Musicians versus labels

April 8, 2009 | By | 5 Replies More

Who would have thought that intellectual property issues would maintain such a high-profile position in the daily news.   Here’s another item.  Just imagine how much things have changed in the music recording industry.   Consider this excerpt by Trent Reznor (of the band Nine Inch Nails), appearing in

“One of the biggest wake-up calls of my career was when I saw a record contract. I said, ‘Wait – you sell it for $18.98 and I make 80 cents? And I have to pay you back the money you lent me to make it and then you own it? Who the f**k made that rule? Oh! The record labels made it because artists are dumb and they’ll sign anything’ – like I did.


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Category: Art, Intellectual property, Law, music

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    I like how Trent Reznor releases his material. When he produced Saul William's most recent album, the two released a digital version of the CD for free. Downloaders could pay whatever amount they wanted, or not pay at all. After a certain number of downloads, a minimum fee was necessary- but it was still much cheaper than a real-life CD would cost.

    Record companies so far have not been very willing to evolve with the changing technology. But if the artists themselves can find a way to adjust and create a new paradigm, then why bother with the middle man?

  2. Alison says:

    Independent musicians were pretty quick to put internet media to use for their benefit, as well, and that's a plus for consumers. During the years when music video was big, record companies decided that an artist's look was more important than his or her sound, and we were treated to a lot of truly abysmal pop. Now, not only can we find talented musicians with record contracts on radio (because their popularity is partly internet-driven) but talented musicians who aren't signed are producing music on their own – and even some who aren't putting out CDs are doing well and getting fans. What Reznor is doing is making it even easier for artists and listeners to connect, because he's testing the limits and possibilities of a large market, and showing how to work around a system that's had complete control for as long as it's been in existence.

  3. Hank says:

    I gotta hand it to Radiohead and Reznor. Although what they do may not become "the new way" to release material, they're at least giving fans enough credit to not treat them all like a pack of thieving interweb pirates. They're using an alternative business model, which in part says "get the album out there, give fans some credit and get people to your shows/online store." That's how a lot of the big money will be made from now on – merchandise and ticket sales. Things apart from the music itself – things that can't be shunted into a zip file and ftp'd to your friends.

    Radiohead, free from their label EMI, offered the download of their last album "In Rainbows" for "whatever you want to pay." Some people paid a pound, some paid ten pounds. In the end, Radiohead made more money from the Rainbows download than they made from all the digital sales of their previous albums COMBINED.

    To me that says one thing: people are happy to pay for what they love, especially if they know the band's getting most of the cash.

    Radiohead also offered Rainbows in a discpack on double vinyl, double CD and included a book of original psychedelic artwork. Worth every one of the forty pounds to me, being a tragic fanboy, and made them a very decent return. The Mars Volta, another favourite band of mine, also offer their albums on coloured vinyl, usually double or even triple-discs (with any non-playing side engraved or otherwise decorated), and often including extra songs or art that isn't featured on CD or digital versions (often on an extra piece of vinyl in the case of songs). This approach not only sells the music but makes the physical product something of a prized collector's item (I don't actually play my Radiohead or Volta vinyl as it's too precious).

    Radiohead and the Volta seem keenly aware that, in the new digital climate, you have to offer people more than just your music (and you can't gig 24/7/365.25 either!). One album can be shared amongst a hundred friends within minutes, but produce something physical, something extra – be it t-shirts, an LP or piece of art – and gain extra cash and extra respect from your fans. Especially old schoolers like me who grew up with vinyl (still have a '73 first run copy of Dark Side of the Moon) and love having tangible artifacts.

  4. Erika Price says:

    Of course, now it's also Musicians vs. Labels vs. Mp3 Peddlers. The Itunes store recently adopted a new policy of charging more for popular songs. I wonder what repercussions this will have for both industry and artist- though I suppose so little trickles down to the artists that it hardly matters.

    The other big issue, I would think, that can jam up relationships between artists and their labels is music label's usually fervent copyright sensitivity. I'm sure many artists actually enjoy seeing their songs remixed, mashed up, resung with literal lyrics, or set to goofy home-made music videos. Hell, it might even be good for business, as it introduces new people to a song. But record labels are so defensive the Youtube has now taken to switching the sound off of videos that use copyrighted content.

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I can't believe Reznor was getting 80 cents per CD. According to some of the musicians here in Nashville, it's is usually closer to 12 cents.

    Two or three years ago, the band Twisted Sister released a an album of heavy metal renditions of Christmas carols {"Twisted Christmas")complete with the obligatory spoof of "The 12 Days of Christmas". At first, sales were dismal, but then they released the entire album as freely downloadable mp3 files without any DRM on their official website and the CD sales took off.

    For many years, the labels were the only way to get published and they decided who would be heard. That decision was based on what the execs thought would make the most money. Usually this meant going with the bubblegum flavor of the week, only when the sales began to slump, would they consider anything new.

    A lot of artists have wised of and are using the internet to completely bypass the ppublishers by using free services like Jamendo, that provide a venue for all types of music.

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