What We Talk About When We Talk About Making Money


Spoiler Alert:  My #1 album of the year is in this post, but you gotta read the rant to get there.

Forbes' announcement of the top 25 highest-paid musicians of 2012 should come as little of a shock.  We've been inundated with the perils of making money the past few weeks with Spotify scraps and Cat Power's announcement (via instagram of all things) that she's broke.  So, realize that Dr. Dre was the highest earning musician of 2012 shouldn't be shocking, until you realize that Dr. Dre DIDN'T RELEASE AN ALBUM THIS YEAR.  Let me say that again, in all caps:  DIDN'T RELEASE AN ALBUM THIS YEAR.  Okay, so sure Michael Phelps was parading around London with beats headphones and the sell off of beats was Dre's big money-maker this year and I'm pretty sure that Phelps was getting paid for wearing those headphones, though I have no evidence.  It seems to me the height of irony in this unbelievably absurd and ironic time in the music industry that the highest selling musician can be a guy who just sold the thing that he sold to you (or cropped up like a golden pot under a rainbow after you bought that new Dell) to enable you to listen to music.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but musicians MAKE music, right?  I mean, if headphones can catapult you to the top of Forbes' list, then where the hell is WLFY?  It stands for We LISTEN for You, remember?

Now, I'm not an economist.  Or a musician.  And I make no bones about hating mainstream music.  Frankly, I'm convinced that the sniveling, substandard dreck that the top 40 pumps out like some sort of hologram of a musical factory is making the country stupid.  And, by looking at this list, it's making the WORLD stupid.  Because, yeah, that list of predominately white millionaires represents the highest selling in the WORLD.  So, in my live journal-esque rant here, please pardon the fact that I have no solution.  Because, frankly, I don't believe that there is a solution.  The battle to make money in music -- at least with "new" technology -- has been lost.  And, as Jana Hunter's comments (click the purple thing that says "scrap" in the first paragraph) illustrate, even musicians are conflicted about these streaming services which "stop piracy."  Hunter's point, to me, seems about the most sane one -- if you don't have to pay money for something, then that thing won't matter to you.  Being a rather avid Spotify listener, I have to cringe and say that I've found more music than I ever have before, and yeah, I think music means less to me.  The portability, accessibility, and relability amount to a kind of musical drug that I don't have to pay for.  I used to be pissed if I had a scratched CD.  Now I have a car full of them, and I don't give a shit, because I can just listen to it on Spotify.  

Most of the listeners that I know -- and I'm looking at you bloggers and people who read this blog -- are (with the exception of some elitist stances which we're all guilty of) exactly the kind of consumers that we need in music.  Yes, that's right, I said consumers.  Because, let's be honest:  the term "listener" needs to be phased out.  A listener is passive.  There is no choice involved.  A consumer consumes, and yes, there is a capitalistic connotation to the label but there's also a culinary one, a digestive one.  Buying something means putting your heart into it.  It's the possible fallacy that most economic systems are based on, but until that changes, it means your dollar (or euro or peso) is your voice.  So, why should indie artists get scrapped?  Because there aren't as many of us to listen?  How can we account for the hordes who made that insipid Crazytown ripoff tune "Somebody That I Used To Know" the most listened to song of the year?  We buy better than they do, right?  We go to shows, we get the t-shirt, the album, the vinyl.  Why can't we break this by doing what we do best, by consuming?  Let Dre hock his headphones.  We have to stand for the real thing.  Not because we're going to fight the phantom menace which is mainstream music in this country with its bubblegum pantyhose, airbrushed rockers, and tween sensationalism, but because the real thing is better, damnit.

So, here's my challenge to you, the reader.  My #1 album of the year is going to be Sharon Van Etten's Tramp.  I am challenging you to buy the physical copy of the album.  You can do that here.  Make a stand for music as consumption.  For music as material.  Fight the simulacrum which gets Dre the most dough.  Let's band together for artists and music that we love.   

And, to continue the fight, join our greatest idea, the WLFY Record Club, where we give monthly picks and with every purchase comes some great goodies from the people who make the record.


  1. Bought Tramp on vinyl when it came out, thanks to WLFY's recommendation. One of my favorites this year too.

  2. Instead of only suggesting to by Tramp (which is a phenomenal record) suggest to buy the reader's personal favorite album. Can't say I don't feel a slight tinge of guilt over not having purchased Fiona Apple's album while simultaneously saying it's "my favorite" of the year.

  3. I love this piece. I hate year end lists because they usually consist of arbitrary albums that make blogs look cool but mine will always consist of the ones I actually supported, paid for the vinyl, went to a show etc.

  4. Let me say at the outset that I tihnk you're on the right track with your argument. If you want to talk about about mainstream music, and talk about why it's terrible, you need to at least appreciate at the outset why it is the way it is. It's the same reason that gorgeous, beautifully written films aren't the blockbusters. You're first going to want to say its the big bad labels or the film companies. To the extent it is(and I'd now wholeheartedly say its not), it's only reactionary. The majors are publicly traded, meaning they have an obligation to their investors to strive for and maintain a profit. Being on the inside now, to some extent, trust me that labels really really strive to bring the best music to market that they can find. The A&R staff of every label and every publisher is out there, interacting with the most talented musicians alive. Some musicians want nothing to do with the majors, though admittedly that it the vast minority. In respect of the others, you have to think about what it is that these entities have to invest in the possibility that an artist may take off. All the while promising a return on capital investments. Sure, they could throw all their money behind that 100:1 odds horse...but is that what you'd do at the track with your money? Probably not. Instead, the labels have to invest, and invest hard, in what the market dictates. The irony that you may not fully realize is who really drives the market, now moerso than ever before perhaps. In 1995, the principal market was commercial radio and the only 2 alternatives were NPR and college radio. In 2012, we're talking about Commercial Radio (terrestrial and sattelite), YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Grooveshark, not to mention iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, among others (and don't pretend these are just replacements for your local corner store....we all know they're not). The driving force is not the labels...and it's not even the public at large (at least not exactly)...it's the advertisers. It was when radio ruled the airwaves and its now during a time when YouTube is the #1 audio source. Granted, the advertisers are paying more for the Ke$ha's, the Gaga's and the Rihana's because the perception is that the majority of consumers are requesting compositions that fit into that four-to-the-floor and/or pop category...and that blame lays squarely on the post-Napster indie rock community. We all remember the early 90s. Smashing Pumpkins, Bush, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Green Day, Weezer, etc. The labels haven't changed (at least not in that respect), the advertisers haven't changed (i.e. they still want to maximize profits...if anything they want to seem "cool" more than ever)....the fault really rests on the "alternative" public...the indie kids...the torrent downloaders, the tech savy people who avoid being advertised to at any cost....maybe its a chick vs egg thing...but even the most indie of indies expects a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...until the indie support their own artists and advocate them to the masses and to the advertisers....the ke$ha's are going to dominate. We can bitch and bitch but words only go so far. Vote with your dollars...

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