A Response to Steve Albini About The Internet and Musicians by UNSOUND Film Director

By Count Eldridge

My rebuttal to Steve Albini’s bullet point post. Steve Albini’s poorly reasoned piece was posted, so I feel obligated to try to correct some of the glaring misinformation. I’ve spent the past 2 years working on a documentary called Unsound that addresses the issues that Steve brings up in his post.

You can read the original story here:

On free global music sharing: “The single best thing that has happened in my lifetime in music, after punk rock, is being able to share music, globally for free. That’s such an incredible development.”

It is only an incredible development if you give CONSENT to share that music. Steve seems to have missed the most important aspect of ‘sharing’. Its not sharing without consent.

On consumer choice: “Record labels, which used to have complete control, are essentially irrelevant. The process of a band exposing itself to the world is extremely democratic and there are no barriers. Music is no longer a commodity, it’s an environment, or atmospheric element. Consumers have much more choice and you see people indulging in the specificity of their tastes dramatically more. They only bother with music they like.”

This is one of the most obvious positive aspects of the internet revolution, so Steve is not totally wrong on this piece- only about 95% wrong. Again, Steve seems to have missed the most important point. Music IS a commodity now. That is exactly what Spotify and Youtube have done. And in the process of enriching themselves, they devalued what we spent out entire lives creating.

“You can literally have a worldwide audience for your music… with no corporate participation, which is tremendous.”

No corporate participation? Is he serious? Google, Apple, Facebook, Comcast, and Spotify are the biggest, most powerful corporations we have ever seen. Apple alone is bigger than Exxon Mobile. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. In fact Apple are really the good guys in all of this. But I can assure you that corporate participation is happening at all levels, and many of these corporations are exploiting artists on a level that makes those big bad labels Albini likes to complain about look like angels.

On the economics of streaming services: “I think they are extremely convenient for people who aren’t genuine music fans, who don’t want to do any legwork in  finding bands, [but] I think there is incorrect calculus being done by the people who are upset about them. I actually think the compensation is not as preposterous as anyone else. It’s like complaining that cars are going faster than horses.”

No Steve, it is your math that is incorrect about streaming services. An independent artist that could eek out a living selling 12,000 copies of their music simply goes bankrupt if those 12,000 people start streaming that music instead of buying it. The math could not be more simple. It seems Steve has fallen for the myth that Spotify has perpetuated. They love to talk about “scale”. If only their company could “scale”, then everyone would win! Wrong! Only Spotify wins. Steve, tell me why it is that you want so badly to support the IPOs of major corporations at your own expense? Why do you want to subsidize their businesses of the backs of creators? Why do you want to enrich these middlemen?

And his point about convenience? What could be more convenient than clicking one button on iTunes? Or even better, streaming my music on MY website instead of Spotify and Youtube, which only enriches those corporations at the expense of artists.  Steve is supposed to be railing against the big corporations. Clearly he hasn’t thought this through.

On the publishing industry: “Publishing was a racket. It was not a legitimate part of the music business. It never operated for the benefit of songwriters. Of all of the things that have collapsed in the music paradigm, the one I am most pleased to see collapse is the publishing racket.”

Dont like publishing deals, then simply don’t sign one. Deal with your own publishing. Nobody forces any artist to sign a deal. But artists don’t have a choice when it comes to Youtube and pirate sites. And realistically, artists don’t have much of a choice but to be on Facebook and Spotify either. But this issue of publishing is irrelevant to the conversation, as it has nothing to do with the internet revolution or anything ‘new’.

On the primacy of live music: “I think that’s a totally much more direct and genuine way for an audience to pay for a band, and a much more efficient means of compensation.”

Efficient?? Is he kidding? Driving across the country, or flying half way around the world to perform your music for fans is NOT efficient. Selling them a file which they can play any time is the ultimate in efficiency. And streaming (if it paid artists properly) would be just as efficient. But live performance is the absolute worst way to compensate an artist, and doesn’t address compensation for songwriters, producers, and engineers.  Live performance is the most expensive, least efficient way to deliver music to someone. If you are lucky enough to even be able to get gigs in this competitive market, they probably won’t be profitable enough for you to continue doing them even if they are well attended.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many positives here that should be pointed out. In fact many, if not most, of the problems that plagued the music business have improved…except for the whole making a living part. Sadly, that part has actually gotten worse.  An artist’s ability to perform live for fans has actually become more difficult. First of all, most bands lose money touring. Everyone in the music business should know this. This is why record labels used to give tour support. Touring has always been a loss leader for record sales. Eventually the lucky few who gain large fan bases over many years do actually make money touring. These are the 1%. All of the rest of us just hope to break even and sell a few recordings.

Secondly, the amount of bands trying to tour to make a living is exponentially increasing, while the number of venues and days in the year stay the same. It is physically impossible for all of the artists who actually have significant fan bases to tour. There are simply not enough dates and venues. Furthermore, even if there were more venues, people simply won’t see live shows every day, but they will listen to recorded music every day. In fact, people are consuming more music than ever. This means we MUST solve the problem of monetizing recorded music. Sean Parker and the Spotify folks love to spread this misinformation about how artists make money from touring. But we all know most artists loose money touring. If touring is so profitable and efficient, perhaps Spotify should change their business model and leave their families and friends for months at a time and go on tour hand delivering music to people one city at a time.

Instead of perpetuating the myth that artists make money touring, those in the music industry who know better should be focussing hard to make the delivery and monetization of recorded music better for artists by making it more efficient. This means less middlemen (or no middlemen) taking a smaller cut, rather than allowing a few giant corporations and rogue pirates to profit enormously from our work.

On cutting out the middleman: “On balance, the things that have happened because of the internet have been tremendously good for bands and audiences, but really bad for businesses that are not part of that network, the people who are siphoning money out. I don’t give a fuck about those people.”

There are now just as many middle men than before, and they are indeed siphoning out most of the money, leaving fractions of a penny for artists. The difference is that today’s middle men are ripping you off far worse than the middle men from before the internet, yet they invest nothing back in to the artists who make their platforms even possible. I know what Steve is probably thinking right now. “What about those big bad labels! They took a big percentage!” Don’t try to introduce labels into this issue. This is a distribution problem. Love them or hate them, labels invest in artists and take a huge risk. What does Youtube or Spotify invest annually in artists?

Sadly, it seems Steve Albini is so far out of touch that he doesn’t even realize that he is not railing against ‘the man’. Instead, he is playing right into their hands.

I really need to finish my film Unsound before more artists and music fans get fed more of this kind of misinformation.




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