Courtesy of Justin Mohareb (mo’ hareb, mo’ problems, that’s what I always say), I found Sun Media’s wonderful expose on the world of ILLEGAL INTERNET DOWNLOADING. And who gets quoted more than anybody else in this series of articles? Why, Graham Henderson, of course, the head of the CRIA, which is like a Canadian version of the RIAA except it’s focused primarily on American record companies and their presence in Canada. (Go figure.) The Sun pieces do their best to portray Henderson as an aw-shucks simple guy who just wonders why we all can’t just get along. He’s of course actually a tool (in all senses of the word).
I particularly love this bit where he addresses the complaint about the cost of CDs.
Henderson counters that they also don’t cost nearly what they should. “We have always been beaten up over CD prices. The fact is that in 1963, you could buy a single for 50c. It had two songs and a plain white wrapper. These days, a CD single has three to four tracks, enhanced stuff, a jewel case, lyrics and on and on. That 50c in today’s dollars, with inflation, is $4.50. But that CD single costs $2 or $3. The price of music has never kept pace with inflation.”
My god, this argument is so disingenous I’m not sure where to begin…
Has anybody who reads this blog ever bought a CD single? The only time I’ve ever seen one for sale is when I was in the States on vacation and that was over a decade ago. They had a small shelf in the middle of a Strawberry’s that was ignored, because single sales on CD are a tiny percentage of the market compared to, you know, actual albums. Which, in 1963, cost about $3.50, or in 2007 dollars, about twenty-four bucks. Now, admittedly, a CD by a big-name artist has a list price nowadays costs about fourteen bucks, but that price adjustment has only come within the last year and a half. Remember twenty-dollar CDs? I sure as hell do. That’s one of the reasons I stopped buying them.
But what’s really making his argument reek of bullshit is that the griping about the cost of music has never been “it’s too expensive.” It’s always been “the profit margin is too high.” That fifty-cent vinyl single he mentions was made in the United States by well-paid labourers. CDs, on the other hand, are made by chain-ganged toddlers in China (or similar). They used to be expensive, which is why CDs used to cost twenty dollars a pop, because the cost to produce them was twelve to fifteen dollars. Then blank media costs plummeted and suddenly it cost a couple of bucks to make the CD, including all the artist’s costs and record company salaries and all that. But prices didn’t drop accordingly, and they still haven’t done so, and that’s why nobody gives a shit about record companies.
I mean, let’s be honest: the age of the record company, as we know it, is in its last days. All they can offer is promotion, which is not an inconsequential thing to artists, but they do so at exorbitant prices and with the frequent demand for unreasonable control. Nobody particularly cares about what happens to these vainglorious, parasitic middlemen. Which leads me to another bit of the article, where Henderson “debunks” the excuse of “well, your music sucks” that people use to justify downloading (or so he claims):
Those stories don’t stand up to scrutiny, claims Henderson. “We’ve asked Canadians: What was the last record you bought? Was it good? And people say that 75%-80% of the tracks on the record were good … So then you ask: Who is it that has the crappy records? And they say, ‘Oh, well, it’s people like Britney Spears.’ And when you ask if they bought those records, they say no. So what’s the problem then?”
Firstly, I’ve never heard anybody actually use this as an excuse, but never mind that.
Secondly, when people say “all the music sucks” and then say “Britney Spears,” when asked for an example, despite not owning any Britney Spears albums, you have to understand they’re not talking about Britney in the literal sense. They’re using her as a figurehead to describe the music business as a whole: the vapid marketing of manufactured teen-pop and Creed and rock bands that look good rather than sound good and Creed and gangsta rappers screaming about bitches and hos and Creed and “American Idol” and Creed and the immense, unspoken under-the-table financing that leads to robotized radio stations and Creed and the gradual stifling of original, independent musical talent and Creed and the rise of “child star” musicians with no discernible talent other than being cute and Creed and the co-option of every interesting new thing to come along by promoting lesser imitators of said interesting new thing and, most importantly, Creed.
They’re talking about the vast, banal landscape of modern music promotion. They just call it “Britney Spears” because she encompasses the worst of it all in one vapid, trashy little package. And you know that, Mr. Graham I Am A Big Shot Henderson, so kindly spare us the naivete.
I note, incidentally that Radiohead’s download-only, pay-what-you-want album – despite being of poorer quality than the eventual CD release, which everybody knew in advance – has racked up about $40 million in gross profit thus far with no end in sight, with an average price point of about five to six dollars. Now, admittedly, not every band is Radiohead, but then again not every band can be Radiohead. (And we should be thankful, because honestly, one Radiohead is enough. I’m looking at you, Coldplay!)
With costs of production dropping like everything else, let’s say I form a band with three other guys and build a bit of a local reputation with my fantastic bongo solos. Let’s then say that my band spends $10K on production for an Interwebs album release. (This is probably high.) We promote it, and go with pay-what-you-want… let’s say we get 100,000 downloads, and our average price point is seventy-five cents. After costs are knocked off, that’s $65,000 in profit split four ways, for $16,250 per band member. Now, this is not living the high life, to be sure, but nobody said art was inherently lucrative and that’s before you factor in other profit areas like performances.
Oh, and me and the band would actually own and control the rights to our own work. And that’s why record companies are headed the way of the dodo, and we’re seeing it happen right now, in real time, and I couldn’t be happier to see the fuckers on their way out.