In Which I Pull My Junk Out And Slap The P2P Geeks With It

This post over at really pissed me off. So I let fly at all the little assholes who keep claiming peer-to-peer technology is “good” for independent musical artists and labels. And I stand by what I said.

Wow, that’s so awesome that p2p is so helpful to minor label artists! I mean, it’s so neat that, instead of getting paid for the long hours of work one puts into writing, recording and producing an album, one can actually live on the goodwill of grammatically-challenged retards all around the world! Come the fuck on. You wanna steal shit from artists, fine, but don’t talk about how you’re helping them. I’m sick of listening to p2p pundits burbling along about how helpful they are to artists. There’s no politics of liberation here, no high minded idealism. You’re fucking scumbags who just want shit for free and don’t care whether or not the people who make it benefit from their labor. P2P does not help artists make money. Period. Sorry, I’ve heard all the arguments, and none of them hold water. Having your shit on Gnutella or TPB is a good way to get exposure…but exposure does not translate into “making a living”. Something you little piglets don’t ever seem to understand is that, in order for an artist to profit from touring, somebody has to underwrite the costs of touring. That somebody — not counting rich kids who can afford to take three months off and pay for vans and equipment and personnel costs — is called a “record label”. And labels won’t fund tours — which artists make the majority of the profits from — if the label can’t make money off album sales, which is where their profits come from. And you’re not making money selling merch unless you’ve got yourself a fan base…which, by and large, comes from touring. The difference is that big labels are part of massive conglomerates, who are far better at riding out the costs of producing and distributing music than small indie labels. If Sony BMG sells a million less copies of a Britney Spears album because of Net piracy, no big deal. But a small label isn’t doing twenty million units for every album. In most cases, they’re lucky if they’re moving 100,000. So you’re hurting the indies a lot worse by not buying the music you like that they are responsible for bringing to you. But none of you actually know that, because you’re perfectly content to wax rhapsodic about the destruction of the record industry with absolutely no goddamn understanding of how that industry works. You have some stupid fantasy that Cory Doctorow sold you and that’s the limit of your knowledge. Christ, it’s like listening to Star Trek fanboys trying to expound on how NASA builds spaceships. You’re clueless little dweebs. I’m not saying that the record industry in its current form is a good thing. It’s not. But YOU’RE NOT OFFERING ANY REAL ALTERNATIVES, except suggesting that musicians should be happy with whatever you deign to throw their way, like medieval beggars standing outside the gates of the palace begging for scraps. You’re tearing down a corrupt system and replacing it with precisely nothing at all. Well, fuck you, you little douchebags. You are not heroes. You are not liberators. You just don’t want to pay for the art you enjoy. Keep justifying that to yourself. And when the indies keep shutting down, and all you’re left with is the mindless pop crap that the majors know they can sell to hormonal teenagers from Vancouver to Cape Town, don’t fucking whine, because it’s your fault. Accept responsibility for your sociopathic behavior.

Yeah. That’s how we roll in my motherfucking hood.

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  1. Just wanted to say that I understand your frustration. That thread was making my skull throb.

    While I might not take such a direct approach as you did, I can tell you that in all the years I have been trying to use reason with them that certainly hasn’t worked either. If anyone was really trying to create “music industry 2.0” I would applaud it loudly, but its clearly not about shifting the power to the artists and creating a new diverse playing field for musicians large and small… and most of them know it.

  2. Wait, I thought that it was reasonably well established that Piracy is Progressive Taxation and that the increased exposure does in fact result in increased revenues for small artists even while it hurts major artists by cutting into their profits. Did I miss a statistical study that reversed this finding?

    Are there no non-label underwriters of tours?

    OK, so, Jonathan Coulton is a recent success story who is touring. How has that failed to work out? Or is he simply atypical?

    I feel like I’m missing something here.

    P.S. Still waiting to hear more about your B4B project.

  3. “I thought that it was reasonably well established that Piracy is Progressive Taxation and that the increased exposure does in fact result in increased revenues for small artists even while it hurts major artists by cutting into their profits. Did I miss a statistical study that reversed this finding?”

    That’s never been established, at least to my satisfaction. The one does not automatically follow the other.

    Where do artists get their revenue? Album sales, tour profits, merchandising (t-shirts, etc.) profits, and usually licensing (for movies or ads or what have you.) The key here is profits, which means, of course, “the money that’s left over after expenses”.

    Okay — think about what it would cost you to drive across country. Now think about what that would cost if you were stopping every single day at some place or another. Now, if you’re in a band rather than a solo artist like me, imagine you have to rent a big vehicle to carry three to six people and their luggage, plus a trailer to carry several hundred pounds of gear.

    Now imagine you have to quit your job to do it.

    Touring is an extremely risky proposition for artists. It costs a lot up front, and there’s no guarantee that going on tour will leave you with any profit at all, or that you won’t end up in massive debt.

    Merchandising? Awesome. But traditionally another expensive investment. You can now make t-shirts and things with online merch stores, but nobody buys them, because they’re $25-30. Making up a thousand single-color t-shirts to carry on tour — not counting the actual expense of lugging them around — will cost you a minimum of $4000 or so.

    Now…go to a bank and tell them you’d like to take out a loan to cover these charges. When they throw you out, this will all begin to become clear.

    One of the things that labels are actually useful for is bankrolling and outfitting tours for emerging artists. Labels have booking contacts and tour managers and agreements with vehicle rental companies and backline rental companies, etc. etc.

    They do this because your tour helps sell CDs, and they take the majority of the profits off of CDs. You make the tour money. Often, this doesn’t quite work out the way it’s supposed to, but it can if you, the artist, behave like a businessperson instead of a rock star.

    When I release TRAVELOGUES, my “touring” will be limited to places I can drive in a day or two. I can’t mount a West Coast tour because I can’t afford the up-front costs. And, while a label would still hold me responsible for paying those up-front costs out of my revenue, at least I would have the up-front support. But labels don’t want to bankroll tours if they’re not getting CD revenue…unless they’re getting revenue from the tour, which leaves the artist with basically nothing more than expenses paid whilst on the road.

    There are not, that I know of, any non-label underwriters. It’s probably a good business model. But it’s also risky, since all revenues have to be earned off ticket sales and merch, and that means a far smaller pie for anybody.

    I’ll reiterate something I keep saying: most musicians ARE NOT RICH ROCK STARS, even if they appear to be. The label pays for them to have nice houses and nice cars and usually a nice lifestyle…but it’s not free money, and as soon as the artist stops being immediately profitable the flow stops and the bills come due. This is why musician after musician shows up on “Behind The Music” saying things like “One minute I was on top of the world, and the next minute I was doing crack in an alleyway.”

    Most artists signed to a major label make less than $1000 a month. Really. Keywords there are “signed” and “major”. Unsigned artists and small-label artists usually make very little if any money at all.

    (Check this out: to see how this works. I suspect that the guys in TV On The Radio may do music full-time now, but they didn’t in 2004, when this piece came out.)

    I don’t know Coulton’s story, or whether he finances his tours with a credit card, or if he’s simply from a wealthy family or independently wealthy, and doesn’t have to worry about it. (This is more often the case with big artists than you might believe.) As a solo artist, his tours are drastically less expensive than they would be if he was in a full band. And his music is also a lot more “friendly” than that of, say, an industrial group or a revivalist old-timey Dixieland/punk band. (Such groups exist.) He may just be an exception.

    But labels or their 21st century analogues will ALWAYS bankroll tours by artists like Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus, because they know that a lot of teenagers will always show up. That may sound dismissive, but it’s business fact. Whereas Coulton or I would be really lucky to pack 2,000 people into a venue paying ten bucks a pop. Compare that to the sort of revenue Justin or Miley can expect, and you’ll understand why labels are far less likely to bankroll non-Top 40 artists.

    And the fact is, I’m not going to go bankrupt to tour. I don’t have any incentive to do so. Whuffie != paying the damn rent, or even being adequately compensated for the very hard work that goes into writing, recording, producing and promoting an album.

    This is one of the attitudes that really pisses me off, by the way, in the “free culture” movement: the assumption that being a musician is somehow a breezy, stress-free life. Touring is a grueling, tedious, maddening affair that often ends in broken relationships and something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. The ONLY reason anybody does it is because of the promise that it will eventually be financially worth the effort.

    But consumers want their cake and they want to eat it too. They don’t want to pay for music, then they bitch and moan about high ticket prices to see the bands they love. They complain when those bands pass up their mid-sized town for LA or SF or NYC — which happens because it’s just not financially viable to hit every single college town, the way it used to be.

    So what’s happening is that music “sharing” is, in point of fact, making it much harder for artists to release and tour behind music, because increasingly they’re having to do it in their spare time or on a schedule dictated by their own finances, not that of a label.

    P2P and BitTorrent aren’t even viable alternative distribution mediums for less commercially successful artists. Go online and try to find, say, any album by the Las Vegas band The Black Jetts. You won’t. Networked distribution relies on the tyranny of the majority — whatever the most people like will be easily available, but niche or obscure content won’t.

    Except for Justin and Miley and Jay-Z. They’re doing pretty well. And they’ll continue to do well. It’s the rest of us, the little artists, who are really getting fucked by all of this. No amount of wishful thinking on Cory Doctorow’s part about goodwill and reputation-based economies is going to fix that. It’s just a fantasy.

  4. Hmm. Thanks for the thoughtful answer.

    I think you should look more into what JC is doing, because he seems to be carving out a success as a solo act, and he reportedly quit a dead-end web monkey job to write music full time right after he had a kid (and spent a year pumping out a song a week, no matter how awful).

    He may be an exception, or he may be doing something right that you could copy.

    BTW, I still would like to hear more about the b4b project…

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