File Sharing, Lily Allen and The Smaller Artist
I’ve been trying not to get drawn on this Lily Allen issue, however the reality of the situation is that it’s got us all talking about file-sharing. That there’s a debate today in London about file-sharing which i’s going to be covered enthusiastically by the media is great and a lot of that profile raising is due to Ms Allen’s (ill-informed) renege against the machine. Honestly, I barely care what her personal opinion is as to the effects of file sharing on her career is because her experience is so privileged and so far removed from that of most makers of music, and art. I’m not anti Lily per se (in fact her Glastonbury set was one of the most inclusive, fun sets of the weekend), however I am anti hypocrisy and I’ve gotta chime in here.
Lily Allen (LA from hereon in) says that file-sharing is hurting her earning power, hurting emerging artists, and hurting the music industry. She’s apparently quit the music industry because of this. This is saddening/maddening on a number of counts:
1) It’s always frustrating and disillusioning for everyday fans to see monied people complaining that they’re not getting paid enough.
Many of us remember seeing Lars Ulrich standing in front of his mansion complaining that Napster would lose him all his money. It disenfranchises fans, it’s not becoming. LA argues that “‘The days of me making money from recording music has been and gone” (from The Mirror admittedly, to be clear, I’m not a Mirror reader). It’s sad to think that the point of recording music is to make money. Of all the artists I speak with, the most common reasons for wanting to create music are: “if I can just inspire/move/touch one person, I’ve acheived” and “for the music’s sake/for my own enjoyment”. The “I’m not getting paid enough” argument reeks of a spoilt “I’ve got everything, I want more” attitude.
2) People In Glass Houses – “Illegal Filesharing is Wrong” so the LA story goes. Anyone had a look at the Lily Allen website recently? Anyone searched “Lily Allen Mixtape“? To promote her music, Lily Allen made two physical mixtapes featuring her own work interspersed with songs by other artists. My First Mixtape and Mixtape 2 are now available directly from lilyallenmusic.com in mp3 form, an EMI copyrighted website. Why did LA do the mixtapes? To promote her music. This excerpt from an interview with Pitchfork is rather self-incriminating, and implicates Polygram into the bargain:
Pitchfork: Was there a specific inspiration for doing the mixtapes? The idea certainly worked for M.I.A.
LA: Well, the MySpace thing was going so well, and I wanted to create more interest so I got Polygram to pay for it, to do like 200 of them… Every night I’d spray all the covers, and they were individually numbered. And it was free.”
So, while Lily argues that filesharing hurts her, she’s actively participating in it to promote herself, as are Polygram and EMI. More on this from TechDirt.
3) Realising that Alright, Still has sold over 2,600,000 copies worldwide, it should be fairly clear that it’s not file-sharing which is stopping LA making money from her records, it’s the Circa 20/80% split in favour of her record label, it’s the hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on marketing, the money spend on videos, the swanky limo-pickups on the way to events (which is all recoupable by the record label against sales on that 20/80 split basis).
4) LA says also that she has not re-negotiated her record deal, so she’s apparently free to release her own music. With millions of fans Lily should now embrace the opportunity to sell directly to fans and instead of making her record label millions (Incidentally Lily, our record label Alamo Music will happily engage you in a deal that will most definitely make you money, feel free to contact me directly), actually making that money for herself.
LA also argues that file-sharing is beneficial only to artists at the back-end of their career who have back-catalogue to make money from the new fans it brings, and as a result the music industry is shrinking. This is predicated on the misnomer that the music industry is the old-school record label “Record Business”. This ignores the new routes to fans that have expanded the grass roots music base entirely. There are now many many more people making a living from music, it’s just that the fat-cats of old are arguing to protect their interests. In fact, the PRS point out that from 2007 to 2008 we saw growth in the industry.
“The Big Number – £3.6 Billion for 2008 – Revenues up 4.7% on 2007” – PRS – Adding up the music industry.
There’s some great reading around the matters in hand here:
From personal, professional and painful experience, it’s the traditional record business which serves to perpetuate (or more accurately, re-ignite) a “status quo” of 15 years or more ago that’s the greatest threat to emerging artists. Hope and Social’s call to arms and “Pay what you can” approach has brought in more dedicated fans, joy and if I’m honest, cash than the thousands of pounds sucked by some PR and pluggers when we followed a more traditional industry route with Four Day Hombre when Alamo Music was set up (I’ll blog more about our failings on this soon). The old school record industry continues to serve itself over serving it’s artists, and it vilifies those consumers who download music without consent. Much like language, usage defines the market. If it’s the model that’s wrong, why prosecute the fans?
Don’t forget, home taping is killing music.
See the follow on post File-sharing part II – are the Featured Artists Coalition missing the point? also.