Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Taylor Swift is Trying to Get It Rght

I have to give Taylor Swift some credit for advancing the idea that people should be paid for their art. I don't know what this means for the music business, which is still a dying beast that is being sucked dry by business models that can only be sustained by NOT paying artists for their art, but oh well.

She sits at the top of the food chain--the label to which she is signed can't steal from her and it cannot rob from her. Unless she hires foolish management and signs a deal that gives everything away, she will continue to see tremendous sales and downloads and she will receive a great deal of streaming music revenue. She is part of the less than one percent of music artists that can dictate what they are paid.

The vast majority of artists are left with crumbs under the table. While she's doing deals with advertisers, bands are giving up and they're changing their plans. There isn't any point in making an album because there's no sustainable business model to finance it, promote it, sell it, and put it into an archive where it can attract future royalties. How can you spend a modest $50,000 on an album that will generate $50 worth of revenue from being played on Spotify?

In order to take this a step further, Swift should use her economic power to ensure that artists are being paid. She could tell her label to take just one million dollars of her future earnings after she makes at least five million and use that to give ten bands a grant--not an advance, a grant--to make ten albums. I figure that you can make a decent record for that much, and that would leave ten artists with no debt to the label. That would put them in a position to promote and sell their albums on their own and it would allow them to make back some revenue right away.

One million bucks for ten artists. Let her pick who they are. Give them a leg up and help them get out from under the crushing debt of an advance. If they go out and make their own million, then they have to pay it back.

The answer is for artists to get paid making music people want to hear. If everyone were to sell out and make Taylor Swift albums, none of them would advance the cause of music. And, if you're a believer in diversity and finding a commercial solution to a predatory system, this would force the conversation to move beyond the abstract into the actual. Otherwise, what's the point?

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