The Real Music Business: A Love Letter to Ze Pequeno

Mr. Ze Pequeno, I am a regular subscriber to Tiny Mixtapes and I check your website every day. Tiny Mixtapes is one of my favorite music sites because not only do you write good album and film reviews, the site takes a more political approach than other music blogs. The minds behind Tiny Mixtapes recognize that there is a need to discuss politics and tackle gritty issues and I applaud you and your co-workers for your valiant efforts. Many of the articles you write are very credible and take strong stances on otherwise nebulous and cloudy subjects.

Ze, as I clicked on your article “Five Problems with the IFPI Digital Music Report,” my heart fluttered. I blushed and was prepared for yet another torrid and breathtaking affair with a Tiny Mixtapes commentary. However, what I read disgusted me and left a bad taste in my mouth as if I had ingested month-old rotten eggs.

In your article you discussed various parts of the IFPI Digital Music Report and provided harsh criticisms as to why it was a poor representation of 2009, blah, blah, blah. The point is you’re wrong on this matter and I’m going to tell you why. I’m going to dissect the solutions that you presented to the music industry, point out the fundamental flaws in your argument and turn the mirror on you.

1. Stop selling records, start selling artists.

This is a wonderful statement and I totally agree with this. But wait, then you say, “The industry’s implementation of “360 deals,” which give labels a stake in every aspect of an artist’s business in return for managing and marketing those aspects, is a promising start, but more needs to be done in exchange for increased profitability.”

Wait – so you’re saying the 360 deal (which takes a cut of not only the artists’ record sales, but also cuts into their touring, merchandise, and promotional revenue streams amongst others) is the solution?! Artists were already paying back major labels on less than 15% of their entire revenue (the standard major label contract looks like this in the end; Major label 88%, Artist 12%) and now you propose that labels cut even deeper into their other sources of income and that will solve the artists’ problems. In addition, you said that, “more needs to be done in exchange for increased profitability.”

More, like how much more? Should recording artists just give in, put on some stilettos and skanky high shorts and parade around the track for more money for their pimps ie 360 deal contracts? Mr. Pequeno, a 360 deal is not the solution for artists these days. Giving someone else more control over all your sources of income is foolish in a day and age in which all the revenue streams are drying up. If you cannot control your own product through your own mediums and create your own branding reflective of whom you truly are, that is a problem in the 21st century music business. The key is to maintain control over your intellectual property and utilize labels for what you need out of them, it’s not the inverse. A simple distribution deal can be much more beneficial for an artist who has already invested time in building up their product and brand and targeted it at the right markets.

2. Let the customers decide how they want to pay their artists.

I read this and immediately a red flag popped up in my mind. Let the customers decide how they want to pay their artists hmmm…they won’t pay anything.

Mr. Pequeno, we live in tough times and purchasing cds, going out to the movies, eating out on the weekends, those are all luxury items/purchases. Some people really do have to make the decision of whether or not they can purchase lunch for the day or buy their favorite artist’s cd.

But I will admit, I am cynical and jaded. However, my cynicism is steeped on the grounds of fact and true evidence. If someone can get something for free and not pay for it, they will do it. If they can find a 320 kps mp3 online that has the same sound quality, music, and even the record information encoded into the track, they will download that track without a moment’s hesitation. Few people have the integrity and common sense to view their favorite artists as not just entertainers in this separate realm of pop culture aside from the real world, but as hard workers and vendors who have to utilize the world of business and commerce in order to make a decent living and get their music out to the masses.

You criticized and belittled Stephen Garrett, the executive chairmen of Kudos television, for saying that piracy and illegal downloading has killed the jobs of electricians, drivers, carpenters, and the common man. What do you think most musicians are doing for a day job and primary source of income aside from their music?

To make matters worse, you used the notorious Radiohead/NIN model as a shining beacon of how fans will pay loads of money for music and it’s all based on personal choice. Too bad Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails initially relied on and heavily profited off the old music business model. If I was Thom frickin Yorke of course I would let my fifty million fans decide how they want to purchase my music. If I only receive sales from 10%, that’s still five million fans! Do you think Joe Schmoe has five million fans or even 1500 fans?

3. Release materially digitally when it’s done

I can’t complain with this clause too much, you do make a good point. Nonetheless, an artist’s album can be leaked by numerous sources aside from the artist themselves. All it takes is one greedy, overzealous studio intern and your album is leaked all over the streets. Half the time it’s not even the real tracks circulating the web, it’s old and unreleased material or just fake tracks period. You can browse Youtube for ten minutes and find all kinds of phony, fraud tracks. In these cases, the artist is not releasing their material prematurely, but someone else who has uploaded the track.

Overall, if an artist releases something digitally when it’s complete or unfinished, it won’t matter once everything is turned into an endless string of zeroes and ones. The minute that record hits the digital market, anyone can turn it into a bit torrent and upload it onto any system that has an Internet connection and a hard drive. In essence Mr. Pequeno, this is not a solution because it does not address the real issue at hand. It’s a temporary band-aid at best, but nothing more.

You made a few other outlandish and ignorant comments in your article, but I won’t bounce off of those just because this article would end up being too long-winded and honestly it’s a waste of my time.

Mr. Pequeno, I wrote this article because I had to. I understand your vantage point, but your strategy was flawed upon conception and your delivery was shoddy. You paint this picture of the music business being run by greedy corporate pigs and rich wolves out for fresh blood (btw I have met several artists operating at the local/DIY level who are just as self-involved and egotistical as major label CEOs). There are some aspects of the music industry that certainly reflect a more corrupt and insidious nature, but the entire industry does not reflect that.

Record labels were started to sell records and that’s it. They were not designed to handle the booking and promotional aspects of an artist’s tour or coming up with creative merchandise to sell an artist as a brand or product. They did all of these things to fuel sales of the music and artists relied heavily on major labels at one point in time because they needed them for distribution. It was an era without convenient home recording equipment and readily accessible music technology, many of the older record labels owned and controlled elaborate studios  and musicians needed them just to record.

Mr. Pequeno, you have used the same irrational strategy that your opponents utilize consistently and I wonder if you even realize it. If you don’t, I’m telling you. Your “solutions” are not solutions, but quick ways for an artist to bury themselves six feet deep. You stated at the end of your article that Tiny Mixtapes is a small music blog and probably won’t make much impact on the music industry. I’m no journalist, but I recognize that this is not true. One should always be selective about their choice of words, but especially when they’re posting a think piece online to be viewed by all of the world. It doesn’t take a bachelor’s degree in journalism to realize that.

I’m not going to provide any counter solutions to your “solutions” in this particular piece. I may do that later on down the line, but for now realize that what you say and post via a legitimate music blog should not be taken lightly. Put some genuine thought and charisma into your articles, prove to me as the reader why your points are valid and don’t recycle impractical statistics from useless sources to make your point.


2 responses to “The Real Music Business: A Love Letter to Ze Pequeno

  1. I also read Tiny Mixtapes but I must have missed this article. I almost have to wonder if Ze Pequeno’s solutions were meant to be taken sarcastically, they seem so inane and counterproductive to the interests of the artists. Great job pointing out all the holes in this trainwreck logic.

  2. I hope he meant to be sarcastic, but you never know with some of these guys

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