page updated 15 May 2004

The largest of the large record labels in America would like us to believe that they're having a hard time making money. They say sales are down, and they point their finger at electronic file sharing as the sole root of all that ails them.

Sales may be down for the big majors like Sony (Columbia/Epic), Vivendi Universal (Interscope/Geffen/A&M/MCA/Verve/Mercury), and Bertelsmann (BMG/Arista/RCA/Windam Hill), and this decline in sales might be concurrent with the rise in file sharing on the internet, but I believe these facts may be simply coincidental.

I have gathered here some written pieces that call into dispute the industry's version of its woes. From the onerous contracts foisted off on artists to the heavy-handed tactics of music biz lawyers and their lobbyists, these articles demonstrate the myriad ways in which big music is shooting itself in the foot over and over again. There is ample evidence that the bleeding of sales from the music malls of America is largely a self-inflicted wound.
  • Don Henley takes the labels to task for the egregious terms of recording contracts. I think this came to me through a mailing list, not sure which one.
  • Janis Ian has crafted a lengthy piece concerning peer to peer file sharing. This article as well as others she has written are posted on her web site,
  • Steve Albini, producer for Nirvana, has plenty to say about how little money is left over for the bands once all the hands have grabbed at the pie. His original article is posted here on the negativeland web site.
  • Jeff Miller of Simon Apple posted a lengthy diatribe on labels, radio payola, and filesharing to their mailing list, which I retrieved from Chalkhills when it was posted there.
  • Tom Silverman, president of Tommy Boy Records has written a short accounting of the expense structure of the majors. No attribution, as I've had it around a while, and forgot where I lifted it.
  • Courtney Love made a rather comprehensive speech on what she refers to as "Piracy, by the record labels," back in 2000. Her remarks on Napster may seem outdated due to recent developments, but they still stand as a good milestone against which to mark the current state of file sharing, and the changes wrought upon it by the DCMA and the RIAA.
  • Tom Petty makes 10 pretty good points.
  • Don Henly is at it again. A new editorial, dated 2-17-04, stating that basically, the problem of artist compensation and control is systemic, and may play out in the courts or congress before too long.

This should all amount to a very large cautionary tale, taken as a whole. Artists--beware of giving away your future. Music fans, know who you're supporting with your purchases; the artist, or the label that has unfairly suckered a band into giving away their future?

I urge all music aficionados to support independent artists-- help them to stay independent by earning a living from their art. Seek out music in new and unusual places. Exercise your right to vote, and stand up to the lobbyists who would have Congress legislate away your right to fair use of music you paid for.

Update: In light of the recent spate of lawsuits by the RIAA against online file traders, I now support a total boycott of all RIAA affiliated record labels. These heinous acts, which basically amount to extortion and racketeering, must not be tolerated.

This could be interesting:
Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno have formed a new on-line sales organization for ditributing music digitally, without label intermediaties, called MUDDA.

Further reading:

George Ziemann, who runs AzOz music, and independent music retail site, has written a fairly comprehensive statistical analysis of the RIAA's claims about profits and piracy.
Work for hire? This is bad, bad news.

Independent webcasting is also about to go the way of the Dodo.

Boycott RIAA has a decent collection of articles and links

RIAA Radar is a site that helps you determine whether a label is RIAA-affiliated, or independent.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation would like you to join in with them in petitioning your government for a redress of grievances,

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) infringes on your fair-use rights, and it's only the beginning.