Saturday, December 1, 2012

Highest-Paid Musicians

I don't know about you, but I've been scratching my head for a couple of days over the recent Forbes story about the highest-earning musicians of 2012. Here's the link. Here's a couple of quotes:
Though he’s only 18 years old, Justin Bieber has had a year for the ages. The Canadian crooner released his third studio album, launched a world tour and continued investing in startups, adding to a portfolio that includes stakes in Spotify, Tinychat and others. All in all, he earned $55 million in 12 months.
Hip-hop superproducer Dr. Dre leads the pack this year with $110 million, thanks largely to his Beats headphone line. He collected $100 million pretax when handset maker HTC paid $300 million for a 51% stake in the company last year, at the beginning of our scoring period; he and his partners later bought back half of what they sold.
“The brands are so aligned, Dre and Beats, it’s just who he is,” says Kevin Liles, former president of Def Jam Recordings, who now manages acts ranging from Young Jeezy to Trey Songz. “If you look at the biggest earners, the guys have been doing it for 20 years … what’s happening now is people are really telling their truth.”
Touring and marketing are where the bucks are made. Though I guess I'm pleased that  there are two Canadians on the list, Bieber and Michael BublĂ©, I'm also disconcerted about what it indicates about music in Canada. I'm sort of glad to see Paul McCartney still in the top 25, but even more dismayed that U2 are there.

I wonder what the list tells us about the state of music nowadays? What strikes me is that you don't actually seem to make money from music as such. You make money from selling tickets to big spectacles where dance, costuming and light shows are as much the draw as the music. You make money selling headphones, t-shirts, perfume and a zillion other things I suppose we could categorize as "tie-ins". I guess George Lucas taught this to everyone. But somehow there has to be a veil of mysticism drawn over this because the whole commercial superstructure is teetering on the feeble proposition that these folks are in some way 'musicians'. "What's happening now is people are really telling their truth." What does that mean? What could it possibly mean? The only 'truth' these folks are telling is that wow, do we ever have a smoothly-functioning business plan.

Now for the necessary qualifications: I like some of the people on the list, McCartney, of course and Katy Perry, who does some interesting things now and then. Adele seems to be a real singer. But apart from those few (maybe I missed one or two), I really don't see much musical quality on the list. Musical quality is pretty much the only thing that really interests me as a listener, performer or composer. Here's Paul McCartney in a live show from 2005. Some quality there...

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