The Smoking Gun of Internet Exploitation of Musicians and Songwriters

There have been a lot of predictions about how the internet was going to empower musicians and create a new professional middle class. Unfortunately, the year end  numbers from Soundscan for the last two years just do not support those claims.


in 2011 there were 76,865 new releases, only 3,148 sold more than 2,000 units = 4% of new releases sold over 2,000 units

in 2011 there were 878,369 total releases in print, only 15,613 sold more than 2,000 units = 2% of ALL RELEASES in print sold more than 2,000 units.


in 2012 there were 76,882 new releases, only 3,074 sold more than 2,000 units = 4% of new releases sold over 2,000 units

in 2012 there were 909,799 total releases in print, only 15,507 sold more than 2,000 units = 2% of ALL RELEASES in print sold more than 2,000 units.

So in the last two calendar years only 4% of New Releases and only 2% of ALL releases managed to sell more than 2,000 units.

That means 96% of all music released and in print sells less then 2,000 units per year. Please tell us again about all of this internet empowerment?

Who do you really think is selling more than 2,000 units a year, the Indie/DIY artist uploading to TuneCore, or the artist with label support? Let us not forget, the indie/DIY artist is spending their own money now on marketing, PR, social media, everything – without those cost and expenses being advanced to the band as investments by a label.

A decade in from predictions of empowerment what we have found is more exploitation in the facts.

Overall, industry wide revenue from recorded sales is down over 50% as the growth of illegally operating infringing businesses continue to climb.

This means THREE things:

1) The overall pie for revenue opportunities is getting SMALLER, not larger.

2) The distribution of wealth is more concentrated with the largest (and legacy) artists getting a bigger overall share.

3) There are LESS opportunities for new artists to have sustainable careers without the aid of label financing.

These numbers are also consistent with this report from Salon:

No Sympathy for the Creative Class | Salon

Of course, those who continue to work in the creative class are the lucky ones. Employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show just how badly the press and media have missed the story.

Other fields show how the recession aggravated existing trends, but reveal that an implosion arrived before the market crash and has continued through our supposed recovery. “Musical groups and artists” plummeted by 45.3 percent between August 2002 and August of 2011. “Newspaper, book and directory publishers” are down 35.9 percent between January 2002 and a decade later; jobs among “periodical publishers” fell by 31.6 percent during the same period.

And then there’s this from Digital Music News:

Recording Sales Declines & Musician Employment, 1999-2011…| Digital Music News

There’s more music being created than ever before, but paradoxically, musicians are making less. Which means there are also fewer musicians and music professionals enjoying gainful employment, thanks to a deflated ecosystem once primed by major labels and marked-up CDs.

It’s a difficult reality to stomach, especially given years of misguided assumptions about digital platforms. But it’s not really a revolution if it’s not getting people paid. And according to stats supplied by the US Department of Labor, there are 41 percent fewer paid musicians since 1999.

So there you have it from two different independent sources both arriving at a reduction of 40%+ fewer full time working middle class musicians since 1999 and 2002 respectively.

As we like to say around here, “If The Internet Is Working For Musicians, Why aren’t More Musicians Working Professionally?” and “Artists, Know They Enemy – Who’s Ripping You Off And How.

The enemy are the for profit businesses making money from our recordings and songwriting illegally. Let’s be clear about this, our battle is with businesses ripping us off by illegally distributing and exploiting our work for profit. This is not about our fans. It is about commercial companies in the businesses of profiting from our work, paying us nothing and then telling us to blame our fans. That is the ultimate in cowardice and dishonesty.