The row over how artists are compensated has recently erupted into a tit-for-tat between a National Public Radio intern and a prolific star of the 1980s alternative rock scene who is teaching the fundamentals of the music business at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business.
David Lowery -- who founded Camper van Beethoven in 1983, co-founded Cracker in 1990 and released a solo album in February -- issued a lengthy and highly detailed response this week to NPR intern Emily White's blog post about not paying for most of the songs in her digital collection.
In her essay, she argues that the Millennial generation -- anyone born in the '90s or later-- wants the convenience of digital music delivery and will continue to download or trade or stream music. What they will never do, she adds, is buy albums.
I've only bought 15 CDs in my lifetime. Yet, my entire iTunes library exceeds 11,000 songs, she wrote on NPR's All Songs Considered blog over the weekend. But I didn't illegally download (most) of my songs. A few are, admittedly, from a stint in the 5th grade with the file-sharing program Kazaa. Some are from my family. I've swapped hundreds of mix CDs with friends. My senior prom date took my iPod home once and returned it to me with 15 gigs of Big Star, The Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo (I owe him one).
The blog post spurred Lowery, 51, to issue a reply to White, saying musicians actually do depend on the sale of their songs and cannot live on the revenue from concert tickets, T-shirts or the CDs they sell from tables at their shows.
You seem to have internalized that ripping 11,000 tracks in your iPod compared to your purchase of 15 CDs in your lifetime feels pretty disproportionate, Lowery wrote on The Trichordist, a blog that advocates for artists' intellectual rights in the digital age.
He says blaming the recording industry is a cop-out by apologists for the massive exchange of copyrighted materials that has been unleashed by the ease of trading digital content. One portable hard drive can hold practically every song a person would ever want to own, or give to a friend.
You also seem to recognize that you are not just ripping off the record labels, but you are directly ripping off the artist and songwriters whose music you 'don't buy, Lowery added. It doesn't really matter that you didn't take these tracks from a file-sharing site. That may seem like a neat dodge, but I'd suggest to you that from the artist's point of view, it's kind of irrelevant.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median wage for a musician is $22.39 an hour, or about $43,000 of pre-tax income at full time. However this is a broad category that includes orchestra players, arrangers, studio musicians and others. The income for a full-time recording artist varies from below median wage to superstar. Lowery estimates that a typical popular music recording artist in the United States earns about $35,000 a year.
The experimental band Uniform Motion from Toulouse, France, last year ran a comparison of the various digital delivery mechanisms available to artists and the returns on revenue. According to the group, the streaming service Spotify pays the band 0.0038 cents per song played. By comparison, selling tracks directly through Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Apple Inc.'s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iTunes offers 30 percent of the per-unit sale revenue, minus an annual fee that amounts to about 150 individual song sales before the artists see any revenue and longer before they cover the production and other overhead costs and start to turn a profit off actual sales of their tracks.
Lowery said on Wednesday he is researching which digital-delivery companies offer the best deals for producers of content.
We've been discussing putting together a guide to which technology/web companies are ethical towards artists, he said in an email. And if they are not, explain how they unfairly exploit artists.