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So you wanna be in a rock band?: Who's really at fault for declining music sales?

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 18th, 2010

Back in 2008, I wrote a kick-off column on this very same subject with the same title. At its finale, I concluded that the major record labels (and their songwriting teams), who are merely interested in perpetuating the same talentless garble that is more "commodity" than "music," are the ones at whom we should be pointing the finger. While I believe this argument still maintains partial validity today, looking back with glasses less rose-coloured, I believe my brutal fall-out with my former major label undoubtedly must have been seeping into my subconscious as I was writing that piece (chalk it up to a "down with the man" moment).

Mainstream music quality and originality has gone by the wayside since the '90s, and yes, it is ridiculous to expect artists to be able to pump out consistently solid material every six months. Furthermore, it is true the market is oversaturated with talentless wannabes, who rely solely on their sex appeal or controversial images, and their producers are the true talents for making them sound even half-listenable. And I agree that every band played on modern rock radio sounds exactly the same. However, as much as the major labels are at fault for creating this predicament, music consumers and even some musicians are doing a shitty job if they ever want even a smidgen of hope of turning things around.

I mean it's one thing to steal from Lady Gaga, who is represented by big money (though mind you, her deal is likely not as sweet as it appears to be. For example, if her album sales don't reach a certain target, I wouldn't be surprised if she has to pay back all of the money her record label loaned her in good faith plus interest). But it's an entirely different issue to steal from a self-funded, independent artist whose career will fizzle out if they aren't able to break even on their record sales (albums do cost money to record and manufacture, not to mention all of the time and emotion an artist invests. But right, that's not worth anything).

But that's just it — somehow and somewhere along the line, music consumers convinced themselves that they are justified in taking all the music they want for free, that a "true" artist creates music for the love of it, and therefore, should have no expectations to receive any form of compensation (even if it's just to cover their baseline and never profit). Worse, fellow artists and even some musicians themselves have fallen into this mentality, accepting it as A-OK, making them feel justified in calling people like me "sell-outs" because I feel that if someone desires my music, their desire means they attribute value to it, and I should be compensated accordingly. It's not like I'm expecting to reel in billions here. No, I just want a measly $10 an album for 10 tracks — seems fair to me.

What does it say to you about the buying public if you can have your supposed "biggest fan" approach you, praise you to high heavens, and then admit they "obtained" (read as "stole") your entire catalog via Limewire? Yeah, it's happened to me, and I'm sure many other indies.

So here's the deal, if YOU are serious about being a professional musician, GET serious about approaching this industry from a business perspective. If you give away your compositions or your live show for free (except in the case of doing not-for-profit work or providing promotional materials to industry representatives), don't expect people to value what you're doing. If you steal from fellow artists, don't be upset if they do the same to you (that would make you a hypocrite, my friend). Finally and MOST importantly, if you hope to have sustainability as an artist, know your worth. Unless you were lucky enough to be born into a family whose credit line never ends, not getting paid for all of your efforts gets old real fucking fast.
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