Moses Exposes

I’m not a big fan of repeating myself, but sometimes it’s necessary. In last month’s column I outlined exactly why all the swill about the “decaying music business” was an exaggeration spouted by people who’ve been downsized from their cushy label jobs. Needless to say, this sparked a bit of insider, and outsider, controversy. One of the responses that I received pointed me to a link on The Chronicle Herald where an article read: “Legendary music producer Bob Ezrin says the much talked about imminent demise of the record business is already here. People are not going to the record store and are not paying for downloads,” says the man who discovered Alice Cooper, produced Pink Floyd’s The Wall and worked with David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, and KISS, among other superstars.

Now, I am a fan of Ezrin’s important contributions to the world of music. I mean no disrespect in rebuking his comments. In fact, if I’m to be honest, I should be so lucky as to accomplish half as much as he has professionally. But these are not the words of an economist.

I’m not even sure what marketing reports are feeding their conclusions. But my guess is that the main source for these doom-and-gloom viewpoints is their personal royalty/commission checks — a diminishing asset, I’m sure. After all, when you’re a manager of mega-groups like Floyd or Gabriel and have grown comfortable seeing commissions in the form of six figures a month and suddenly those numbers start dropping down to $50,000 a month, then it’s easy to start thinking the world is coming to an end.

But over 2 billion downloads on iTunes, Yahoo, e-Music et al (and the sale of over 500 million confirmed domestic CD sales in the last year alone) does not seem to jibe with the assertion that “People are not going to the record store and are not paying for downloads.”

I think that what Ezrin really means is this: The music business that he and others of his kind once understood is changing so fast that they must feel like high-school guidance counselors slammed in the whirlwind of a moshpit. In their day they argued with labels over things like tour support and mechanical royalties, while today’s major label negotiation involves nomenclature like cross-aggregation, tethered downloads, ethereal DRM, merch-cooping, and Web rights. I kid you not when I say that many industry veterans don’t know where to start when it comes to finessing those points.

It’s likely that those who prospered in the ’70s and ’80s may no longer pay their $10,000 per month mortgages or their $1,200 per month car payments solely from more passive incomes, such as those derived via CD royalties. So, it must be pretty hard for them to reconcile the fact that the business they grew up in, the business that they helped mold, has metamorphosed and their place in it has receded into the penumbra of its progress.

But while things may not be so hot for the Bob Ezrins of the world, for the independent musician who dreams of making $75,000 a year by doing something he loves the biz is far from dead. To the groups that are able to support their families by grossing a mere $300,000 a year, sans a label’s support (and I have several clients who are doing just that right this moment), the biz is far from dead. To the guy who made a cool 20-second loop in his garage and is getting $1,000 a month in extra dough from ring-tone sales, the biz is far from dead.

The old-timers can’t seem to reconcile these paltry numbers. To them it must seem ridiculous that today’s emerging artists aspire for things other than major label contracts. How can they prefer to make 100,000 friends on MySpace? To revel in getting a local sponsor for the $50,000 it takes for the jump-start instead of signing a million dollar deal that will make them pimps for Pepsi? To be happier making a $7.00 profit today from a CD they sold off the side of the stage than in taking $0.94 at a time two years after a label liquidates their reserves and drops them due to “only 1,000,000 units being sold”?

But to the old-timers this all sounds rather low-res. Where is the guarantee of $50,000 a night for a 15-city tour (that I can commission)? Where is the $1,000,000 advance for five albums (that I can commission)? And how about a seven-figure publishing deal (that I can commission)?

See, that all-you-can-eat buffet has been subjected to a Balsamic reduction. It’s now a pre-fixed menu of grinding out a decent, proletariat living from the making of great art.

No. We are very much alive. Like the medical and legal industries, recent changes in economics have forced many to re-think why they are interested in becoming doctors or lawyers. You must now love what you do. The money alone cannot be the driving factor anymore. And when it comes to music, shouldn’t it always have been like that in the first place?

Perhaps, amidst all the buy-outs, golden parachutes, and mergers, some people have forgotten that.

Just the opinion of one man.

Moses Avalon is the author of the new book, Million Dollar Mistakes: Steering Your Music Career Free of Lies, Cons, Catastrophes, and Landmines, and the classic best seller, Confessions of a Record Producer, now in its third printing and required reading in over 35 schools. He is an artists’ rights activist and runs one of the nation’s leading music business consultation companies.