There’s been a lot of linkage this week to David Lowery’s Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss? Lowery is a music-biz insider, and says he’s also a geek; and he really, really hates people like me. He makes some really interesting points; unfortunately, he comes across as a jerk.
Tl;dr · Which for those who don’t know is Net-jargon for “Too long; didn’t read”; it can be used both as a comment, and to tag a summary that precedes anything longish. Let’s do both here. First off, Lowery’s piece could have been condensed to a third of its length by a good editor. Second, I’m going to try to pull out some worthwhile bits here.
At one level it’s not obvious to me why I should do this, because Lowery clearly regards me as the enemy. A few choice quotes from him on the subject of those of us who build the Internet for a living:
A sort of Cyber–Bolshevik campaign of mass collectivization for the good of the state…er .. I mean Internet
... they shout as they pound their tiny fists on their Skovby tables.
“Free expression” and “Innovation” are tech speak for being able to use artists songs, sound recordings, films, photos and books without having to license or share any revenue.
Google date rapes the spirit of the law
Silicon Valley IS the new Wall Street. It attracts the same “I wanna get rich at whatever cost” sleazebags that used to go to Wall Street and bilk old ladies out of their pensions.
On top of which, he chest-thumps about his geek prowess, because he does ham radio and “had a fascination with the old RPG punch card programming language”.
Dear Mr Lowery · You’re rude, you don’t understand the difference between “its” and “it’s”, your geek cred is pathetic, and your slides look like gerbil droppings.
Having said that · Sometimes he’s funny: “the .Zip file was a real game changer for musicians, especially banjo players.”
And if you wade through the bad slides, sloppy language, rudeness, and arrogance, there are things to learn here. Since we’re in tl;dr mode, let’s present Lowery’s points in point form. I don’t agree with all of them; but they sound like things that are worth arguing about.
If you do the math, the effective CD royalties paid to many musicians were a lot higher than the nominal 12% or so, because of the practice of giving advances to prospects whose records didn’t sell.
The practice of posting takedown notices on Chilling Effects might have an unexpected downside in publicizing personal information about people protecting reasonable rights in a reasonable way.
There is a perceived lack of transparency about the royalty payouts from stream services. (Nothing new here; I’ve never known anyone getting royalties for anything who didn’t find their statements opaque.)
It’s reasonable to wonder whether the 30%-or-so cut taken by online services like iTunes & its competitors is reasonable.
An artist’s best economics are in selling their own music and schwag off their own website. But all the interested-buyer traffic is being drawn away by intermediaries: iTunes and Play and Amazon.
When you’re doing the economics, it’s reasonable to think about not just the distribution of revenue, but the distribution of risk. Online merchants have arranged to carry more or less none.
On the Other Hand · I think Mr Lowery has some points. I think he’s also nostalgic for the historically-tiny span of years when the music biz fattened on the proceeds of the great vinyl-to-CD conversion. Music has historically been lousy as a business and while we’d all like to make it better, those profit margins are never coming back.
And I think a dialog between Net-heads and non-label insiders like Mr Lowery could be useful for both sides. But as long as he thinks we’re just a bunch of philistine scum and persists in saying so every other sentence, he’s not gonna get one going.