There’s great music today, there is in every period, but why were the sixties and seventies such a fertile era, why did we get not only the Beatles and the Stones, but the entire British Invasion, the San Francisco Sound and the great acts of FM radio?

You’ve got to start in the U.K. Every famous musician of the sixties said they performed to avoid a life of drudgery, in the factory. They didn’t think it was forever, playing music, but it was a great respite from the inevitable. They struggled to succeed for as long as they could. And when the Beatles broke through, all hell broke loose.

Sure, the Beatles’ music was great. But when America saw the Fab Four on “Ed Sullivan”, suddenly everybody wanted to be them. Their performance inspired an entire country to pick up guitars, to play drums, to be just like them.

And what did they want?

The joy of playing music.

The sex.

And the money.

Today people listen to the radio and watch “American Idol”, but a whole swath of the public has no desire to imitate these performers. Because they just don’t make enough money. In other words, only those with dim futures, with few advantages, slog it out in music.

Oh, of course that’s a generalization. But if you lived through the sixties, you know that back then everybody had a band. Today you might sing karaoke, but very few have the life of a professional musician in their sights. Because not only are the odds long, when you make it, it doesn’t pay enough.

They say MTV saved the music business. One could argue quite strongly it killed it. As for the excoriated disco that killed rock… We now know that corporate rock deserved to die and that it’s disco that survives. Yes, all the beats of EDM started in disco. Disco was made by a marginalized group who lived to party every day. And punk and new wave were experimental and vital sub-genres of rock that rebelled against what came before. But everyone in the game knew you could get rich if you had a hit. Even Johnny Rotten.

Now you just can’t get that rich playing music. Which is why Bono is a partner in a venture capital firm. Can you imagine that back in the sixties, our musical heroes becoming bankers? Impossible!

So Reagan lowers the tax rates in the eighties and suddenly incomes start to diverge. And the record execs don’t want to be on the wrong side of the divide. They no longer care about music, they just want money. The acts are disposable. It devolves into formula by the nineties. And by time MTV stops playing music, at the advent of the twenty first century, after the executives have wrung all the cash out of both new acts and old, via overpriced CDs, the scene was dead.

And I don’t know when it’s going to come back.

The acts have no soul, no backbone anymore. The first thing they want to do is sell out to the Fortune 500, do endorsement deals. You see they want the money. And their handlers are imploring them to do this, because they want their commission. Everybody’s chasing an ever-shrinking piece of the pie. And anybody who is smart is staying out. What did David Geffen say last week, “I’d kill myself if I got into the music industry now.”? As for the consumer, he’s screwed incessantly. Wall Street rolled up the concert business and ticket prices went through the roof. And very few acts want to go to paperless and keep prices low, because they too want the cash, they too want to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. They’re chasing the bankers, who make millions year in and year out. Very few musicians do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try.

Sure, banking is boring, but tech is not. Which is why a huge swath of the youth make apps, are entrepreneurs, they want to be in control of their own destiny and make a fortune, the sky’s the limit in tech. But there’s a definite ceiling in music.

And the radio stations were rolled up, hell, Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners took Clear Channel private and squeezed out billions, despite the company being in extreme debt, and now stations have innumerable commercials and they all sound the same. And they’ll only play what’s on the major labels. Who won’t sign something left field without instant radio play, they don’t want to take that chance, there’s too much money involved.

The rich are getting richer and the musicians are being left out. And yes, piracy contributes to income deprivation, but it’s more complicated than that. Adele sold ten million albums in America and she doesn’t do any endorsements. Her music is perceived to be honest and from the heart. That’s a role model for you. But no one’s following in her footsteps. No one is taking a risk. Then again, you can’t manufacture Adele on an assembly line, you can just recognize genius and nurture it. But that’s no longer the job of the music industry.

The fact that so many are so wealthy is putting a huge dent in our cultural institutions. Sure, there were scalpers in the sixties and seventies, but no one paid ten or twenty times face value, because no one had that kind of cash. You could get a good ticket back then. It’s almost impossible today.

And the first thing a musician asks is “How do I get paid?” That’s the culture we’ve developed. Paying your dues, doing it because you love it, very few are willing to play that game for decades. Furthermore, most people didn’t make it in the sixties and seventies either. But they didn’t complain ad infinitum about not being rich, they just played bars, got drunk, got laid and eventually gave up or were satisfied being journeymen.

Our whole country is asking why it can’t be rich. What do the Republicans say, they’re the party of the rich and the soon to be rich? Not everybody can be rich. But this mentality has people perpetuating income inequality, believing that one day, when they’re wealthy, they want taxes to be low, and has the lower classes fighting for scraps, that’s what reality TV is all about.

We won’t have another heyday for music until we’re all in it together, until income gaps decline. Hell, there haven’t even been any protest songs since the economic collapse and ten years of war. No one is speaking truth, they’re just speaking money, and it hurts us all.

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Category: Music, Think Tank, Wages & Income

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12 Responses to “Income Inequality Killed The Music Business”

  1. chartist says:

    Mick Jagger was accepted to the London School of economics…Look, most musicians lack skill, I mean real skill to go the distance….There’s plenty of one hit wonders.

  2. kilroywashere says:

    In a letter to an acquaintance where he remarked on the inequality he saw first hand on trips to Ireland and Scotland in the 1770′s, Ben Franklin said “… if my Countrymen should ever wish for the Honour of having among them a Gentry enormously wealthy, let them sell their Farms and pay rack’d Rents; the Scale of the Landlords will rise as that of the Tenants is depress’d who will soon become poor, tattered, dirty, and abject in Spirit. ”

    This short letter is worth a read:

  3. mpappa says:

    I’m a little curious to learn when record exec’s where ever not greedy pigs. The present environment empowers bands and decouples it from big media. Youtube, iTunes, Myspace, smart phone penetration, sirius xm? It’s a blessing for most bands to get out from under their onerous management contracts and record deals. If anything, the rich are not getting richer, it’s the capitalist view of the music industry that’s uplifting the average musician.

  4. Winder says:

    I live an work in Nashville. I have multiple friends in the business and some in the Hall of Fame. I also have friends who wont play in Nashville because of the “machine” that is Nashville music.

    I think one thing that the OP has totally missed is the constant evolution of an industry. I know he is trying to make a political point by mentioning Bane Capital, but there is a lot more to this. There is an ebb and flow to any industry. Right now technology is making it possible for artists and independent labels to sell direct to the population and bypass the corporate world. The corporate music scene is dying, so he is beating a dead horse. Just as traditional media has fallen to the bloggers and the internet, so will the traditional corporate music structure. We will see a rebirth (I think we already are) of creative musicians who market direct using new technology….. We just have to make sure the internet does not fall under the same crony-capitalist control as the radio waves.

  5. Jojo says:

    That is a good column today. The world has changed and we are not better for it. Everything IS about money these days, not just in the music biz. In the tech world, backers push immature companies to IPO so they can all make more money. Art collecting is all about money, not art appreciation. Athlete’s, movie starts and CEO’s get paid insane amounts of money. It is not uncommon for ordinary people like teachers and government workers to own million dollar houses here in Calif.

    It’s like the Rocking Horse Winner story by D. H. Lawrence. More money, more money, more money, we need more money, there’s never enough money. Until poof, the end.

  6. ConscienceofaConservative says:

    Sorry, what killed the music business wants distribution moving from radio and CD’s/Vinyl to the internet. No reason to buy what you can download for less money or for free. Same thing is occurring in video.

  7. howardoark says:

    Poor Bob Lefsetz. He got old and doesn’t like the music kids are listening to today. He could have written pretty much the same column at any point since Jimmy Dorsey was pissing off old people in the 1930s (damn swing music is making today’s young people want to drink and spoon in the most disgusting public fashion).

    As for there being no money in it, let’s just say he’s fulfilling BR’s directive at the top of the page:

    Rank Actual gross Inflation
    (adjusted 2012 gross) Artist Tour name Year(s) Shows Attendance Average
    gross (millions) Average
    attendance Reference
    1 $736,421,586 $760,823,721 U2 360º Tour 2009–11 110 7,272,046 6.7 66,110 [1][2]
    2 $558,255,524 $625,719,239 The Rolling Stones A Bigger Bang Tour 2005–07 144 4,680,000 3.8 32,500 [3]
    3 $441,121,000 $470,134,147 AC/DC Black Ice World Tour 2008–10 167 4,846,965 2.6 29,023 [4][5][6]
    4 $407,713,266 $441,673,561 Madonna Sticky & Sweet Tour 2008–09 85 3,545,899 4.79 41,716 [7]
    5 $389,047,636 $448,515,796 U2 Vertigo Tour 2005–06 131 4,619,021 2.96 35,259 [8]
    6 $358,825,665 $387,332,062 The Police The Police Reunion Tour 2007–08 156 3,300,912 2.3 21,160 [9]
    7 $349,240,698 $349,240,698 Roger Waters The Wall 2010-12 192 3,056,048 1.9 16,700 [10]
    8 $336,017,048[e] $468,786,069 The Rolling Stones Bridges To Babylon Tour / No Security Tour 1997–99 143 5,576,032 2.3 38,993 [11]
    9 $316,365,576[f] $482,528,321 The Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge Tour 1994–95 124 6,336,776 2.6 51,103 [12]
    10 $299,520,230 $378,409,784 The Rolling Stones Licks Tour 2002–03 115 3,470,945 2.6 30,182 [13]
    11 $279,200,000 $301,380,649 Celine Dion Taking Chances Tour 2008–09 132 2,600,000 2.9 27,424 [14][15]
    12 $251,112,882[g] $267,628,928 Eagles Long Road Out Of Eden Tour 2008–11 155 2,001,773 1.6 12,915 [4][5][6][16]
    13 $250,000,000 $392,007,185 Pink Floyd The Division Bell Tour 1994 110 5,500,000 2.3 45,000 [17][18]
    14 $235,000,000 $253,669,243 Bruce Springsteen Magic Tour 2007–08 100 2,198,353 2.4 21,983 [19][citation needed]
    15 $227,400,000 $234,935,148 Lady Gaga Monster Ball Tour 2009-2011 201 2,500,000 1.13 12,438 [20]
    16 $221,500,000 $279,840,087 Bruce Springsteen The Rising Tour 2002–03 120 3,232,384[b] 1.8 31,081[b] [21][22][23]
    17 $217,245,629[d] $231,534,179 Metallica World Magnetic Tour 2008–10 187 2,699,211 1.4 16,976 [24][25][5]
    18 $210,650,974 $227,385,843 Bon Jovi Lost Highway Tour 2007–08 99 2,157,675 2.1 21,794 [19]
    19 $201,000,000 $214,220,052 Bon Jovi The Circle Tour 2010 80 1,909,234 3.8 36,023 [6]
    20 $194,754,447 $224,523,780 Madonna Confessions Tour 2006 60 1,210,294 3.2 20,171 [26]
    21 $193,000,000 $297,495,314 Cher Living Proof: The Farewell Tour 2002–05 326 3,500,000 0.6 10,800 [27]
    22 $192,947,951 $199,341,493 Bon Jovi Bon Jovi Live 2011 68 1,851,385 2.8 27,226 [28]
    23 $185,175,360 $191,311,348 Take That Progress Live 2011 35[h] 1,806,473 5.3 51,613 [28][29]
    24 $171,677,027 $244,792,229 U2 PopMart Tour 1997–98 93 3,870,803 1.8 42,322 [30]
    25 $167,000,000 $180,910,191 Bruce Springsteen Working On A Dream Tour 2009 80 1,831,770 2.1 22,897 [5]
    26 $165,000,000 $238,880,597 Michael Jackson HIStory World Tour 1996-97 82 4,500,000 2.0 54,878 [31]
    27 $160,000,000 $215,930,435 Cher Do You Believe? Tour 1999–2000 180 3,000,000 1.31 18,750 [citation needed]
    28 $151,000,000 $242,935,729 U2 Zoo TV Tour 1992–93 157 5,350,554 0.96 34,080 [30][32]
    29 $149,900,000 $159,759,133 Pink Funhouse Tour/Funhouse Summer Carnival Tour 2009–10 163 2,331,756 0.92 14,305 [5][6]
    30 $142,844,463 $187,488,391 U2 Elevation Tour 2001 112 2,162,282 1.3 19,306 [33]
    31 $141,000,000 $158,039,480 Tim McGraw and Faith Hill Soul2Soul II Tour 2006–07 117 1,673,667 1.2 14,304 [34]
    32 $135,000,000 $253,111,409 Pink Floyd A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour 1988–89 199 4,250,000 0.68 21,250 [35][36]
    33 $131,800,000 $142,778,222 Britney Spears The Circus Starring Britney Spears 2009 97 1,500,000 1.4 15,488 [5]
    34 $131,388,461 $151,471,940 Bon Jovi Have A Nice Day Tour 2005-06 78 1,823,834 1.7 23,382 [37]
    35 $129,059,653 $144,656,173 Genesis Turn It On Again: The Tour 2007 46 1,262,393 2.8 27,443 [38][39]
    36 $126,165,542 $163,023,154 Paul McCartney Driving USA Tour/Driving Japan Tour/Driving Mexico Tour 2002 58 988,077 2.2 17,036 [40][41]
    37 $126,000,000 $136,009,892 Coldplay Viva la Vida Tour 2011-12 111 1,700,000 1.3 18,085 [42]
    38 $125,738,964 $247,090,862 Michael Jackson Bad World Tour 1987-89 123 4,498,300 1.0 36,571 [43][44]
    39 $124,790,787 $147,653,277 Madonna Re-Invention World Tour 2004 56 896,787 2.1 16,428 [45]
    40 $123,101,131 $129,142,012 Taylor Swift Speak Now World Tour 2011-2012 111 1,631,957 1.1 19,000 [46]

  8. CitizenWhy says:

    Strange that no one’s mentioned Spotify.

  9. cyaker says:

    Anne Feeney

    “Have You been to Jail for Justice”

    Occupy this Album (four CD set ) proceeds to Occupy Wall Street Movement

    Maybe they don’t get coverage but they are still out there

  10. osbjmg says:

    I think the future is bright, and I think celebrity is overrated. With the recording industry getting weaker every day, and the miracle of the internet allowing unknowns to be “signed” overnight, you still do get grassroots sounds that kick ass. As far as “The acts have no soul, no backbone anymore. “… I don’t know what to say. Clearly we don’t listen to the same music I guess.

    Myspace, spotify, torrents, allofmp3, amazon used CDs, itunes – this is mostly good. I don’t need an ad campaign to tell me what to listen to.

  11. katland says:

    I have spent over 35 years in the music business and agree that times are difficult in that industry. Sorry, the conclusion that music will not recover until incomes are more equal is simply false. If it were true, the best music would have historically come out of the socialist countries. One of the reasons for the downturn is Apple. I love Apple but the fact is it takes 30% off the top of every song it distributes. Remember that Apple takes none of the risk of producing this material. Most of that now falls on the backs of the artist. Artists actually made out better under the old system where the labels took the risk, did the A&R, and promotion. Nine out of ten artists never sold enough to recoup their advances and so their effective royalty rate was actually quite high. The tenth artist who did well paid for all those who failed. Artist create music for many reasons and seldom is money at he top of the list. I must mention now that I completely agree with David Geffen’s comment in the article. I know David Geffen and in the 80′s negotiated with him on several deals. He did not like to lose. When I signed an artist to A&M rather than him he called me a few choice words and closed with, “you have made your bed, now you must lay in it.”. David in fact had offered more money but the artist did not like the way he had heard that Geffen had treated Neil Young with regardless to artistic freedom.

  12. Greg0658 says:

    mpappa & winder agree with ya’s … good thinking out the box OPed – & bloggers help make the thread (the new world) “Bloggers Killed the JournalStar” no wait “Assisted” .. now are we doing the R&D for the cronys or just having a powwow amoungst ourselves ? (clubs & tribes) .. one thing didn’t see or didn’t catch are the numbers try’g to play the game (I guess the piece touched) ie: Saturation (put another way HuffPo vs TBP) …

    switching gears abit .. as the Olympic Games Opening Cere presented .. europe & WWII with America sole survivor is a history background to that scenario .. Yes sings “capture for the Queen to use” (hense the pedistal) … you get where I’m going – no you can’t – I don’t ..

    umm – is the audio visual age waning? is it ever possible? its the 4th Estate … art saturation in the recorded age – ya – it happens

    made it to the thread bottom (shouldn’t say this out loud) – imo seems art needs a nasty catalist to grab masses hearts

    before submit – I love my music collection more than lots of stuff – but that art collection is near worthless with a $9.95 a month WorldJuke cloudBox .. been thinking of going agrarian with my groundbox for bore’g days & nights .. wait – where can you do that?

    oh and Foster the People’s “Pumped up Kicks” is a protest song (sorta) … & Save the www’s Independence