The problem goes all the way back to when the major labels were not willing to allow for the possibility of digital music distribution in the first place, wishing to hold onto the paradigm of a music fan paying $15 for a CD to hear one song. Obviously these guys were not in it for the long haul, and DEFINITELY not in it it for the "love of music."
When the bean counters (another word for accountants) took over the music biz in the late 80s / early 90s, you saw a HUGE shift from music biz types who viewed music careers as long term investment propositions to those who didn't understand that letting a Springsteen develop as an artist over his first 2 albums could potentially produce a "Born To Run" and eventually a "Born In The USA."; letting an artist grow over a period of time to where their journey and the journey of their audience matched up, producing huge benefits for all involved. That's why entertainment has gotten so formulaic as of late; it's run by people who won't / can't take artistic chances.
Anybody with half a brain saw the digital revolution coming for music distribution by the early 90s (I did say half a brain. I'm sure many others saw it sooner). What would've been the smart move for the labels to do would have been to each embrace the coming digital distribution, setting up their own domains and selling their music from there. Profits could have remained in-house and they could have continued to function as separate business entities, instead of being at the mercy of an Apple, Amazon, or Spotify, just to name a few.
Alas, it was not to be ... So instead of spending quality time investing in the future, they proposed to bully their customer base into accepting an unsustainable past ... but lawyers can only do so much. Like the line from Jurassic Park clearly states, "life finds a way." Hence, Napster and all of the activity thereafter.
Ultimately the labels lost control ... which is not a bad thing, if you ask me. But is what has come since better? Depends on who you ask. The customer probably likes getting music for free, or at least a relative equivalent.
But the artist continues to find new challenges in the pursuit of a professional creative life. The grand utopia that was promised via the unlimited creative freedom of the Internet has not completely panned out, per se, at least not on a monetary level. I was either very lucky or very smart (either is debatable) in that I saw that the only thing that couldn't be stolen from me IS me. I've concentrated my energy on being a live performer and still am able to do that successfully to this day.
Although I've made many albums I'm very proud of, my thought process was always that the recordings sell the live show, NOT the other way around. Not being the typical performer of the day made me understand that the opportunities that came my way would be sparse, at best. So it was up to me to make the most of whatever came my way, which I think I've done.
Not possessing much in the way of business acumen over the years has cost me control of some of my own work, but that's ultimately no one's fault but mine. As I've said many times over the years, if I wanted to jump in the shark tank, then I can't complain about being bitten. I also remember the band's business jumping a good bit during the Napster era precisely because so many more people had free access to our music, fair or not.
Do I think artists should be paid? Hell yea! Do I long for some sort of physical paper trail to account for anything I've sold? Of course. I'd be a fool not to. But the genie is out of the bottle, and it seems those days may be gone. The streaming services are an economic model that is here to stay, consumer-wise. Of course, the Taylor Swifts of the world (with her huge sales and her father's powerful Wall St banking connections) will make sure that they get a big slice of the pie. And the record labels are back to the size they were back in the 40s and 50s, small businesses satisfying a certain niche market, as opposed to the money losing monoliths they became in the late 80s into the early 2000s. So maybe they are just shrinking back to their natural size. Who knows?
All I know for sure is that when my band plays a quality kick-ass rock n roll show, there is usually a line of folks who are willing to pony up a few bucks in order to hear an album we have for sale. Hand-to-hand, the way I've pretty much always done it. And glad to still be doing it. - Fred
(photo: Alicia Neely)