The A.V. Club posted a link to Tim Quirk’s blog post on the odd inconsistencies of digital downloads and the money that artists recoup. Or don’t ever see for that matter. Quirk, former frontman for Too Much Joy, detailed the rather heinous business practices on his blog after receiving a “Royalty Statement” from Warner Brothers.
Quirk notes a lot of rather sickening business practices that one would come to expect from the music industry, and, yes, even a couple of moments where WB (or at least certain individuals) exhibits good intentions. However, one of Quirk’s final comments might be the most striking piece throughout the post:
But there’s another possibility – one I don’t necessarily subscribe to, but one that could be avoided entirely by humoring pests like me. There’s a theory that labels and publishers deliberately avoid creating the transparent accounting systems today’s technology enables. Because accurately accounting to my silly little band would mean accurately accounting to the less silly bands that are recouped, and paying them more money as a result.
By this point, there’s been plenty to suggest that music industry labels have done their best to recoup money for their own interests, leaving the artists suffering in the end. Whether it be the near-indentured serfdom that electric blues/early rock musicians incurred in the ’50s (as detailed in Rich Cohen’s The Record Men) or the countless accounts of little bands picked up by record labels with dollar signs in their eyes and dropped at a moments notice (really, you can take your pick there), there are literally countless accounts of record companies sucking bands dry for their own benefit. It’s the kind of system that was bound to topple, so when the ‘net and digital downloads came around, it pulled the rug out from everyone.
So record labels have shaped up, right? They need to if they want to survive in this new music economy, as practically anyone who’s heard of file-sharing has said. Yet, Quirk’s experience seems to point to the potential possibility that record companies haven’t quite changed their tunes: the business models of taking bands for everything their worth appears to continue even when the new system is forcing people to think differently.
What’s really frightening is the potential that Quirk mentions towards the end of his piece. That, even with a tool like digital marketing readily available and enabling a higher form of transparency, record labels (or at least WB) would appear to negate the need to evolve in order to continue to recoup the monetary benefits.
Are the laughable miscalculations and practical ripping-offs that have befallen Too Much Joy occurring on a wider scale? Or is it just happening to bands that “haven’t recouped” the money that a major label has spent on some little-heard-of indie band? In any case, an insightful look at the system’s use (or misuse) of digital download payments may open more eyes and ears to Too Much Joy than WB ever thought possible.