Please, Pirate My Songs!
By Ignacio Escolar
I’m a lucky musician. My group has just scraped sales of
15,000 copies of our first album. In a world where Enrique
Iglesias can sell six million CDs singing as he does , this
modest sum isn’t too much to write home about. If I put as
much effort into football I’d be playing in the premiership, and
if I dedicated myself to medicine with the same amount of
success I’d be a neurosurgeon. For a couple of weeks during
April 2000, one of our singles squeezed in at number seventeen
in the Spanish charts; number three if you only count the Spanish
artists. Every year 32,000 new records come out worldwide
and only 250 convince more than 10,000 people to buy them.
Scarcely 0.7% of the musicians who brought out a record last
year (most don’t even get into a recording studio) are luckier
People must think I have money coming out of my ears. Or
that I at least make a decent living from my musical talents.
How much does the lucky top 0.7% earn in their profession? I
won’t bore you with figures but, after three years of hard work
to get my album into the shops, I’ve earned just a little over
3,000 euros from record sales and copyright fees. Barely 85
euros a month is what my successful musical career has netted
me. My share of the rent of a place to rehearse – what stops my
neighbours having me turned out as a noisy tenant – comes out
at 40 euros a month. Last Christmas I blew half my profits on a
new keyboard , a total whim. If I had a manager with the power
to veto my budgets I’d still be playing with the casiotone I got
for Christmas in 1986.
I don’t blame piracy for my state of bankruptcy. Nor do I
blame the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” of the advert – in really
bad taste – with which the SGAE (General Society of Authors
and Editors) tried to make music lovers aware of the need to
pay them their dues. Like most of the other crackpots who
waste their time in rehearsal places and their money on instruments
and amps, I prefer the personal satisfaction of knowing
that someone out there is taking the trouble to listen to my music
so I can collect the thirty pesetas which is my share of each
copy sold (a quarter of that if the record is on offer or is bought
during a TV campaign).
If my manager, that make-believe guy I mentioned earlier,
had any sense he would agree with me. For each gig I play,
depending on the size of the house and the generosity of the
promoter, I clear between 100 and 400 euros. I promise you
that if you come to one of them I won’t ask you for a photocopy
of my CD’s barcode to get in. Like all musicians who have
done their sums, I know that 100,000 pirate fans coming to my
shows are more profitable than 10,000 original ones.
So MP3, Kazaa or Gnutella aren’t about to kill off music.
Not mine or anybody’s. I can assure you that, fortunately, I can
do without the 85 euros a month from my copyright fees and royalties. For Metallica, and any other best selling bands, the same rule applies though the figures are higher. Concerts, T-shirt
sales and the adverts a well known band may record all
bring in more money than the royalties (between 8 and 15% of
the wholesale price) which multinationals pay per record sold.
It’s true that the record companies pay the musicians’ recording
and promotion costs, but do you know any
other business in which the share-out between
those providing the idea and the labour
and those putting up the money is so
lopsided? I have to confess that I don’t
know what prompted Metallica to side
with their recording company and sue
Napster. But the upshot was that their fans
turned against them , God struck a deal
with the Devil and Napster turned from pirate
into privateer . It would have embarrassed
the hell out of me.
Free distribution of songs over the Internet will not put an
end to musical creation, but I hope it will put an end to the abusive
practices of the recording industry. And we ‘notesmiths’
have been getting a better deal over the years. If the poor bluesmen
of the forties – those who the RCA record label (now
owned by Bertelsmann, Napster’s partner) used to pay six
dollars and a bottle of bourbon for them to record their songs –
could hear how Metallica’s drummer, Jan Ulrich, moans ...
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know what I
was getting myself into when I signed a
contract with Universal Music a year and
a half ago. In that meeting a top executive
of the company summed up the nine pages
of the agreement in one sentence: “We
record companies are a necessary evil”. I
won’t argue with that. Without them my
band would never have sold 15,000
records. Though I bet we could have given
The full or partial reproduction of this article is permitted provided that a link is
provided to the source, http://www.escolar.net, and the author is credited. The article was first published in Baquia (http://www.baquia.com) on 17 January 2001.
Ignacio Escolar is a journalist. He is the editor of Spanishpop.net, collaborates with http://www.gsmbox.es and with the monthly magazine GEO, and is responsible for “El Navegante”, the section of Informativos Telecinco 1:30 (TV5’s News Programme) devoted to the Internet.