Too Much Joy, Too Little Cash

Photo by Derek K. Miller — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Knowledge is power. But money helps too.

When you listen to a band play, you know how hard it is to make music. Artists know how hard it is to make money from their music. The major music companies know how hard it is to make money — period.

In an art form that creates such a transparent connection between performer and audience, for most of the history of the music business, tracking the costs and sales figures has been almost completely opaque.

Digital music created a new opportunity. We live in a world where the bands and the companies can access the same information: number of downloads, number of streams, number of sales. Everyone is in perfect harmony, right? Wrong. Very wrong.

Or as Tim Quirk noted, when he read his accounting statement from Warner Music Group: “$62.47. What the fuck?”

Tim Quirk’s band, Too Much Joy, used to be produced and promoted by Warner. Today, Tim is a senior vice president at the online music site, Rhapsody. In other words, he knows the art of the music business from both ends. As posted this week in our daily News feed, from a story in Wired, Quirk has provided an amazingly clear breakdown not only of one band’s reported income, but the implications of what is missing.

In Quirk’s post, he shows the income figures as reported by his label, which run counter to the same kind of information he finds in the online world. What should be so easy and accessible — an accounting of sales for each copyright holder — becomes a lesson in futility for understanding a major label’s approach. Perhaps, the label is willfully ignorant of what a band is owed. More likely, they have no cost-benefit incentive to find out.

In Quirk’s example, he tracked $12,000 from sales through IODA (the Independent Online Distribution Alliance) but only that “wtf” number of $62.47 through Warner.

As he writes, “This figure wasn’t insulting because it was so small, it was insulting because it was so stupid.” After all, creating and tracking a database to account for all sales is “…not rocket science. Hell, it’s not even algebra! It’s just simple math.”

So why won’t the music industry do the math?

Simple math, but not a simple business.

- Bill Reichblum

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