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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 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:

Ben Walker – I don’t have the right to earn money from my music and Cash and Cake a Call to Arms

Refe Tuma’s CreativeDeconstruction.comWhat will it take to unite artist, industry and fan?

Steve Lawson – Independent Music Manifesto Part 1 and Part 2

Andrew Dubber – – “No Stop It! My Sides…

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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 24/09/2009 2:17 pm

    nice Summary, Rich – her position is untenable, even without her own selective morality. It just shows the ‘ethical expediency’ of the way the big players in the music industry work.

    Ask Lily how any of the CDs she’s acquired since getting signed she’s paid for… freebies are the currency of choice in music – journalists, artists, record company execs, booking agents… free CDs for everyone, whether they have any ‘business’ involvement or not. It’s your ‘right’ as a worker in the industry. I’ve had a fair few of them myself from people who work at labels. The artist pays, and doesn’t even know who I am… I now refuse CDs as a matter of course, though will accept digital versions, as they aren’t costing anyone anything :)

  2. 24/09/2009 2:26 pm

    interesting points

  3. 24/09/2009 2:50 pm

    As someone who’s firmly in the Billy Bragg camp, with no sympathy whatsoever for rich daughter of rich Keith Allen’s mockney posturing (either within the context of her music or in her ill-informed blogposts), I would nonetheless like to live in a world in which musicians can devote as much of their life to music without that having to become a financial decision: “earn money, or be a musician, but not both.” Musicians should be able to earn a basic living wage (Bragg again) through composing, performing, and/or recording music full time.

    Having a day job in order to be able to afford to be a musician in your spare time – in effect, not being able to state “Musician” as your occupation on your passport – will only ever suit certain musicians, and will only ever suit certain types of music. It encourages the bourgeois, the dilettante, the jack-of-all-trades, and only if you’re really lucky does the renaissance man also tag along. I wonder what musicologists will say in the next century about our own genres, and how the death or at any rate decline of the musical specialist affected the music we as a race were able to compose, and hence to listen to.

    To the end of letting talented people be rewarded for full pursuit of their craft of something other than penury, I wouldn’t so much mind things like broadband taxes, if and only if they were to be entirely hypothecated into such resources as Arts Council funding: that is, with the minimum of public-sector overhead, into the pockets of musicians themselves. But I think that puts me squarely in the role of cheerleader for such things as public service broadcasting, and a state which shows how much it values its citizens’ artistic and cultural inner lives through the good running of funding bodies: as Bragg himself would say, not for the iron fist, but for the helping hand.

  4. 24/09/2009 3:08 pm

    obviously she’s not doing this for the media coverage! ;-) i heard James Blunt jumped on her bandwagon too. I guess we can expect to see an album from him soon then. lucky us! it would be interesting to hear the views and differences of opinion between emi/terra firma, fierce panda, and a small but successful label. i’d also like to see the kind of terms being stipulated in contracts at the moment. That is, if anyone is actually being signed at the moment. the industry is a very odd place at the moment. Some great music around but the irony is that the good stuff makes no money or major impact, and the rubbish is difficult to escape from. But as long as people are creating for the right reasons genuine music lovers will keep consuming in every way possible and hopefully will result in the good stuff being rewarded. And who knows, maybe we’ll be lucky and LA will keep to her word and shut up! apologies for the punctuation. Sent from my not-iphone.

  5. 24/09/2009 4:20 pm

    We CAN make money from music, in fact it’s possible for more of us to do that now than ever before. The barriers to reaching your market are fewer than any time in history. The competition is greater because of that, so be great, and as Steve Lawson says, be interesting.

    I do agree that the big record label advance has led to many a great record, and not having to do Other work can allow someone to be entirely focussed on writing. It’s true conversely however that it’s life itself which inspires writing, and to have nothing to write about but being in a band can lead to sterility and music that has no resonance with the public.

    Like the idea of re-channelling taxes to the Arts Council, however they won’t fund anything resembling “popular music”, and therefore it doesn’t support indie/Dance/pop emerging artists. I think that it’s a deeper issue than taxing ISP’s. Isn’t that like taxing Office World for selling CDRs or Xerox for enabling photo-copiers.

    This issue extends beyond music. Copyright is tricky for everyone – news-clippings scanned and used on PR companies’ websites for example. We need discussion on copyright as a whole and not just in terms of music.

    Many thanks for your comments



    PS – James Blunt has sold more records (by this i mean CDs and paid downloads – obviously) than any other artist this millennium.

    My. Heart. Bleeds.

  6. Dan permalink
    24/09/2009 10:46 pm

    When record labels get a clear idea of how much CDs and DVDs should be sold for, and how much percentage artists should get from that (at least 50/50), then people will stop filesharing because they want to help the artist out. But paying £10 for a CD, when the artist is lucky if they get £2, cannot be justified. If the government gave funding to the music industry and artists (an idea to annoy some philistines) to make music cheaper to the consumer, instead of funding over-the-top ways of capping file-sharing, then everyone would soon see a giant halt in file sharing.

    I do apologise if this makes little or no sense, I’m very tired!


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