Monday, April 6, 2015

Songwriters Sing the Blues

This is a perennial subject for musicians: how can we make money? Unfortunately, it seems to be getting harder and harder. The only ones that really seem to clean up are whom we might graciously describe as "singers chosen for their ability to dance." From a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Tuning Music Royalties to the Times," we read this dispiriting news:
For some time, performers a notch below Beyoncé and Taylor Swift have complained about the change in music delivery from CDs to downloads to streaming, today’s dominant system, as the progression has chipped away at their already-modest royalties. These gripes are legitimate, but even worse off is the nonperforming songwriter, who can’t go on the road and sell signed CDs and merch, and who takes home significantly lower royalties.
Desmond Child, the co-writer of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” recently reported that the song had been played 6.5 million times on Pandora over three months, for which he had earned $110. There is also writer and performer Aloe Blacc, whose song “Wake Me Up” by Avicii “was the most streamed song in Spotify history and the 13th-most-played song on Pandora since its release in 2013, with more than 168 million streams in the U.S.,” as he wrote last year in Wired magazine. That yielded only $12,359 in Pandora domestic royalties, which were split among three songwriters and the publishers.
Somebody is making money, but, as is often the case, it isn't the composer.

6 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Spotify is wonderful for the end user, in my experience-- over seventy recorded versions of Chopin's Etudes, of both op 10 and op 25 or of one or the other, and, at the other end of the spectrum, friends of mine, one of whom released two CDs years ago and the other who, although now, lamentably for us, gone to his heavenly reward, recorded some six or seven CDs with his band. If the point is to attract an audience and facilitate its listening to your music, Spotify and iTunes etc are one of the greatest wonders of the modern world. For income, you have to perform, I guess: and the writers who don't perform their own work... alas, I suspect that they must make their writing possible with other jobs. Desmond Child I have very little interest in, in fact none, apart from what I owe him propter religionem, but Bon Jovi! I would happily pay a higher monthly streaming fee for continued access to his masterpieces (not really of course but he features in the article). I don't know the details of e.g. Spotify's oppressive deals with its artists, although there was a vague 'we try to do our best to support our artists' wave of PR when it expanded into the US market a few years ago.

I noticed via Norman Lebrecht that Maestro Kent Nagano-- who I know only as a partisan of Olivier Messiaen-- is crying doom and death for classical music. [http://slippedisc.com/2015/04/kent-nagano-classical-music-could-be-gone-in-a-generation/]

Bryan Townsend said...

I have to confess that I have resisted all the streaming services like Spotify and iTunes so far. If I just want to hear something I go to YouTube for free, but if I want to do some serious listening, I buy the CD. I have the impression that anything streamed online has a lower sound quality than CDs.

Ken Fasano said...

One of the comments on the Nagano article reads: "New technologies allow 'anyone' to create music". Go ahead, make my day! Let's take any non-musician off the street, give her the best music software available, and have her record, let's say, in the style of Pharrell Williams (a good pop songwriter). Sorry, that's not going to happen! Maybe after a year, she might be able to record a decent pop song. But there is no software that will allow a non-musician to write a Bach fugue (although there is software that can write something like Bach's or Mozart's LAST work, but never his NEXT work). If the highest form of music this civilization can create (with obvious exceptions that no one but us elitists can name) is a three minute song, it seems to me that we've been this way before - around the middle of the 5th century.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think the Nagano piece is going to find its way into my Friday Miscellanea. Yes, I find it quite ironic that while we seem to be living in a golden age for musicians from a technical point of view, the most of what we produce seems to be particularly stunted pop music miniatures. Music software and recording technology is amazingly cheap and remarkably sophisticated. But the actual training and education of musicians is probably no better than it has been for a hundred years and possibly worse. Composers like Debussy and Ravel competed by having to write cantatas according to the rules of the Conservatoire in order to win the Prix de Rome (a year's study in that city). But how are composers trained today?

Ken Fasano said...

I would have to point to my own inadequacy as a student all those years ago (1970s!) for my poor musicianship, especially compared to composers a century ago. But the emphasis was on "do your own thing", rather than a firm grounding in classical theory. So my knowledge of 16th century counterpoint, tonal harmony, orchestration ends up being mediocre, but I know how to make a Moog synthesizer make noises, and I can pronounce "semicombinatoriality." Woe is me! I really should get me a copy of Gradus ad Parnassum or Harmonielehre.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh. Yes, I was an undergraduate in music in the 70s and yes, lots of "do your own thing" in the composition department. I didn't start to get some solid theory grounding until I got to McGill. It varies according to the university, of course. When I got a chance to teach a class in music theory I delighted in teaching them some species counterpoint! Mind you, at this point, I am almost afraid to study or listen too much because composers always have to, to some extent, do their own thing...