Will my money get to the musician, or all end up with the record label?
May 22, 2007 5:46 AM   Subscribe

Help me make sure that my money gets to Handsome Dick Manitoba: downloading vs buying music, and how to find out if an artist actually gets money from their own album sales?

Having recently heard the The Dictators' album Blood Brothers and realizing that they are a blind spot in my collection, I'd like to buy some of their stuff. This album is a classic and in print so I'm sure that I can buy a copy, however I also have access to a free download of it. These days I'm, uh, flush enough that I can afford these things and so I'd rather just buy the record and support the band, however it occurs to me that little to none of the money may actually end up in the hands of the original artists.

Is anyone aware of any resources to tell if a particular musical artist gets more or less of the money from the sales of their own records? Say, Artist A got a crappy contract and gets pennies on each sale, vs Artist B who held their ground during negotiations and gets dollars.

This seems like the kind of information that probably exists out there somewhere, perhaps in a wiki or otherwise community-contributable form.
posted by intermod to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have faith in capitalism. Even if none of the money you spend ends up with the Dictators, it's purchases like yours that encouraged them to have a career in music in the first place, and it's purchases like yours that made someone buy the rights from the band (assuming the in-print version is not a bootleg). While there have been terrible tales of lost opportunity (? and the Mysterians come to mind), well, that's business.

Second argument: the fact that you're not stealing from the band itself doesn't make stealing music ethically acceptable. By your logic, an art thief is ethically in the clear as long as he doesn't steal from the artist.
posted by backupjesus at 6:03 AM on May 22, 2007

Third argument: since the Dictators sell Bloodbrothers on their Web site, they would probably appreciate you buying a copy, and buying direct ensures they're making the retailer's cut, too.
posted by backupjesus at 6:08 AM on May 22, 2007

Having faith in capitalism doesn't mean having faith in a predatory monopoly. The RIAA is a racket, literally.

What I would suggest: buy a t-shirt or two from their website, and send them a note and tell them why you did it. Then download the music.

Why? Because if you buy the CD from them, they still end up paying the RIAA. Artists have to pay full price for their OWN RECORDS. They get the retail markup, but not even as much as real retailers do. Part of the money you spend on CDs goes directly to the bastards that are suing grandmothers all over the country. If you buy shirts instead, the band probably makes more money, and most importantly, the RIAA doesn't get any of it.
posted by Malor at 6:52 AM on May 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Would it be ethical to buy products from a company that did not treat their artists ethically? The artists may have signed contracts, but that does not necessarily mean that they are fair or that the corporation is really living up to their side of the agreement. Not many artists have the means or fortitude to sue for their due. I'd expect that the band's website is just a corporate construction itself, not necessarily a representation of the actual artist's thoughts.

Blind faith in capitalism leads to all kinds of abuses. The poster just wants to make an ethical choice in his purchase to support an artist (which I cannot really help with, unfortunately). Best advice I could give is to avoid the big corporate labels and buy local.
posted by DarkForest at 7:09 AM on May 22, 2007

Best answer: On this particular record, the Dictators have re-released it on their own label (Dictators Multimedia) and are selling it on their own website. As Backupjesus sez above, the Dictators are not only getting a cut as the artists, but also label cut and the retail cut (if you buy from them).

To Malor's concerns, their label is not listed on RIAA affiliated labels, if that is a major concern for you.

Really, by it from them and rest assured they are getting the maximum money from your purchase.
posted by kongg at 7:31 AM on May 22, 2007

If you end up downloading the album, you can make up for it by knocking back a few at Handsome Dick Manitoba's bar in NYC.
posted by look busy at 7:44 AM on May 22, 2007

Bloodbrothers is a kickass album, and if you go to his bar, he usually is there in person in the evenings and is very garrulous. He'd probably answer any questions you'd have personally. (I'd also recommend getting both their debut album Go Girl Crazy (funny, catchy and historically important) and their reunion album DFFD (since everybody should have a copy of 'Pussy & Money.')
posted by jonmc at 8:29 AM on May 22, 2007

Also, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Andy/Adny Shernoff was the primary songwriter so he'd probably get an even bigger cut than Handsome Dick.

But Mr.Manitoba digs us.
posted by jonmc at 8:40 AM on May 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Would it be ethical to buy products from a company that did not treat their artists ethically?

No, it would not. However, if your own ethical system holds that a company that negotiates advantageous deals with its suppliers is exploiting them and pursuing legal remedies against thieves is unfair, you will have a very difficult time buying much of anything in the US. It gets even worse if you consider that an "ethical" company may spend money that ends up in the hands of the unethical -- God forbid if Handsome Dick Manitoba takes your money and spends it at Wal-Mart.

Malor seems to suggest that it would then be reasonable to take whatever you want and pay those people you think deserve to be paid for the goods and services you use. While it would be interesting to live in a tipping-based economy for a day or two, I don't think it would end well.

I'll take faith in capitalism and respect for property rights, thanks.
posted by backupjesus at 8:48 AM on May 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

1. The Dictators are awesome.

2. I seriously doubt that there is any website disclosing how much particular artists get per sale, since I have every reason to assume it varies considerably and is not easy to calculate. I have often seen artists make assertions about how much they make per album, but in some cases it seems they are not reckoning advances and so forth. Nor is authorship factored in.

3. By all means, use these considerations to figure out the best avenue for purchasing the music. But using concerns about the rate at which artists are compensated as an excuse for choosing to download it for free -- IF that's what's being considered -- strikes me as purely opportunistic ethics. If you send a personal check directly to the artists for the price of the CD, then we'll talk.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:25 AM on May 22, 2007

I'm sure jonmc is sick of me and this topic but: Fuck Handsome Dick Manitoba. His ethics are for shit. In case you didn't know, a few years ago he sent a legal team after Canadian musician Dan Snaith who had released an album under the name Manitoba.

Dan didn't have funds to defend himself and was forced to change the name he releases albums under (he chose Caribou). This is despite Dick never having released an album under the name "Manitoba", releasing music in a different genre (Snaith releases electronic music, for the most part) on a small Canadian label--ie, there was no way in hell anyone would have mixed up these two artists or that Snaith's work would have ruined Dick's "reputation".

Keep your money in your pocket.
posted by dobbs at 9:49 AM on May 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Honestly, it sounds like what Handsome Dick did was shitty. But I love the directions this goes. I'm going to download for free everything by every band that trashed a hotel room, dissed its fans, treated its groupies shabbily, and failed to show for a live date.

Of course, if I do business with people who illegally downloaded music for some other reason, one that I happen to think is unpersuasive, I'm going to screw 'em without remorse, since their ethics are for shit.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:06 AM on May 22, 2007

dobbs: you're entitled to your opinion, and I'm sorry for what happened to that guy. But Dick's contributions to music outweigh any gaffes. Worse things have been done by better men.
posted by jonmc at 10:07 AM on May 22, 2007

Clyde, I don't see how those things are analogous. There's a chasm between "failed to show for a live date" and the other things you mention and hiring a legal team to sue a fellow artist in another country whose actions are doing you no harm.

Further, the OP tagged the Q with "ethics" so it's certainly important to his query.

I don't buy stocks from companies that do unethical things (that I can find out about) with my money--why fund musicians whose actions are also abhorrent?
posted by dobbs at 10:11 AM on May 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

1. Chasm? I think the analogy holds, but it's a matter of opinion. As to the practice you challenge, it is for better or worse standard business practice to object to the use of a highly similar name in another market -- lots of examples out there. HDM's behavior was extreme and sounds objectionable, but note that if he had (pathetic?) illusions of reinvigorating his career and later undertook to do so in Canada, he might have lost his right to protect his name and even face infringement himself. (Note: not, unfortunately, his real name.)

2. I'm totally with you -- if you don't like a company, don't buy its stock; if you hate HDM, don't buy his music. But taking his music for free (or ripping off the company you dislike) is plainly a step beyond.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:19 AM on May 22, 2007

dobbs: like I said, worse things have been done by other artists. Miles Davis bragged about hitting his wife. Gregg Allman testified against his road manager and sent him to jail for years. Phil Spector abused his wife and very possibly killed a woman. Sould we all turn in all our albums by them?

I know Dick in a casual way-he recognizes me and my wife when we come to the bar and shoots the breeze with us. He seems to be a genuinely decent, likable man, so inclined to say that the lawsuit was a moment of poor judgement rather than a high crime against humanity. And his contributions to musical history (liking the Dics is a matter of taste, but they are historically important) outweigh any gaffe, IMHO, YMMV, etc.
posted by jonmc at 10:20 AM on May 22, 2007

(and he did release an album under the name Manitoba's Wild Kingdom (which was basically him, Andy Shernoff, Ross The Boss and Thunderbolt Patterson) and a single under the name Handsome Dick Manitoba. FWIW)
posted by jonmc at 10:25 AM on May 22, 2007

the OP's question is
Help me make sure that my money gets to Handsome Dick Manitoba
but he seems to be asking a larger question, which is, how do you get $$ to artists you want to support?

In the specific case, I would say, ask jonmc for the mailing address of HDM's bar. To the larger question, find the address of the artist's label. In both cases, throw $5 in an envelope for every album illegally downloaded.

Does that not solve it?
posted by luser at 11:33 AM on May 22, 2007

No, it would not. However, if your own ethical system holds that a company that negotiates advantageous deals with its suppliers is exploiting them

Personally, my ethical system holds that negotiating deals with artists and then failing to live up to those deals by lying about sales and, thus, cheating the artists, is most definitely exploiting them.

The music industry routinely lies to and cheats its artists, to the point that the artists need to hire accountants to audit their books, and they ALWAYS find that the artists are being underpaid, often massively. Always. It's become expected behavior.

They're a predatory monopoly without any ethics at all. Get the money to the artists a different way.

It sounds like in this specific case, though, you may be safe just buying the CDs from the website.
posted by Malor at 11:41 AM on May 22, 2007

Best answer: Malor, there's an entire genre of I-hate-my-record-company songs. Artists know full well that they're going to get the short straw -- as you say, it's the expected behavior -- but they're willing to do it for the exposure to make the real money from touring and (these days) licensing. If they don't want to sign with an RIAA label, they don't have to, and there are plenty of successful artists these days who choose that route.

You're kidding about "predatory monopoly," right? It's never been easier to start a record label. Between Amazon and the death of music retailers, you don't even need major distribution any more. The only reason there are no major labels known for treating artists well is because customers don't demand it and new artists, fully aware that they're a dime a gross, will sign for peanuts and the promise of future peanuts.

If you don't want to participate in the system, that's your choice, but don't try to justify theft by claiming that your judgement is somehow more correct than that of the people who actually created the music and agreed to sell it.
posted by backupjesus at 1:19 PM on May 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

So if small acts sign up just for the exposure, and they're only making peanuts or less, then they should love downloading because it increases their exposure to people who would never have laid out their 16.95.

And if the big labels are not acting ethically, as admitted, do we need to behave ethically toward them?
posted by DarkForest at 2:11 PM on May 22, 2007

A peanut is better than nothing. One of the problems with the exposure argument is that small acts have lots of ways they can give their stuff away (other than simply getting pillaged by illegal downloading).

A second problem is that consumers use this argument so opportunistically: I look at a bunch of songs and reason that since I'd never pay $16.95 for them, I'm licensed to do it for nothing . . . something influenced not just a little by the fact that $16.95 seems bigger when it's compared to free, and by the fact that we're all a bunch of selfish bastards who invent rationales to justify keeping our money whenever we're not compelled to pony up. I sympathize with the plight of artists, but anyone who weighs in on this should consider seriously whether they're arguing from self-interest rather than standing up for the little guys.

The simplest solution, in my view, is to presume that the artists want to paid according to their contracts and their legal rights until they definitively advise otherwise. Unless, of course, that's too inconvenient.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2007

DarkForest, it's the artist's choice whether to love free downloading or not. Many have embraced it, others don't, still others can't due to past decisions on their part, but it's their decision, not yours.

In my view, it doesn't matter how unethical the label might be -- two wrongs don't make a right and all that. It's the artist's responsibility to work it out with an unethical label, not a thief's listener's.
posted by backupjesus at 2:49 PM on May 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the comments. I knew jonmc would appear here, as his love for the Dictators is well known.

I actually saw Manitoba's Wild Kingdom back in the day.

So, there's no known resource for knowing whether artists have one of those "I'm screwed" contracts, and it just has to go case by case. In this case, duh, I can buy direct from the band, although DarkForest makes a good point that even if you purchase through the band's website, the money may still go to GE or Monsanto or whoever. Hence my wondering about whether this information had been collated somewhere, DIY style.

I'll buy something from them tonight, and will mark some favorites here too. Thanks again everyone.
posted by intermod at 3:18 PM on May 22, 2007

backupjesus: The RIAA knows perfectly well that people cheat and download music. If they can knowingly cheat their artists, then surely their customers can knowingly cheat them.
posted by Malor at 4:10 PM on May 22, 2007

backupjesus: The RIAA knows perfectly well that people cheat and download music.

And, as everyone knows, they've decided they're cool with that. Imagine the carelessness!

If they can knowingly cheat their artists, then surely their customers can knowingly cheat them.

Because . . . oh yes, because they have it coming to them, and the downloading customers are the right hand of God.

No, wait a minute, scratch that: because we consumers can HELP the RIAA cheat the artists by denying the artists any money at all! Damn artists.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:27 PM on May 22, 2007

How about we just give it to them directly, instead?

It amazes me that anyone would defend the RIAA.
posted by Malor at 5:14 PM on May 22, 2007


To be candid, what I find more amazing is that anyone can try to shoehorn gripes about the RIAA into an excuse for downloading for free music in a situation where, by hypothesis, buying the music tends to advantage the artist.

Or, for that matter, that anyone would confuse suggesting that the OP pursue purchasing the music directly from the artist, or send them a check after downloading, with a defense of the RIAA.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:25 PM on May 22, 2007

jonmc, yeah, we're never gonna agree on this. I simply don't give a shit how nice a guy he is. I form my opinion of people on how they behave. Bringing a lawsuit against a fellow artist is not a "gaffe" or the result of a "momentary lack of judgment". It's a major deal which affects the artist, the label, and the fans. (I occasionally work in a record store and customers still ask me why Manitoba never released another album even though he's put out a few under his new moniker.)

As for the other things people have done, yes, I think if people want to not own or buy Miles Davis records or Ike Turner or whomever based on a breach of ethics or morals or whatever, that's their perogative. Yeah, Miles Davis is no less talented a trumpet player because of his idiotic behavior and Dick, iyo, is a great rock artist. That's not being disputed--the OP obviously likes his music, but since the question was one founded in ethics, I think it's important that people know Dick's own ethcis are questionable.

And yes, he's released records under the name Manitoba's Wild Kingdom, which is ironic considering he has no problem taking two words from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom but has issues with Snaith using one word "from" his name which also happens to be the name of a province.

The man's a hypocrite and he chose to be treated like a corporation when he started behaving like one.
posted by dobbs at 8:26 PM on May 22, 2007

Fair enough. I just feel obligated to defend a guy I like and (this incident notwithstanding) admire.
posted by jonmc at 4:42 AM on May 23, 2007

Malor, your argument is that you don't want to support the RIAA (reasonable) and you don't want to make any personal sacrifice for your beliefs (understandable), so you're going to steal music (huh?) and claim it's what the artist wants (even though they implicitly agreed it's not by not offering free downloads themselves).

To the various "it's okay as long as the artists get paid" folks: how would you feel if you worked at a company doing a vital job (receptionist, IT support person, HR director, whatever) and were laid off because customers in your industry felt they should only have to pay the engineers who design your company's products? If you were an engineer at such a company, sudden windfall aside, would you keep designing new products when there would be nobody around to sell or market them? You could find a new job or start your own company in that case, but, if you're rational, you would be taking a pay cut over what you would have made at your prior job, since otherwise you would have already made your move.

Artists choose to work with labels because it's better than the alternatives; they're willing to give up some marginal revenue for higher total profits due to better sales/marketing/distribution and financing that would otherwise be unavailable. By cutting out the label (as well as producers, engineers, and various other points participants), you are hurting artists in the long term because they will eventually be forced into the inferior alternatives they have already spurned.
posted by backupjesus at 6:48 AM on May 23, 2007

Best answer: To attempt to answer the original question:

No, I don't believe that the contents of the deals signed by various acts are held anywhere on the internet.

Some bands have signed great deals, with a reasonably fair percentage per sale, others have signed terrible deals.

Downloads will often have a different percentage per sale, in some cases as much as 50/50 split between artist and record company for royalties.

Merchandise deals will depend on how savvy the artist was at the time of the deal and how precious their image was to the company. Hence, certain bands, especially those signed to indie labels, will retain most if not all of their merchandise rights.

The details of these deals is held entirely in the wording of the recording and publishing contracts which were signed, and I very much doubt there is a public listing of the deals. Some acts may talk about them, but I would suggest that you're looking for details which compare to someone's salary, which let's face it, most people don't discuss.

I post this as an artist signed to an indie label, who are lovely, and won't be letting on our exact deal for the very reasons listed above!
posted by triv at 7:56 AM on May 23, 2007

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