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Summary:

In a year when many musicians are blaming digital music companies for declining income, folk-singer Billy Bragg offers a welcome dose of common sense.

Sony Walkman
photo: discpicture

Musicians who blame digital music services for declining income are lashing out at the wrong target, according to folk singer Billy Bragg. In a Facebook post last week, Bragg suggests that an outdated music model — and not technology — explains low payment rates:

“[R]ailing against Spotify is about as helpful to their cause as campaigning against the Sony Walkman would have been in the early 80s. Music fans are increasingly streaming their music and, as artists, we have to adapt ourselves to their behaviour, rather than try to hold the line on a particular mode of listening to music.”

Bragg also takes issue with analog-era record deals that have carried over to the digital era. He notes that such deals, which give the lion’s share of revenue to music labels, no longer make sense in the digital context where labels don’t do any of the distribution or other “heavy-lifting” that once justified their cut of the proceeds.

These observations by Bragg (whose music, incidentally, celebrates fair wages and the working class) are a welcome dose of common sense at a time when other musicians have been treating the likes of Pandora and Spotify as scapegoats, even though the streaming companies pay higher royalty rates than traditional radio stations to reach fewer customers. For now, it makes more sense to focus on the role of the middle-men and to reconceive the industry’s business model at a time when movies and music are disappearing as a physical product.

Image by discpicture via Shutterstock.

  1. Nicholas Paredes Monday, November 11, 2013

    As a matter of fact, you may recall the campaigns against cassette tapes. Remember the proposed taxes on blank tapes? The horror of people who tapes there music to be mobile…

    Same as it ever was.

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    1. Nicholas Paredes Monday, November 11, 2013

      Wow, can I type or what?

      Taped their music…

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      1. *taped their

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    2. If I’m not mistaken record companies were successful in getting a cut of blank tapes sales back in the day. I think that even crossed over into video tape and film/TV.

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  2. Musicians fail to look at their payments in isolation. The fail to see that if it was not for avenues like Spotify and Pandora, they would earn NOTHING through from any type of broadcast/unicast service. There is a weird sense of entitlement here.

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  3. Agree… Thom Yorke was bitching that spotify pays far less than radio “per play”, which is ludicrous based on the fact that a play on spotify hits a single user, while a radio play hits thousands.

    That said, I don’t think spotify has it wrapped up, and should offer their own “studio services” to cut out the labels…. Oh, and also un-suck their app ;-)

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  4. I was so glad when this came out, finally, some logic and reason. Every time Thom Yorke speaks these days I want to pull out my hair!! Because, it’s not just that they rail against pretty much all streaming services, whether they name them individually or not (from spotify to songza to torch music) it’s that they’re shaming their fans for listening to the music in legal ways RATHER THAN pirating. And it’s the fan shaming that gets to me the most. Thank you Billy Bragg!!

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  5. Billy Bragg’s analogy is worthless. And Spotify & Pandora are the middle men now. And by coincidence your story’s reference about the labels being the middle men links back to another one of your posts. Now there’s stellar corroboration.

    Jeff, over 30% of the music sold is by indies and it is the indies who are complaining.

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