Home > RIAA & Piracy > Respect the Artist… Don’t Buy the Song

Respect the Artist… Don’t Buy the Song

July 18th, 2015

message from the RIAAI saw this graphic on Facebook today, and it really cheesed me off. While the message has some truth to it, it is filled with subtle yet powerful distortions.

To say that a cup of coffee costs “pennies” to make is misleading; “pennies” sounds like 5~9 cents, while the actual cost in materials is over a dollar, and the price goes up if you account for costs such as labor, rents, etc.

That a cup of coffee takes “minutes to prepare” is also wrong, because the comparison is with the beginning-to-end song production; to account for coffee production in the same way, from planting to processing to shipping to preparing and to serving, making a cup of coffee can involve hundreds of people over a year or more of time to create. Hell, the graphic even cites musicians’ “practice”! How about farmers’ training? No, if you count coffee as taking “minutes” to prepare, then a song takes only “minutes to sing.”

That coffee is “gone forever after one use” is simply the nature of the product—should we value food and drink less because we cannot eat and drink them endlessly?

Not to mention that a cup of coffee can be made to last for a good half hour, resting in a comfy chair at the coffee shop while reading a nice book. A song lasts maybe three minutes, so a cup of coffee can be worth maybe 10 listens. You may still listen to a song dozens of times, but by the time metric, the comparison is far less severe than it is made out to be.

As for the songs, well, those claims are also exaggerated. Yes, it costs thousands of dollars to record—but after they record it, they can cheaply create endless millions of copies. Divided between copies, the cost comes to… pennies!! Much less than a cup of coffee, to be certain! It may cost $100,000 to record a song, but a best-selling song can sell 10 million copies. That’s about one penny per copy.

It can be used over and over again… but not exactly. First, media types (records, tapes, CDs, digital) change often, and every time they do, the music industry demands you pay full price for the new version. Some people have been made to pay for the same Beatles song half a dozen times. Many of these versions have been discarded when the new ones present themselves, so not a “lifetime” thing after all.

Second, it used to be that you owned the media; you could buy or sell used, you could borrow or lend. You could inherit music from a parent, even. Now, you only own the “license”—the temporary, limited right to listen to the music in restricted ways. And when a music service dies, or if you stop paying, you usually lose access to the music you paid for. You can pay $1 for a song, but you can’t own it for $1.

For you to truly buy and own a song for a long time (maybe a lifetime), you have to buy the CD… which is much more expensive than the coffee.

The final statement, however, is the worst of all, and makes me really angry. The biggest text on the graphic: RESPECT THE ARTIST: BUY THE MUSIC.

Oh, really? Well, aside from the fact that you don’t “buy” it anymore (you pay for a license), the whole “respect the artist” thing is a heaping, stinking pile of bull.

Music labels have for decades abused the artists, and pay them very little or even nothing; most artists make their money from tours and performances, even endorsements, but not from music sales. The artists’ income from music sales is a tiny percentage (divided between the band and their managers & agents), but that’s before the studios first charge the band for almost every possible cost they can force them to pay. For example, although everyone profits from the use of the studio, the artists are forced to pay for that by themselves. In the end, they get little to nothing—literally nothing, very often. Lyle Lovett, for example, sold 4.6 million albums, and got a net of $0. Nothing. Not a single penny.

Indeed, artists are forced to sign long-term contracts and give up their rights, working long and hard for the tiny chance at success, while the music companies rake in all the profits. So, every time I hear the industry shout, “Respect the Artist!” my response is simple: You first.

Here’s the real irony: if you pirate every MP3 you listen to, but go to the concerts to listen to your favorite bands, then you are respecting the artists. That gives them the most profit. I’m not saying you should pirate the music, I am only pointing out that it rarely, if ever, hurts the artist. It hurts the insanely rich recording studios who abuse the artists.

Most artists don’t care if you pirate the music; in fact, the more you pirate their music, the more likely you are to want to see them in concert, which gives them much more profit than if you bought the rights to listen to the song! But the artists can’t usually say that, because they still are bound to the music companies. Some do, however; Lady Gaga, Neil Young, Shakira, Norah Jones, and many others have actually said they’re OK with piracy… and no wonder. It helps them more than it hurts them. Neil Young calls piracy “the new radio.”

Whatever you think of piracy, whatever its legal status, it has no damaging effect on them. When studios condescendingly exhort us to “respect the artist,” it’s like billionaires saying that the estate tax “hurts farmers.” Which is bullshit—and, ironically, actual bullshit does help the farmers. The bullshit in the graphic above, though, helps the artists not even a little. It may even hurt them.

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  1. Troy
    July 18th, 2015 at 12:23 | #1

    Plus employee health insurance costs Starbucks more than the coffee beans.

    I have a close friend who has access to a members-only Jpop torrent site, and man has he gotten some great stuff from that — 20GB of music at last count.

    I’ve purchased only around 50 AACs from the iTMS, mostly in one burst when they opened it in 2003, I also paid the extra to get DRM-free versions.

    I’ve also got around 150 CD’s worth of rips, so all-in I’ve paid a bit over $2000 over the past 30-odd years for music.

    Comparing that to Apple Music’s $10/mo is interesting. $2000 buys almost 17 years if they don’t raise the rates later.

    Apple Music’s terms are a better deal overall though, it’s really great to have (most) everything on tap for just $10/mo, even if it will add up to over $2000 over the next 20 years.

    I’m just happy I’ve blown under $100 at the iTMS since Apple’s “kikihodai” model obsoletes that basically, until I cancel the service at least.

  2. Troy
    July 21st, 2015 at 04:13 | #2

    This was kinda funny:


    the ending about democracy is on-point, I was reading again about Weimar Germany and it struck me that democracy can only function when there proponents of progressive change have so marginalized the regressive conservatives that they are no longer a power bloc in government.

    That’s what FDR had, even though he had to manage the social conservative — southern racist — wing of the Democratic party, and what LBJ enjoyed to, after the nation voted in the Dems in ’64, utterly rejecting the GOP message.

    But iif & when conservatives worm their way into power, the game is over, the jig is up, and things are going to get fucked.

    That’s what happened to Greece, that’s what happened to Japan in the 80s and 90s, and that’s what happened to the US 1995 ~ 2006 — and 1920 ~ 1932 for that matter.

    Lincoln appealed in his inaugural address:

    We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

    The social conservatives of the day ended that conversation five years later by putting a bullet in his head.

  3. Troy
    July 22nd, 2015 at 05:26 | #3


    was a really great read, perfect for that 20 minute train commute from Kichijoji to Shibuya I used to have.

    But hey, the iPad Air 2 is so light it’s not so bad reading while standing!

    Hard to believe I was in Japan before the web hit the world. In retrospect I should have pivoted to www and not 3D graphics in 1995 like I did.

    One of these technologies had a bigger future waiting for it . . .

  4. Troy
    July 26th, 2015 at 06:17 | #4


    “Why the Republicans Want to Kill Health Care Reform”


    the esoteric animus for the GOP is simply the added redistributive taxation on capital gains and high earners that pays for much of the costs

    that’s what “repeal and replace” is really all about.

    Also from six years ago:

    “Microsoft Not Impressing This Week”

    the song remains the same there.

    In Q1 of 2009 MSFT had:

    $11B of revenue (less COGS) aka “gross margin”, $6B of SG&A and R&D overhead.

    In 2015 this was:

    $14.5B of gross margin, $8B of overheads

    Q2 of 2009 AAPL had:

    $3B in gross margin, $1.3B in SG&A and R&D overhead

    vs. Q2 2015:

    $19.5B gross margin, $5.6B in SG&A and R&D.

    Apple is a big boy now. Microsoft is still making tons of money, but it’s kinda dead man walking, what with Apple giving away its superior OSes, and Google and Amazon beating MSFT on price wrt MSFT’s cash cows, office and cloud.

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