The Beatles have landed — in the stream-o-sphere!

I’d posted in the social stream about the Beatles Christmas Eve entry into the world of subscription streaming — all their studio albums and a number of special editions are now available on most of the major subscription stream platforms — and one of my stream-skeptic pals had asked (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I suspect) if I thought it would help or hurt stream subscription uptake.

I’d glanced at that thread as I was getting out of bed (yes, I’m one of those sods who now picks up the tablet and scans the news before getting out of bed — you never can tell when it’s just gonna be a better idea to pull the covers up and bury your head under the pillow) but somehow reinterpreted it in memory as Do you think it will help or hinder sales?

And, so, I had all these thoughts about that queued up in my head.

I was going to write something like:

Will it help revenue is probably the real question.

Streams, of course, are treated as sales as far as artist mechanical royalties to artist/label rights holders but songwriting royalties from streams are (currently) apportioned on a variation of the radio broadcast songwriter/publisher royalty formula.

(Radio performances in the United States, unlike many other nations, do not generate any royalties at all for artist/labels, since radio play has been traditionally seen as form of marketing — a view reinforced, of course, by the record industries long history of paying — legally and illegally — for radio play.)

Let me tell you my own Beatles collection story. I have, I think, all the American releases and a couple of Brit releases, on vinyl with the exception of Help! (CD)

But… I only bought one new — the first I bought, Sgt. Peppers (I was coming back to listening to rock and roll after a long hiatus from grades 7-10 when I disdained ‘teeny bopper music’ — friends had finally begun convincing me I’d like the changes that blues rock and the psychedelic revolution had brought — and they were right).

Every other Beatles record in my collection was bought used or given to me used by someone.

And, in the US, that means the artists, labels, songwriters, and publisher received exactly nothing for any of those used purchasesor any of those thousands of plays so derived. (Other nations do mandate royalties on used records and books, but in the US the right-of-resale is largely unassailable.)

The fundamental question, of course, is whether the artist will receive more from an outright sale or from ongoing stream revenue. In my experience with streaming, I have played some tracks thousands of times. (I only have a count of individual track plays for the last 2 years I’ve been on Google Play Music.)

But in just those two years, I’ve racked up enough plays of one album that the pay out to the rights holders (based on GPM’s payouts on my own material) to put about $40 — and counting — in the artist/label rights holders’ pockets — for one, 13 song, mid-60s album. That’s not the ROYALTIES on $40 — that’s FORTY DOLLARS stream revenue for one album — that cost about $3 retail when it was first out. And, as long as people keep playing it, it’s going to keep making money for the rights holders. (Now, sadly, there’s little chance that the original artists still have a stake, because, well, that’s how it goes in the music biz. But the principle of ongoing revenue remains.)

And, while that album is a longtime fave, it’s not the only album I return to fairly frequently. I’ve become quite addicted to the Anonymous 4 (pre-Renaissance vocal music performed by [gasp] women) as well as the kora and chamber string concoctions of exoticist Jacques Burtin. Many tracks by Anonymous 4 have racked up over a dollar’s worth of plays (per track!) from me. That’s not RETAIL price — that’s straight revenue — and it’s ongoing!

So… in answer to that question you didn’t ask — if one’s music has legs, if people keep listening, then streaming can work out very well for an artist who keeps control of his library.

And, I’m thinking, the Beatles music has strong, ongoing appeal.

That said, it had to weigh on their strategists that while Beatles tracks were well represented in the iTunes Top 100 (10 tracks), the very highest rank reached by any of those ten tracks was only #40. I suspect they may have worried that at some point further holding back of their work was going to significantly impact their ongoing uptake by young listeners.

Beats Music has revolutionized the music industry… oh wait…

I was a subscriber to the old MOG stream service when Beats bought them, starved them for support (supposedly down to 3 support people for an estimated 300K subscribers toward the end) and then scuttled them and brought out their own, mega-hyped Beats Music. Which I thought was UTTERLY AWFUL. [Been a stream subscriber for about a decade; did not just fall off virtual turnip truck.]

When Apple bought Beats, I figured the purchase had to be about the bassy, glow in the dark wildly overpriced ‘fashion’ headphones. But Apple’s top brass kept GOING ON about how Beats Music was the future and would lead Apple into the futureDr Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Trent Reznor [Remember him? No, seriously, do you?] were going to lead the way for Apple.

I was FLABBERGASTED.

So, it’s almost a year and a half after Beats Music blasted onto the scene, ready to revolutionize the stream industry and take away Spotify’s 15 million paid subscribers

How’s the revolution going?

Beats Music has… [wait for it] …

300,000 subscribers…

No. Seriously. Same as MOG had when Beats bought them and put them in the ground. The current Beats subscriber count is according to USA Today’s coverage of Apple’s WorldWide Developer Conference

 

A label I’d like to be on only takes submissions from music biz attorneys — should I hire one?

Because no one knows A&R like a lawyer…

I, personally, would be distinctly disinclined to throw money at a lawyer just to submit music to a label that only takes submissions from attorneys.

If I was going to do that, I’d do it the way people setting up bribes and crooked business/government deals do it. When they suggest getting an attorney, ask them who they recommend. They will recommend someone they have a cozy relationship with. You’ll probably still get royally screwed, but at least you’ll have been screwed by the people you’re trying to get in with. Valuable lesson.

Do I sound cynical?

Mind you, I’m not anti-music attorney. They have an important role in understanding some very complicated bits of legal and licensing mumbo jumbo for those dealing with sharky music biz types and big bucks licensing issues. Those are roles where their specialized knowledge of music/entertainment/Intellectual Property law can be crucial. If you need one of those guys or gals, you need a good one.

Now, there ARE often-mentioned reasons why a label might say they only want to deal with a lawyer, even for simple submissions. The rationale typically goes along the same lines as why old line book publishers often won’t even look at a manuscript unless the author has an agent. There’s the notion that an agent is the first stage of vetting of the author’s professionalism — but the usual reasons cited is that the publishers want to avoid dealing with nonprofessionals who might turn around and bring a groundless lawsuit for some imagined infringement when the guy who submitted a children’s mystery story about a walrus who solves crimes sues when the same publisher later prints an adult human murder mystery where the victim is killed by a trained sea lion.

So there is that.

But, really, that’s kind of old school… today’s publishing — like the music biz — is increasingly disintermediated — that means we’ve finally found marketing platforms and techniques that go a long, long way toward cutting out ‘the middleman.’ In our biz, there have been a lot of middlemen. (So many middlemen who make so much money that it often seems like in the music biz it’s only the people actually making most of the music who don’t get rich.)

But we now have ways of marketing directly to fans. That means, of course, that there are many MORE people marketing directly to fans. To the labels, that fact is one of their last justifications: the traditional ways of getting music noticed by fans are extremely expensive — it means lining a lot of pockets, spending a lot of advertising money, filling a lot of pockets above as well as under the table, paying off gatekeepers in favors, swag, and monetary ‘compensations’ and ‘considerations.’

And we’ve seen the result as big labels have concentrated on the market sectors that are most readily subject to this kind of money-driven buzz: teen and secretary/shop boy music markets, aka, dance pop and ballads.

Other markets, club music, hipster music, outsider, their audiences tend to see themselves as ‘independent’ of commercial trends — iconoclasts who know their own minds, maybe even seeing themselves as trendsetters and opinion-makers. They require a more subtle form of manipulation and marketing. (No, wait…  Well… kinda, we’re all human.) Those are the people who can to some extent be reached by working the grassroots, ‘zines, blog reviewers, associations (even organizations) with other, similarly oriented bands and artists.

The ‘punk revolution’ of the late 70s and very early 80s (while the big labels were doing everything they could to ignore real punk bands and pump out wimpy fake punk bands in the new wave mold) provided some valuable lessons on how to grow a scene –complete with ‘outlaw clubs,’ lose-but-loyal social skeins of punk bands, little labels working out of the trunks of cars — when the indies were frozen out of mainstream distribution by the big labels and their distribution arms (where the big label artists’ supposed profits often disappeared into, perhaps poetically on some level).

Anyhow… today we have the disintermediated methods of promotion and distribution that many of us could only dream of in the 1980s… It’s a brave new world, to be sure. It’s complex, it’s tricky. But it provides basic mechanisms for artists to really exert more control over their own careers.

But no one else is going to do it for you. That’s the other side of disintermediation.