A post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch from a few years ago, talking about the “standard” abuses musicians were subject to under 1990s-era studio contracts:
Those of us who exist on the periphery of the music industry have heard for years that new artists and even established ones can’t make money in the traditional music industry.
I didn’t understand that until I read Jacob Slichter’s So You Wanna Be A Rock ’N Roll Star several years ago. He wrote about a system in which a musician who signed a deal with a major record label could end up owing the label tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. He delineated it all out in a long book that showed just how the label ended up taking a naïve artist and putting him into debt.
Slichter said this was why so many rock bands disbanded — because the band itself was a legal entity and as a legal entity it was in hock to the studio. The only way the musicians could continue to perform and try to earn money from their music was to create a new legal entity and abandon the old one. Otherwise, they were working in a kind of indentured servitude.
Think this is just sour grapes from one musician who didn’t make it big? Look at a link that a reader from last week gave me. It’s from a magazine I’ve never heard of called Maximum Rock ’n’ Roll and was written by rock producer named Steve Albini. I’m not so sure how dodgy this website is that I’m sending you to — I don’t know if they violated Mr. Albini’s copyright by reproducing this piece. I’m going to trust that they didn’t, because y’all need to see these numbers.
For those of you who can’t be bothered to check the link, Albini lays out the line-by-line “costs” that the musicians agreed to when they signed their record deal. The musicians received a $250,000 advance. But by the time the album got released and the tour was completed, the advance was gone — and the musicians owed the record label $14,000.
You’re understanding me right. The “standard” contractually negotiated costs that the musicians agreed would come out of their pockets came to $264,000. The only way for the artists to recoup that loss was to sign a new deal with the label, often at lesser terms. If the label even wanted to sign them. (That part is courtesy of Slichter)
How much did the label earn — with the same costs deducted?
$710,000. In 1990s dollars.
Albini also lists how much each “player” made. He includes a producer ($90,000), a manager ($51,000), an agent, ($7500) and a lawyer ($12,000).
He writes, “The band is now ¼ of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 in royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month. The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never ‘recouped,’ the band will have no leverage and will oblige.”