The Reality of Making it Big
November 21, 2011 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Several years ago I remember reading a very well-regarded article about the financial realities of the life of a band when it gets signed by a music label. I think it was from Rolling Stone, but I couldn't swear by that fact. I recall that it laid out in detail about how the advances work, how exciting it is for the band at first, and then how the entire industry is built to completely financially destroy them. Does this ring a bell with anyone? My nephew is going to become a world-famous millionaire rock star, and I want to give him something to think about while he is working for that big break....
posted by Lokheed to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I thnk you are looking for this article by Steve Albini
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:14 PM on November 21, 2011 [18 favorites]

Or Courtney Love Does the Math, Salon I think.
posted by okbye at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Entertainment Weekly did this with the Jayhawks in 1995.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:25 PM on November 21, 2011

Yeah, it's "The Trouble with Music". Long live the Baffler.
posted by Beardman at 1:27 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Posssibly How To Make A Living Playing Music?
posted by timsteil at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2011

"Some of your friends may already be this fucked". Courtney does the math.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:05 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Steve Albini is definitely the one I was thinking about. I'll check out the others as well. Thanks!
posted by Lokheed at 2:59 PM on November 21, 2011

See also: David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars (Wired Mag., 12.18.07), with follow-up corrections on his personal web journal: 01.09.2008: Correction? and 02.12.2008: Addendum to recent Wired Article (Part II)
posted by filthy light thief at 3:54 PM on November 21, 2011

If your nephew is getting into the music business to be rich and famous, he will be neither. If he is getting into it for the love of music and is willing to put in more hours than an investment banker, he has a shot. These days, signing with a big label is probably not the best way to stardom either. He should read some industry blogs. One I love when he is not being overbearing and over self-promoting is by Bob Lefsetz. I am sure there are others.

Here is Lefsetz' info:
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:19 PM on November 21, 2011

While a classic, that article is really showing its age:

For one, major labels don't discover and develop artists anymore, not like they used to. You have to have a stupid large following (that you built up yourself) before that would happen, and at that point you don't gain much from signing to a major. Distribution of your CD to record stores nationwide? Radio play? Your video on MTV? Those are some advantages to signing- ask yourself how revelant they are today. Major labels can and do get your music into TV shows, though. Every TV show seems to be bursting at the seams with 10 secs of new signings.

Because CDs are effectively finished as a commercial product, income from recorded music is quickly becoming about iTunes and streaming services- neither of which approach the royalty levels of ye olde CD album- even with the labels screwing you over. The reality is that even legit online music is not really a viable revenue stream for too many people.

On the plus side, you can make an album MUCH cheaper. You can record it yourself, and it will be passable. In fact, this is the new norm. Never before have home/project studio productions been the norm for pop music. And of the people Steve mentions as producers, you can get much cheaper. You can hire Abbey Road to mix your song for like $900. Ridiculous.

I write all this assuming he wants to be in a rock band. There will always be superstars in other idioms that will basically be as successful as pop musicians have always been. It seems though that playing live like crazy and merchandise are how money is made these days.
posted by tremspeed at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

JohnnyGunn, on Bob Lefsetz: "...when he is not being overbearing and over self-promoting..."

And when would that be, precisely?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:23 PM on November 21, 2011

Response by poster: If your nephew is getting into the music business to be rich and famous, he will be neither.

Nah, he plays guitar because he can't not play guitar. He plays for hours every day purely for the love of music. He's a good kid, and very hard working. He just got his first taste of what a paying gig is like, and I want to support and encourage him while still keeping him grounded in reality.
posted by Lokheed at 6:41 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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