Survival Of The Richest

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I enjoyed music industry blogger Bob Lefsetz's recent piece about making it in the music business. Some choice excerpts:

  • “Never follow trends. Once they break, they’re time-stamped. It’s your job to do something new.” True!

  • "Your goal is to get aligned with the person with the most relationships who cares about you." Bravo! Go where the love is! 

  • “Never underestimate the power of a bridge.” Go Bob! I love a good bridge. 

 That said I don’t agree with everything Bob puts forth. Like, for example (from the same blog—in the context of artists making nuisances of themselves by complaining about fair pay) —“No bitching…don’t complain about streaming payouts and getting ripped-off and missing out on opportunities, no one cares.” 

What? Why not? Maybe “complain” is not the best word choice? Too neggy? If people never spoke up we’d still be breathing in second hand smoke and stepping in dog poop.

Now, I understand that if you’re a pop star it may not behoove you to get on a soap box before you wow us with a remarkable song…like Aloe Blacc did with “Wake Me Up” before he blogged about streaming rates.  

That’s not to say one shouldn’t remain positive and avoid being a total Debbie (or Douggy) Downer at a Grammy party. You can still be a fun-loving gal (or guy) while advocating to get the rates right. These two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact IMO, they make for more multi dimensional company. 

And what of the non-performing songwriter who can't depend on merch or ticket sales for an alternative income stream? 

In my more conspiratorial moments I’ve imagined that Bob is a shill for Spotify. Oh, I’m not saying he is, but all his bitching about the bitching would explain the Spomance.  

It’s survival of the richest out there. 

I am by no means making a killing these days. Thus far in my career I’ve written about 3000 songs of which about 300 were recorded and 5 were serious bank account changers. But even if I didn’t have those hits, I’d be okay because I came up in an era where royalties from album sales were significant. 

I’m by far not the richest…as everything is relative. But compared to the earning trajectory of today’s newbie I’m in a good place.

In the era of album sales, you could earn 9 cents per album cut, and if that one record went platinum (sold a million—and that wasn’t unusual), a newbie could easily (do the math) split $90,000 with his/her co-writers. That meant sushi on Friday night, a decent apartment, a quarter time share on Fire Island, (that’s if you lived in NYC).  

But without album sales, a mortgage may depend on a successful single that gets played on terrestrial radio. Thing is though, terrestrial radio is about to make way for a complete streaming takeover.  And streaming alone won’t make anyone rich. Unless you own the master. And most of us don’t. We should. We can. It’s tricky. 

Without that single, sustainability belongs to those who already have a nest egg—those who were in the biz in the glory days when we had analog laws in an analog world. Now we need some digital laws. 

 Those of us who've had a hit or 2 (or album cuts when albums sold) have savings…we can keep following our muse, making music for the joy…keep throwing spaghetti against the wall and waiting to see what, if anything sticks. But if we were coming up in the world today “True Colors,” “Boogie Wonderland,“  “I Don’t Have The Heart“ may never have gotten written, because in a streaming ecosystem the writers of those songs may not have been able to survive long enough to have written them.

 Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy here on planet digital where I get all the songs I want whenever I want them, wherever I go. I simply want my community to have as healthy an earning trajectory as the CEOs and label heads who are running their companies on the backs of the creators who write the songs that make their business possible. Breath. 

That won’t bring back album sales, but if you do have that hit single, it will make a BIG  difference.  

As it stands, many of my younger colleagues will fall by the wayside because they’ll never have a chance to earn a livelihood. So we have to keep trying to change the laws. Which is why I keep typing…doing exactly what Bob says I shouldn’t.  

Lucky for me, my father taught me another definition of “rich.” He said there was a difference between rich and wealthy. Although he never made more than a middle class income, he considered us to be rich because our family was dressed, fed, loved, sheltered. "Wealthy" on the other hand, was a money thing. He didn’t really care about that. I will always love him for instilling those values in me (and for so many other reasons too). 

 Sentimental….but beside the point. 

Just like any other seemingly impossible task at hand these days, we must never give up. We must keep on talking about it. Slowly pushing the rock up the hill. If we stop visualizing the day that it will get there, it won’t. So thank you Bob but I’ll stick with “never underestimate the power of a bridge.”

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