business, I would be willing to be that it HAS been tried. I bet a lot of artists have started their own labels, and found out that it ain't cheap being a record company where 50 acts fail for every one you make money on, and they end up turning into the beast they hated.

    • it ain't cheap being a record company where 50 acts fail for every one you make money on

      Exactly. People criticize the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies, and losing control of your company to venture capitalists, but the fact is that these are all high-risk industries, and one success has got to cover the cost of many, many failures.

      It's difficult to find a pure recording company these days, so it's hard to evaluate the margins, but I would be very surprised if recording and media companies consistently outperformed the S&P 500 or FTSE 100.
    • Re:I dunno (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DaytonCIM (100144) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:41AM (#4312382) Homepage Journal
      Warning: I'm rambling this morning:

      I hear a lot of bitching, whining and complaing about the record companies

      The problem is not labels, but distributors. There are only 4 major distributors now. Probably thousands of labels, but each (if they want to get their music to the masses) must use a major distributor.

      , yet I don't see a bunch of these incredibly wealthy artists (not this one, probably) start their own freaking record company

      I can't think of any major artist who DOESN'T have their own label. Beginning with the likes of Frank Sinatra (who was fed up with label control over his music) and his startup label: Reprise to Madonna and Maverick Records or The Beatles and Apple, etc...
      Now if you mean, why don't major artists like Michael Jackson take some of his Millions and start a label that is fair to artists (and not racist like Sony as he claims)? I don't know. Maybe they know that the chance of losing all of their investment is probable...
      To be honest, most of the rap stars have their own label and distribution network. They really have taken control and are making ENORMOUS amounts of money doing their way.
      I still laugh when I read about TLC having a #1 album, selling 10 million units, having the #1 tour of the summer, and being bankrupt. Definitely, should be required reading by ALL up and coming bands.
      Out
    • I hear a lot of bitching, whining and complaing about the record companies, yet I don't see a bunch of these incredibly wealthy artists (not this one, probably)
      start their own freaking record company.
      If a corrupt system made you incredibly wealthy, would you want to change it?
      The folks who are (in your words) "bitching, whining and complaining about the record companies" are the ones whose work is fueling the machine, not the ones who are becoming gazillionairs from the machine.
      • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Informative)

        by kin_korn_karn (466864)
        Madonna started her own label [maverickrecords.com]. She has signed acts like Deftones and Alanis Morrissette.

        Other than her.. hmm, you're right.
    • Not Slashworthy... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sysadmn (29788) <sysadmn.gmail@com> on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:54AM (#4312458) Homepage
      You haven't heard of them because the story I submitted was rejected. (Whine, Whine). Jimmy Buffett's label [azcentral.com] is going after artists who want more control. His hook is a $5/cd royalty rate, rather than $1-2/cd. The catch is that the label doesn't spend anything on promotion. It works for him - he's sold a million copies of his last two albums. From the article:
      Mailboat's roster is growing and includes a diverse array of acts from the heavy-metal band Poison to pop-blues artist Boz Scaggs and country-rocker Maria McKee (of Lone Justice fame). Poison has already released music on Mailboat (which sells direct to retail), and the latter two acts will release their first Mailboat discs soon.
      • The CBC had a segment on Jane Siberry [artistdirect.com]. Siberry was able to leave Warners, and start up her own company. In this interview she described having to let all her employees go. At the time of this interview her company was run out of her spare bedroom. She described how time consuming it was to answer her own phones. Too often people phoning her company to place an order feel amazingly lucky to have reached the artist herself, and want to have an extended conversation.
    • Those are just a few labels started by bands. They haven't turned evil and they consistently put out new and good music.

      There's already an alternative to the major labels. You just won't become a mega-superstar as easily. I have little sympathy for bands that go with major labels, they have a choice.

    • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jack1323 (301059)
      Instead of artists putting their own record company together, don't you think a Union might work better?

      I mean, in the past, when the truckers were being shit on, they didn't all get together and start their own Trucking Company, they formed the Teamsters.

    • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Andy_R (114137)
      The problem is that the vast majority of them are so tied up in their current contracts that they are unable to escape and start their own record label.

      There is one example in the UK where it has been done succesfully, a band called the KLF, one of whom worked as an A&R man for a major label, and therefore had all the right contacts to run their own label.

      They had some of the biggest hit singles in 1991 over here, and ended up with so much money they were able delete their back catalogue, quit the business, burn 1 million pounds and still affor to do a lot of other wierd things.
    • Robert Fripp, after years of expressing dissatisfaction with the music business, started (with help) an independent label where artists would keep the rights to their recordings; the label would profit (hopefully) on its percentage of sales. Fripp's intention [discipline...mobile.com] was to create an "ethical" record company with a business model that others could follow, and that artists would perhaps flock to.

      Fripp probably intended the company to be more a proof of concept than a cash cow; however, it was clearly intended to be a working and sustainable business.

      The project was terminated April of 2002 as album sales had not begun to cover reasonable business expenses. Fripp details reasons for the failure to thrive [discipline...mobile.com] in his online diary. Either this business model failed, or they were the wrong people for the right job.

      Discipline Global Mobile [discipline...mobile.com] still exists, now as just another artist-owned label marketing directly to existing fans.

    • Re:I dunno (Score:3, Informative)

      by schulzdogg (165637)
      I hear a lot of bitching, whining and complaing about the record companies, yet I don't see a bunch of these incredibly wealthy artists (not this one, probably) start their own freaking record company. If they're ripping people off THAT much, I would think the artists would have banded together long ago.



      You mean like No Limit Records? Master P's label that he started and put both of his brothers and his son on? I've heard him say in interviews that he can sell 100,000 units and make more money than somebody who went platnium on a Major.



      Or Suave House? Rap A Lot? Death Row? Ruthless? Aftermath (Although I'm not sure if Aftermath is a lable or an imprint, or the difference between the two).



      It's been done, with quite a bit of success.

  • fighting from within (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You hear this all the time, recording artists complaining that the music industry machine is hell. In my experience too many of them are passive sheep outside of their performances, signing what their agents tell them to and sweetly accepting the status quo.

    They should take example from Courtney Love. http://dir.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/love/ index.html Rock on babe!
    • by King_TJ (85913)
      Sure - but when you've lived through the hell of working dead-end jobs and wondering where you'll get the cash to pay for your next meal (all so you can keep on working towards a dream of being "famous"), you probably don't feel much like "biting the hand that feeds you" when you reach the top.

      Courtney Love is in a "more comfortable" place than many artists. I'm not trying to knock her here, but let's face it. She didn't really have to earn all of her fame herself. Being married to Curt Cobain had its advantages. I'm not really sure she'd be giving the industry the proverbial finger like she does today, if she didn't have the Nirvana fame to ride the coat-tails of first.
  • famous (Score:4, Funny)

    by morgajel (568462) <slashreader@moLIONrgajel.com minus cat> on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:16AM (#4312200) Homepage
    "you got famous if you were a criminal or a politician."

    isn't that repetitive?:)
  • by cavaroc (315490) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:19AM (#4312224) Homepage
    Why doesn't everyone just quit bitching that you're too young to know who Janis Ian is and be glad there's someone speaking out for your rights to download music?
    Grow up.

  • by Tri0de (182282) <dpreynld@pacbell.net> on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:26AM (#4312263) Journal
    "As to how you can get involved? start with getting political, and voting. Check your own representatives' voting records on issues having to do with this. Support live music, and buy your CD's at the shows - at least then some of the money will funnel right back to the artist!"

    Not *THAT* is succinct and comprehensive!
    IMHO her music is really good ,too.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:31AM (#4312307) Homepage
    I really appreciated the capsule history of the RIAA. Until recently, the ONLY thing I'd ever heard of the RIAA doing was to standardize the equalization curve on LP records--anyone else ever have a record player with switch-selected LP/AES/RIAA/78 settings?

    Funny about certifying gold records...

    It's sort of like the AMPAS, that only does two things I know of--I'm sure it does more but only two that I know of: a) Standardize the leader on films (you know, that clock-face 8-7-6-5-4-3 countdown things you used to see if the projectionist was careless) and b) run the "Academy" awards.

    I wonder what things the IETF will be doing by, say, the year 2027? Giving software awards? Lobbying Congress for special privileges for the giant "Big 3" companies that run everything on the Internet? Do you suppose theres some kind of organizational law that groups that start out with legitimate, technical, engineering always degenerate into other things?
    • I wonder what things the IETF will be doing by, say, the year 2027? Giving software awards? Lobbying Congress for special privileges for the giant "Big 3" companies that run everything on the Internet? Do you suppose theres some kind of organizational law that groups that start out with legitimate, technical, engineering always degenerate into other things?
      Yes, there is such an organizational law. It's called "evolution".

      Complex, adaptive systems evolve. Whatever the original intentions of any large organization, whether corporate, religious, technical, or humanitarian, one of two fates awaits it. Either it will morph into something whose primary purpose is to ensure its own continued survival, or it will eventually fail because other systems are better suited to the niche it inhabits.

      Okay, you may or may not think that "corporations as organisms" makes for a good analogy. But I'm not offering it up as an analogy. I'm suggesting that the organic ecosystem that is usually the focus of evolutionary study is just a special case of interaction between complex adaptive systems. The competition between human organizations is another.

      Take Microsoft. We love talking about Microsoft around here, so why not? It's constantly looking for new markets to extend into, to ensure its continued income stream. And it's always looking to engulf small upstart companies with cool technology, which eliminates competition while feeding the organization. It uses all sorts of tricks to make the ecosystem it inhabits hard on competitors. These are just things that successful corporations do, and the similarity to the behavior of organisms is uncanny.

      The major difference I see is that organizations have people, rather than genes, as their individual units. So the nature of an organization is more malleable. Also, it makes a wider variety of forms of reproduction possible (people leave the company for their own startup, mergers and breakups, etc).

      That's why my political ideas have slowly been leaning more and more towards a semi-anarchistic system. I just don't trust any of these complex, adaptive systems to value my best interests, so it's best not to give them too much power.
  • by kenp2002 (545495) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:33AM (#4312317) Homepage Journal
    The fundamental answer is simple, the laws of capitalism work no matter what. One of those laws is the simplest to follow:

    THE LAW OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND

    Simply put if people campaign against the RIAA effectivly and boycott (of course how hard is it to boycott the crap they are putting out these days) the company will continue to lose money. Lobbiests and lawyers don't work for free and if the RIAA can't pay there goes the problem. More importantly if the recording labels start to lose money the shareholders will intervene.

    SUN TZU says "One cannot win a war without the will of the people"

    Ultimatly WE are responsible for allowing the RIAA to get this far. Perhaps we will all learn something from this Digital Dark Age that looms on the horizon..

    THE COST OF FREEDOM IS ETERNAL VIGILANCE

    and I will clarify with

    THE COST OF FREEDOM IS ETERNAL AND "PROACTIVE" VIGILANCE.
    • by SirSlud (67381) on Monday September 23, 2002 @12:18PM (#4312659) Homepage
      This doesn't work in a market where the consumers are as ethically corrupt as the distributors. People are happy enough to get music for free (disclosure: I support p2p), so it should be obvious that when it comes to boycotts, consumers only stem demands when the consumers themselves believe they are not being supplied with goods at a fair price. Consumers don't really mind when those who are producing the products are being mistreaded. (See: Nike, Addidas, Esprit, Hillfiger, etc)

      All of which doesn't help the folks who are actually being screwed; the artists.

      People buy sweatshop produced clothes. Just because as inidividuals we might be ethically conflicted about who we are buying for, doesn't mean we'll do anything about it if the producer is able to keep us from experiencing first-hand the consequences of our 'voting' dollars.

      The market is good for helping people make money, but very poor at punishing those who don't deserve to by way of their means to the end of actually supplying the product to the consumer.

      And who can blame us? There's 24 hours in a day, and in this specialized world, the onus to ensure that we are using our wealth ethically should be on the producer of the product, not on the consumer. Any other way results in gross ineffiency (since presumably we must *all* experience the negative consequences of our purchasing buck for a particular company before we stop voting).

      I just feel bad that people have lost such faith in their _votes_ in a democracy that they feel the only way to deal with unethical business practices is to expect people to stop participating in a market (in the case of a monopoly/cartel such as music) all together instead of vote for politicians who's ethics cannot be had for a price.

      I'm all for punshing shoddy product with my dollars, but my government should hold up its end of the bargain by equalizing markets that have grown into monopolies in cases where people are unlikely to revolt. (Again, see sweatshops.)
      • I just feel bad that people have lost such faith in their _votes_ in a democracy that they feel the only way to deal with unethical business practices is to expect people to stop participating in a market (in the case of a monopoly/cartel such as music) all together instead of vote for politicians who's ethics cannot be had for a price.

        Would that such politicians abounded or had much of a chance of winning elections!
      • ...
        I just feel bad that people have lost such faith in their _votes_ in a democracy that they feel the only way to deal with unethical business practices is to expect people to stop participating in a market (in the case of a monopoly/cartel such as music) all together instead of vote for politicians who's ethics cannot be had for a price. ...


        It didn't happen by chance. There has been a clear chain of laws and legal decisions dating back to around 1850 when a federal court declared that corporations were people. But there have been lots of intermediate reinforcing decisions. Such as when the FCC decided that the media stations didn't have to provide politicians with equal access to the air waves unless they could afford it (I believe that decision was sometime around 1960). This allowed whoever had the most money to essentially buy the election. And where did they get the money?

        There were also economic trends (fostered by governmental rulings) that favored centralized controls. And is it now 7 mega-corps that own all the media? Or has there been futher consolidation?

        The RIAA may well be one of the most active focii of evil around, but they are continuing a long standing tradition, with support from many areas.

        Don't think of this as a conspiracy. I wouldn't claim that there weren't multiple conspiracies here, but that's not why it's happening. The real reason is that those who favor centralized controls have a better chance of being in the position of being a centralized controller. The head of a corporation or a judge or a president will almost always favor increasing central controls. No conspiracy is needed. (They exist, of course they exist, so do plumbers conspiracies [call them unions]. But they fight as often as they cooperate, not that it does the average person any good.)

    • Simply put if people campaign against the RIAA effectivly and boycott (of course how hard is it to boycott the crap they are putting out these days) the company will continue to lose money.

      But there's a problem with your logic. The RIAA will just blame their loss of profits on more and more people downloading music (I assume here that there will not be an abnormal increase in P2P activity) and use it to pass more stupid laws and sue people.
  • Ahem... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CrazyDuke (529195) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:38AM (#4312361)
    For all the people who keep implying that anyone who thinks US intelligence agencies are not seriously spying on its own law abiding citizens and that people who think otherwise are paraniod, tin-hat wearing idiots, I present the following excerpt:

    "The files were started about a year before I was born, when my Dad (a chicken farmer at the time) went to a meeting in South Jersey about the price of eggs. (No, I'm not making this up.) Then my Mom made the mistake of attending a Civil Rights Congress meeting about voting rights. Then they had the gall to open a summer camp that advertised itself as "multi-cultural and interracial"."

    That is all.
    • "For all the people who keep implying that anyone who thinks US intelligence agencies are not seriously spying on its own law abiding citizens"

      Fifty year-old anecdotes probably aren't the best way to prove your point. Those anecdotes date back to the McCarthy era.

    • And you honestly don't think it could happen/happens now?

    • I think you're still a paranoid, tin-hat wearing idiot.

      I don't give a damn if the government knows that my dad went to a meeting about eggs. So what? They're never going to use that information against me.

      NEVER.

      • I don't give a damn if the government knows that my dad went to a meeting about eggs. So what? They're never going to use that information against me.


        (Insert quote about those who forget history being condemned to repeat it here)


        It's not a question of eggs, it's a question of whether you trust the government to spy on any and all aspects of your life, and not eventually abuse the information it acquires. History strongly suggests that anything that can be abused, will be.

  • by bluGill (862) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:47AM (#4312415)

    Record companies make their money from the famious artists, and then use their cut to lobby for laws that are against artists and people. Don't don't buy the major artists, because in the end it works against you. Buy from the artists that are self producing (who may or may not have independant distribution deals) who won't be lobbying for laws that are against you.

    There is a large amount of music out there. Stores want to carry what sells, radio stations want to play what will get listeners. When they see enough people are buying from talented no-names they will put forth some effort to get the money in there. If they discover that not liking certian laws is part of the reason a no-name is chossen over a major artist of similear talent, they will solve the problem. (of course good luck finding talen in major artists today, but they will likely look for talent before they realise there is more than just talen at stake)

    • Hummm....

      Not really an option...I like the idea, but honestly I love the bands I love...and I will keep buying their discs....I also have CD's from serveal local bands, but the problem is getting them...then there are production issues quite often with the off main stream discs...and then there is the big issue...3 local bands I have liked got signed.
    • Tell that to the 4 million 12 year old girls who want to buy the next Nsync album.

      Your plan will never work. Most of the general public have not even heard of the RIAA and will continue to buy as usual. And even if informed of the current RIAA agenda, when compared to say the the threat of terrorism, the falling stock market, and the lack of a national health care plan, the fight over $16 cd's doesn't even come close to being on the radar.

      As far as most people are concerned things haven't changed. CD's cost $16 in 1985 and they cost the same now. It's one of those things that America has come to accept and frankly I can't blame them.

      The only thing that even has the slightest chance of changing consumers buying habits with regards to CD's, is if CD's stopping playing on the CD players they bought 10 years ago. Until all CD's made require new consumer audio hardware to be even played, things won't change.
  • An option (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pyramid termite (458232) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:55AM (#4312463)
    Give it away. Seriously. Put mp3s wherever you can and let people have them at will. Fame? Fortune? You probably won't get it anyway and they can be disappointing when you do. Clear it all away and do it because you love it and give it to people because you want to share it; perhaps you'll parlay it into a little fame and fortune, more likely you won't.

    It's time for the amateurs to take art and culture back from the professionals.
    • Er, what is there to "take back". There are amateurs and there are professionals and there always has been.

      The amateurs are now and have always been unknown by more than a very local following /because/ they are not involved in the pro music buisness. The pro music buisness evolved to create something that didn't even exist before. Wide-spread recognition for artists.

      They really are two different things. The amateurs will never take over the pros. But they will never go away either. All it takes is the tiniest bit of effort on the "user" to look for them. But that really is the main problem. 99.9% of the people don't want to "work" for it.

      What you are really calling for is the complete distruction of the pro music buisness. Then people will become so desperate that they will then have to put in that tiny bit of effort to find entertainment for themselves. Actually go out and listed to local music! This of course is just utopianizing.

      Instead, just be true to yourself. Do the work yourself, find good indie bands or deal with small lablems like www.indistrialmusic.com. (There, I did my litle bit of evangelizing for today! Now imagine if everyone did that instead of just complaining all the time about how evil everything is?)

      But also remember that musicians need to eat to, so even if it's indy music, please don't ask us to just give everything away for free. Please SUPPORT us by buying our music on-line and off.

      Thank you.
      • (damn I wish /. allowed post editing)

        I meant to post this URL actually:

        http://www.metropolis-records.com/

      • What you are really calling for is the complete distruction of the pro music buisness.

        Actually, I don't think it needs to go that far. The more "free music" competition there is and the more widespread it is, the more the professional music world will be forced to actually pay attention to what people want. This process is already well underway.

        But also remember that musicians need to eat to, so even if it's indy music, please don't ask us to just give everything away for free.

        There are those of us who are willing to give it away. As far as eating goes, some of us are willing to work day jobs and keep the music as a hobby, a much more realistic viewpoint then someone who hopes to be a mega big star.
      • I don't know if it's still true, but the last I heard most bands made most of their money from performances. I really don't care about the "mega stars". I've never choosen my listening preference based on what everyone is dying to hear!. And my close encounters with the music scene date to the 1960s. So I'm not a good witness. But that's what I've heard.

        Now it may be true that most of the money is earned by CDs. I wouldn't know. But most bands used to earn most of their money by live performances. (And for the groups that I prefer, the sound quality of CDs purchased at those performances was quite good.)

    • The Offspring (Score:3, Informative)

      by Twister002 (537605)
      The Offspring tried to give away their entire album and Sony sued to stop them from doing it.
  • by broody (171983) on Monday September 23, 2002 @11:56AM (#4312470)
    I like the way this woman writes. I don't really know jack about her music, other than what I read on her website, but the articles are amusing and insightful [janisian.com]. I particulary likely the Memorable Mistakes article. Overall it looks like some interesting reading.
    • I'll second that. To tell you the truth, I'd never heard of her until she appeared on /. She may be world famous, but I guess this is just one more example of how the world keeps getting bigger in terms of the variety of material being offerred to the public. This is a good problem; even if it means excellent artists do not reach some of the people they should otherwise reach.
  • Maybe CDs all become DVDs, and you get not just the music, but interviews, concert footage, games, whatever. I don't have the answer.
    Since we already know we can get a 2-hour DVD for less than $20, and many new CDs have less than 1.5 hours of music for ~$20, what if someone puts out an all-music-video DVD? Or better yet, a concert DVD? Two hours of digital music plus video, liner notes, artist interviews, etc. etc. etc. for $20. Wouldn't that be fun.
  • There is often a lot of complaining around here, and I would just like to step forward for a moment and thank Slashdot and Janis Ian for this informative exchange. It has been very educational and interesting.

    It's too bad I missed the peroid when one could post questions to Ms. Ian. I would have liked to been able to ask her opinion of the success of Ani DiFranco's independant record label, Righteous Babe.

    Thanks again,
    Loomis
  • by mttlg (174815) on Monday September 23, 2002 @12:37PM (#4312780) Homepage Journal
    In other words, they were formed to make sure the science of recording was optimally used by all companies, in formats that everyone could play.

    Ah, the irony...

    RIAA 1952: We make sure you can play your music.

    RIAA 2002: We make sure you can play our music only if we're sure you're not an evil pirate.

    What will the RIAA be like in 2052? "We make sure you are paying for our music, whether you listen to it or not." Or am I being just a bit too optimistic?

  • by Kiwi (5214) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:22PM (#4313121) Homepage Journal
    I think Janis has a lot of legitimate points to make; it is a revelation to me that the RIAA basically will not allow an artist say anyting in public which supports file sharing.

    That said, my concern about file sharing is that the people who are sharing files are far more likely to share Britney Spears' or No Doubt's latest CD than they are to share innovative, talented artists. If people wish to find innovative, talented artists on the internet, they can find them at mp3.com [mp3.com]; these artists freely share their music with the world.

    - Sam

  • God... (Score:5, Informative)

    by sielwolf (246764) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:49PM (#4313332) Homepage Journal
    This topic is getting so damn boring.

    *The difference between CD and DVD prices: This argument would be fine if you were comparing CD piracy with a rash of people sneaking into movie theaters without paying. By the time most movies are DVDs they've already recouped their costs. Thus the DVD is all profit. Shit, the movie theaters would sell them to you for 3 bucks and just jam them full of adverts for their next features coming out. Example: the point of the Fellowship of the Ring DVD is to get you to go and see The Two Towers in the theater ten times.

    * Think there is a Problem with Music [arancidamoeba.com]? There always has been. Welcome to the real world. This article is by Steve Albini. If you don't know who he is you shouldn't even be a part of this conversation.

    * Do you know who is even on a major [arancidamoeba.com]? What, you think that the label your favorite artist created is an indie? *heh* Yeah... right. If you think this I bet you also believe in Santa Claus and reach-arounds.

    * Here is how to start an indie label [indiecentre.com].

    Final Verdict All this comes down to people going to a swingers party, bending over and being surprised when they take it in the ass. What? Don't like the Major Labels??? Then DON'T BUY THEIR MUSIC. DON'T SUPPORT THEIR ARTISTS. DON'T BUY MAGAZINES THAT THEY ADVERTISE IN. DON'T WATCH MTV/VH-1/BET/etc. DON'T MAKE THEM MONEY.

    Jesus. You would think people would realize this. But no. They keep on going out and throwing money at the Majors. So how is it that they are supposed to change? If you really cared you would only buy indie stuff anyway. Go out, buy Our Band Could Be Your Life [amazon.com], crank on your Fugazi and don't pay attention anymore.
    • It's not my fault someone was stupid and naive enough to sign a bad contract. I'm not here to subsidize mediocre artists who are "punker than thou". I'm not really impressed at all by Fugazi. Why should I buy their stuff? Just because they're on an independant label? I think not.

      Here's a hint for all the artists whining about how unfair their contracts are: read it before you sign it! When I get a job, I don't constantly whine about how unfair my salary is. I ask for a raise or get a different job if I want more money.
    • How is the movie industry different than radio playing an album's songs before they are in stores? The radio stations have to pay every time they play a song, right?

      Want to know the ugly truth?

      Record companies PAY THE RADIOSTATIONS to play their songs. Yes, to do this directly is illegal, and called (Payola [history-of-rock.com], and it was banned in the mid 60s. So how do the record companies circumvent this and essentially bribe the radio stations to play their songs? They pay middlemen to "promote" the songs, and those middlemen pay the radio stations (often keeping millions for themselves). Want to know why new artists can't get on the radio? Payola. Want to know why our stations are so bland? Payola again.

      I can tell you horror stories about the recording industry, but that first link is pretty accurate, with the exception that most bands work with a lot less and end up PAYING the record company because their royalties after the 75% the record company takes doesn't cover the advance (note the 75% is taken off the top, then the advance is subtracted from the artists earnings). Put simply, a band forwarded $20000 puts it all into studio recording expenses. The band has 5000 CDs cut, and sells 4500 (the other 500 are promotional). The $50000 on CD sales is chopped by 75% by the record company, and the recording company claims they also put in $15000 for promotional expenses (which amounts to a bunch of calls they took from clubs your agent found for you to play at). The band takes in $13500 from CD sales - $20000 for advance, - $15000 for promotion, meaning you still owe the record company $16500 (assuming the bands' touring and promotional expenses [posters and the like] and touring fees [agent, expenses such as food and liquor] are covered by gate costs). The record company expects this to be paid back, which is why some bands declare bankruptcy (when you only own a $4000 PA system as a band, it's the cheap way out). Many indies are just as big of leeches (or even worse than) major labels. Note the record company still took in $21000 after the $16500 "loss" and the band lost everything.

      These days, you're better off doing it in your basement and burning your own CDs...
  • by Rikardon (116190) on Monday September 23, 2002 @01:56PM (#4313393)

    From Ms. Ian's reply: Fold one is that the record companies hold all the cards; if you want to be famous, you have to go the mainstream route. If you want huge success, you have to go the mainstream route. If you want worldwide success, you have to go the mainstream route. And until we see our first Internet & Live Shows Only artist sell a million CD's without a label deal, the major labels will be the only mainstream route available. Don't quote Grateful Dead statistics to me - they're the exception, not the rule.

    Not so. Other artists besides the Grateful Dead have achieved worldwide success without selling their souls to the labels. The problem is, it takes serious talent.

    The name that first comes to mind is Loreena McKennitt [quinlanroad.com]. For those who don't know, she's a harpist and a singer who primarily does Celtic/World music (that's an oversimplification -- listen to her stuff). She released her first two albums on her own label. They sold well enough that Warner Music offered her a deal. IIRC, she told them to get stuffed -- she was going to retain ownership of her music, period. Warner hemmed and hawed about it for awhile, and eventually signed a distribution-only deal with Loreena that saw her retain complete ownership rights, and the freedom to distribute her music on her own label's behalf.

    The labels aren't stupid; they signed onto this deal because it made economic sense for them. It was obviously worthwhile for Warner: McKennitt's last studio album sold over 4 million copies worldwide. But the reason it made economic sense was that Loreena McKennitt's music was good enough that it created a serious buzz all on its own. She knew she didn't need the record labels; she was good enough that she could afford to hold out for a better deal. Perhaps she was just less greedy than some; I don't know (Ms. Ian's comments about each generation expecting more than their forebears seem relevant here). But Loreena now has worldwide recognition and ownership of her music.

    The simple reason this happened is that McKennitt is a rare talent. That proven talent was in enough demand, sans label backing, that she could negotiate on a more even footing with a multinational like Warner.

    But as Ms. Ian pointed out, this is pretty rare. Where does this leave the average artist when negotiating with a multinational label? Frankly, it leaves them right where I think they belong: with no negotiating power prior to having proven themselves. Think about it: why should the record companies take on all the risk and expense, and then hand over the majority of the fruits of their labours to the artist whom they created? I mean, do you really believe that Britney or your average boy band would even exist without the labels? These people are interchangeable -- they're commodities! They are the wholesale creation of their record labels. Anybody with a half-decent stage presence and half-decent voice can replace them. Likewise for damn near every major-label band in existence.

    I suppose I see this as a merit system. The unsigned, semi-talented artist wants the whole enchilada -- fame, fortune, groupies. He/she can't earn that on his/her own merits, and so needs the manufactured hype of the record labels to acquire it. So this person makes a deal with the devil, so to speak -- signing away a lot of future considerations, in exchange for the label's best efforts to make them famous right now.

    Contrast that with artists like McKennitt -- or for that matter, with Janis Ian who's now independent -- who was already making a living with her music because she was so very talented that her performances and music were just that memorable. Word of mouth did most of the rest.

    Anyway: this is more rambling than I'd like it to be, because I'm posting on my lunch break so I don't have time to make this shorter, but I think you take my point: Janis Ian asserts that "record companies hold all the cards," but she's assuming an artist who's desperate for that worldwide fame. Such people do NOT have my sympathy if they sign their lives away to a record label for fame and fortune right now, rather than earn it like a handful of very talented musicians have done.

    In saying this, I don't mean to imply that there aren't talented musicians out there that have a hard time making a living. My father was one -- an entertainer for 30 years. But I think what I am saying is that there are enough people out there of comparable talent that their relative value is a lot less than they think. It seems to me only appropriate that only the really exceptional talents can get onto the worldwide radar screen, so to speak, without having an enormous hype machine behind them that (justifiably, in my view) expects the lion's share of the profits in return.

    • Uh huh... (Score:3, Insightful)

      The very fact that you had to explain who Loreena McKennitt is seems like a pretty good indication that she isn't as famous as you'd like to think....
    • I think it can be summed up this way:

      In theory, someone with no market power (a new artist/band that has no successes/history yet) will be at a disadvantage when dealing with someone who does have market power (an established label, for example). Now, the label knows that if the artist has talent, the label can use its financial resources to give the artist a chance to get exposure, in exchange for a cut of the profits from the artist's work. As a result, the artist gets more famous, and has more market power. (Assuming they're talented, and don't just suck.)

      However, if the label is the only label out there, then they have *all* the power, and can abuse the artists horribly. But if there's other labels that compete with this label, then even the nearly-powerless artists can pick and choose a label who will give him the best chance.

      But in our world, most of the labels are in collusion to not compete with each others' terms for new artists. This is the fundamental problem. In a properly free market, the labels would be competing, not colluding, and the artists would have a better deal. The way it is now, the artists have to compete for a spot with a label, but the labels almost never have to compete to get a good artist.

      So why hasn't the Justice Department gone after the labels and made them start playing fair yet? Aren't they obviously hurting the music industry by doing this?
  • I'm maybe one quarter through the interview and it turns out to be the most impressive fucking thing I've ever read in this fine family type forum.

    This women is incredible!

  • As the songwriter, I make less if I write the songs - then the record company invokes a 75% clause, where they only pay the songwriter/recording artist 75% of the Congressionally set statutory rate for writing/publishing the song. Their original argument, around 10 years ago, was that artists who insisted on recording their own songs cut the chances of a hit record, because the record company couldn't recommend potential hit songs for them to record.

    Janis Ian would know, she's been covered by just about everybody and nominated for songwriting grammies in three or four decades now. This woman really is the ideal of the singer songwriter, traveling and doing her own work out of the love of it. I saw her two years ago, in a concert at the Minnesota Zoo in the driving rain, and she was just dazzling. Came out about 4'10" tall in huge puffy pumps and just grabbed you.

    Talk about your "risk-management" model: these corporations actively discourage their artists from writing original work because they can't stick their studio noses in and make every last album another Johnny Mathis Christmas Compilation. (It'd be fun to go back and figure out when this model started up, and look at the pop songs then. "If the recording execs had gotten their way in nineteen-whatever, we'd still be listening to covers of the Bee Gees or whatever...")

  • Work (Score:4, Informative)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:29PM (#4313626)
    First of all, I'd like to thank Ms. Ian -- who is always a pleasure to read -- for taking the time to do this Slashdot interview.

    Secondly, I'd like to note that there are enormous numbers of excellent unsigned artists and artists on minor labels. Oodles. Scads. Shit-tons. So many, in fact, that artistic talent is really not especially scarce and therefore not all that valuable economically, which is, IMHO, why the big media companies can get away with what they do. This is not likely to change. Supply has always exceeded demand for good -- and even bad -- art.

    The other thing that makes life easy for the RIAA's clients is our laziness as music consumers. The RIAA makes it very, very easy to find their artists: there are only a few of them, they are on the radio all day long, their CDs are not only in dedicated music stores but also in ordinary department stores and even the occasional gas station and drug store.

    All those thousands of other excellent musicians take work to find. You may have to actually get off your duff and go to local clubs, familiarize yourself with minor label catalogues and indepedent record dealers, troll mailing lists and the web, and so on. They're not actually all that hard to find, but you do have to work at it. And while we can hope that the current IP-rights struggle will ameliorate the situation somewhat, the economic reasons cited above suggest that the ratio of a few big name performers to tens of thousands of good-but-unknown performers will probably never change much.

    So, yes, definitely, let's write our congressmen to make sure that folks like Ms. Ian get their fair cut, but let's also realize that supporting a rich and diverse musical environment requires our active participation as fans.
  • Economics is great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:39PM (#4313747) Homepage
    Distributing doesn't cost next-to-nothing, alas, and won't in the foreseeable future.

    Ah ha! This is the crux of the problem, the thing it all revolves around.

    [puts on his economists hat]. What we are witnessing here is perhaps the first time in which something that was previously scarce (music) is becoming non scarce through technology.

    Let's assume that one day the RIAA decide to stop hounding the P2P networks. They'd improve dramatically right, because you don't need any of that distributed encryption stuff. So it'd become possible to get virtually any music you wanted, for free, quickly and easily. The key word there is for free. It costs nothing effectively (yes yes, I know everything has a cost, but the perception is that it costs nothing), and as such music has now become a non scarce resource.

    Why is this so important? Because capitalism really sucks at managing non scarce resources. Scarce stuff it does great, as supply and demand/competition/best product for the best price kicks in and everything is very efficient. Tins of beans capitalism does well. Information it does not do well.

    Most of the stress and strain we're seeing here today, with patents, copyrights, and music distribution is down to the fact that people are attempting to force capitalism onto markets that it cannot handle. The only way of making capitalism work in these cases is to try and make things scarce once more. So you have patents (ownership of ideas), copyright (ownership of intellectual works), royalties (payment for that "product") and so on. The problem is, these mechanisms are at best horrible hacks. We've all seen the abuses of the system they allow.

    So what is the solution? The solution is simple - new economic system must be created that is designed (yes, designed) for lack of scarcity. The gift economy is a good starting point, but it's far from the only possibility. Right now, there is big inertia behind the status quo. There are vested interests in seeing things remain the same - somebody needs to change that. I don't know how it would start, I'd imagine by somebody setting up a distribution network (possibly p2p, possibly just a series of permenant servers) with tipping built in. Espra tried this, but the project died. The problem we face right now is that micropayments are hard, I should think that can be worked around for now, but a real solution is needed.

    And then? Who knows. The only way to see is by trying it. There's more info on my thoughts here [theoretic.com] about this topic, it's got some ideas for how this new market could work.

    Is it possible to one day replace the current system with a new one, better optimized for information? Yes. Linux is showing that the little people can, if they try hard enough, push against massive inertia and alter the status quo, Linux is itself an economic revolution of sorts. All it takes is enough people with a shared vision.

    Anybody up for it? Janis?


    • Most of the stress and strain we're seeing here today, with patents, copyrights, and music distribution is down to the fact that people are attempting to force capitalism onto markets that it cannot handle.

      agreed. this is called manufacturing scarcity. telephone companies do it, ip propronents do it, diamond miners do it. solution is inherently simple - call their bluff and refuse to play their game - ppl only have power over you if you give it away to them

  • by proxima (165692) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:44PM (#4313793)
    In my search for more independent music of my liking, I've found that many independent record companies actually belong [riaa.org] to the RIAA themselves.

    So while one may not be supporting the big-4 (or their numerous subsidiaries), money still flows to the RIAA. Apparently they pay according to their sales.

    In reality, it's very difficult to find independent music published under an independent label that doesn't belong to the RIAA. For myself, I've surrendered to simply giving preference to non big-4 and refusing to buy any copy protected CDs, and avoid the companies that push them.

    The RIAA does and says a lot of nasty things, but so do most political parties to which many people subscribe. At least the RIAA states on their page that they support people making copies for themselves in various formats and for different devices (at least for now).

  • Janis Ian, Ubergeek! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xtifr (1323) on Monday September 23, 2002 @02:45PM (#4313816) Homepage
    Ok, first I have to say that even though I'm old enough that I probably should be familiar with Ms. Ian's work, I'm not. But I'm starting to become very interested in this woman. Not only does she do an interview with Slashdot, but she mentions an article in Linux Journal in that interview!

    Furthermore, I recently attended the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose. In the program booklet for the convention, there was an essay by none other than...Janis Ian! She's heard of Linux, she likes Science Fiction, she likes Science Fiction Conventions! This may be the first pop star ever that I'd be willing to invite to my house!
  • In her interview she referred to Carlos Santana, [cnn.com] an artist popular in the late sixties or early seventies, who had a recent big comeback. I appreciate his music much more now, than I did then. But I found his recent popularity noteworthy. This kind of comeback is very rare. Ms Ian offered a partial explanation:

    (As an aside, the big Carlos Santana album cost $750,000 to make, and $1,500,000 to promote. That's a lot of money, and it wouldn't have happened if Clive Davis hadn't needed to prove a point after initially being "retired from active duty".)

    I'd never heard of Clive Davis [lipservicemag.com]. In this biographical PR piece he mentions the success he brought to a bunch of artists. Toni Braxton and TLC being two of them. Didn't both Braxton [infoplease.com] and TLC declare bankruptcy?

    So, it sounds to me, as if this Davis guy, is just as aggressive, and willing to screw the artist, as any other Music executive. Alicia Keys [allperson.com] is his most recent protege.

    Most recently, one of the giants of the recording industry, Clive Davis, came to Washington DC to give Capitol Hill with rising star Alicia Keys to give a crash-course in the intricate and complex process of identifying, nurturing, and developing a star. ...offered Members of Congress and staffers a behind-the-scenes look at this process, and introduced a special private performance by his latest new discovery, Alicia Keys. The night club-style event was presented by the RIAA.

    Do those who want to free artists and music fans from the tyranny of the recording industry have deep enough pockets to spring for "educational" events like this "night club-style event"?

  • Fugazi (Score:3, Informative)

    by Laplace (143876) on Monday September 23, 2002 @05:03PM (#4315070)
    How the fuck do those guys do it? They are insanely popular, run their own recording company, and sell their CDs for the unheard of price of $10 + shipping. Why is it that more artists can't follow their model and stick it to the recording industry?

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

Working...