Friday, 29 May 2015

A closer look at Black Francis' comments on streaming vs. i-Tunes

On Thursday, NME reported on Pixies frontman Black Francis and his preference for the convenience of streaming over i-Tunes, something that many people will agree with.

Regarding the financial side of things, he explains: "I've got my T-shirt money, I've got my concert ticket money, I've got my commercial usage money. It's no different than when I started out".

"Where is my Spotify password?"

Insights like this from musicians are a dime-a-dozen. You will have read something similar recently, from someone else. And what do they all have in common? They are all successful.

Research is clear that fan loyalty plays a big role in encouraging legal sales of music, and Pixies are not without fans. They are also, of course, a principally live band: it is in the live music sector where most musicians now make the majority of their earnings, especially popular bands, who are able to effectively give away music for free as a means to motivate ticket sales.

But what about the little guy?

Musicians Union (2012), who represent over 30,000 musicians in UK, reveals that 78% of musicians earn less than £20,000 per year. And Mulligan (2014) reports that just 1% of musicians in fact account for 77% of all recorded music revenues.

It's these guys, the 1%, who people think of when they argue that 'musicians are filthy rich' as a means to justify engaging in music piracy. Not the majority, and not the next generation of musicians, which is of course where the music industry has its sights set at all times.

The Rolling Stones won't be around forever. Probably.

To dig into more research then, Piolatto and Schuett (2012) find that piracy harms some, but not all artists, even being beneficial in some instances; they argue that it is particularly so for popular musicians, when side revenues are taken into consideration (think of Black Francis' comments on 't-shirts' and 'concert ticket money', for instance).

It doesn't apply to smaller, unknown artists (though they do find that whilst piracy reduces recorded music sales for smaller bands, it increases live performances).

Now, this is but one study, but much else has been said on this, including some three years ago now on this humble blog, making the important observation overall that:

What works best for a musician in the contemporary digital climate differs across the artist life-cycle.

For now, bear in mind that when a high-profile musician rhymes off about how they don't care about money, the wider context is that much more complicated. 

Tweaks @musicpiracyblog


Piolatta, A. and Schuett, F. (2012). Music piracy: A case of "The Rich Get Rich and the Poorer Get Poorer". Information Economics and Policy, 24(1), 30-39.

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