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1% Of Musicians Make 77% Of The Money
  • The music industry is a Superstar economy, that is to say a very small share of the total artists and works account for a disproportionately large share of all revenues.

    This is not a Pareto’s Law type 80/20 distribution, but something much more dramatic: the top 1% account for 77% of all artist recorded music income.


    The concept of the long tail seemed like a useful way of understanding how consumers interact with content in digital contexts, and for a while looked like the roadmap for an exciting era of digital content.

    Intuitively the democratization of access to music, both on the supply and demand sides, coupled with vastness of digital music catalogues should have translated into a dilution of the Superstar economy effect.

    Instead the marketplace has shown us that humans are just as much wandering sheep in need of herding online as they are offline.

    In fact digital music services have actually intensified the Superstar concentration, not lessened it. The top 1% account for 75% of CD revenues but 79% of subscription revenue.

  • 40 Replies sorted by
  • IMO this 1% doesn't have 77% of the talent. The industry is subject to extreme randomness. This would explain the gigantic success of those such as Britney Spears and Beiber.

  • IMO this 1% doesn't have 77% of the talent.

    No one told this. Plus talent has no strict definition. Some think that talent is ability to being pleasing to extremely tiny circle of snobs. Talent is like potential. It is certain that huge amount of people have big potential, but most of them will never realize it, most of the time it is not even their fault.

  • the copyright cartel of corrupt governments !

  • Talent is a vague word as you say. But nonetheless, there are those that toil in music for years and have a great aptitude as well. Such individuals have a high level of understanding of music and music theory. They've typically mastered at least one instrument if not several. Many of them were child prodigies. These are people that have committed their life and soul to music. They're typically found working at Starbucks. Meanwhile Britney spears can't even read music. Cannot play an instrument, cannot write music, cannot really do anything other than abuse drugs and alcohol. Society picks random people to reward.

  • Society picks random people to reward.

    Not random, just requirements are strange sometimes :-)

    As for most really best guys doing cheap stuff. My own experience tells me that it happens but it is rare. All the time you try to bring such genius to work something happens, either he can't work hard and on schedule, or his genius is not really present at all. But yep, real geniuses working in SB happen. It is just rare thing.

  • The best musicians I've ever seen were in the paris metro ! And the 1% , just like the other 1%...doesn't have anything to do with talent. But concerning the aforementioned "artists" ...I'd bet they've got certain mouth-oriented talents that got them this far !

  • The requirements are "Strange" indeed. I'm trying to imagine what the music industry executives were thinking when they evaluated Britney Spears before anointing her for stardom. Undoubtedly there is a shrewd calculus going on. They made a fortune off her. But there is a random element in many cases as well. One of the world's top pianists is Yuja Wang, she plays 150 concerts a year all over the world at 5 to 10 grand per show. Rolex endorsement, Grammaphone contracts, the whole enchilada. Yuja was just another struggling pianists until she was called on a whim to substitute, at the last second, for a prominent pianist that became ill. It was her "Break" in the parlance. She was in the right place at the right time and that springboarded her. Had that not happened she might be at Starbucks.

    Kurth, by "mouth oriented talents" I'm hoping you mean political skills and not sexual ability. I know for a fact that the former is considered as important as sheer talent. If you cannot network and get along with others, you will struggle despite nearly any level of genius.

  • @brianl I couldn't agree more. I know some musicians, Foster the People, who have become very very successful and have reached this through hard work, talent (good songwriting) and a extreme amount of luck. Yet they are shunned by some of their former fans for "selling out". If sony music hadn't picked them up (on the strength of "pumped up kicks") they would be playing local bars in LA.

    I've also met Max Martin, the producer behind Britney and most of the 1% we're talking about. He's a truly hardworking guy and super talented. As a musician myself I have a hard time liking the music he makes... But at the same time he makes music for the masses.

    I see both sides of the talent/crap coin. It's a free world. I don't listen to pop radio. Take your money elsewhere.

    I think the success or failure of genres and musicians lays more directly at the feet of the record labels themselves. Atlantic is notorious for signing bands just so other labels can't have them. Get signed to Atlantic and watch as they give you zero support.

    Rant done. Music, like almost all art, is a form that's been commercialized. That means that labels/producers try to find sounds that appeal to a broad range of people. Sucks, but that's the way it goes.

  • Britney Spears is not an individual artist who made it big on her own. Take a look at her music videos. They're probably 30 million dollar projects. No individual artist can afford that.

    There's an industry with unlimited resources behind her who write her music, make her videos, tell her how to dress, what to say. With pop stars like Britney, they choose who they want to make into a star and groom them from an early age. They invest millions to make big-budget videos and market the star because they know the investment will pay off. But the artist has very little creative freedom.

  • @vapourtrail what I hear from a lot of musicians is that their industry is too fragmented (filmmakers say that too) and that it's often hard for audiences to find their music. Meanwhile big labels with big tentacles force feed the public a product that's often the equivalent to the pink slime used in fast food. Nobody really cares. Just munch away on your big mac. Some good stuff breaks through but a lot falls through into the abyss.

    And now I'll take a quote from Vitaliy and use it completely out of context and change the meaning he meant: "All the time you try to bring such genius to work something happens..." I like that. I hope it's true that genius usually gets recognized. Personally I'm not sure if I've ever been with genius. I know it's not the guy watching me shave in the mirror. As I understand the term, genius is the rarest of things that we should reserve for only the most highly gifted, not the guy who got the best SAT score in high school or the guys at the MENSA cocktail parties. But! a week from today I'm attending a master class with Yo-Yo Ma. If he isn't a genius, no one is.

  • About the chart, I've always heard music superstars make their big money off live shows. I think a pie chart showing money distribution for live show revenue would be even more discouraging.

  • I've seen some amazing musicians skill-wise make some really bad music.. making a hit is not necessarily a given if you have talent.

    As for the 77% it's just like everything else in the media; stars get the money while the rest work for years for that overnight success.

  • @brianl yes! Yo-yo Ma is definitely a genius. Would love to attend that class. One of my favorite albumns is him and Bobby McFerin, who is also in the genius category in my book. Seen his Ted Talk? Amazing.

    Yes new, interesting music can be hard to find. Listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW. I've discovered so much new music through that program.

  • One of the favorite phases of entertainment execs. "They'll love who we tell them to love." If you hear anyone talking about an artist, reviewing an artist, social media about an artist, or even hating on an established artist, you can be pretty confident that this is a result of well proven marketing plans.

    The other side of the business is artists in law suits against their labels. An lawyer for artist was interviewed on a public radio program in LA a few years back. Regarding artist lawsuits against their labels for falsely paying royalties. He said something like "I can't say every label is corrupt. It may truely be accidental. But I can tell you this, after more than 4000 law suits, we have never found a case where any label accidentally paid an artist properly or over paid any artist. In 4000+ cases, they always -accidentally- under pay them. So draw your own conclusions."

  • Have you ever wondered how much it costs to get on "Morning Becomes Eclectic", or any other marketing outlet?

  • If you hear anyone talking about an artist, reviewing an artist, social media about an artist, or even hating on an established artist, you can be pretty confident that this is a result of well proven marketing plans.

    I can even say that you do not need too many people to spread the word, as most people do it for free and just follow authority. But you need good money and proper infrastructure and people.

  • @TheNewDeal - Morning Becomes Ecletctic is actually a NPR program. It's costs the artists nothing to be on the program. They are invited. I've heard artists who aren't signed... For example the first time I heard Lykke Li was before she was signed on MBE.

  • I always joke about getting that yacht catalogue out every time I get a gig (for my measly fee). I quite like Bob Lefsetz's letters - you can subscribe here - - for his view on the music "industry". It's a bit US-centric but quite entertaining.

  • TheNewDeal wrote: "One of the favorite phases of entertainment execs. "They'll love who we tell them to love."

    Yes, that's precisely what's going on in both the music industry and the movie industry. If you watch the extras for the Black Swan film, you'll note that at one point they say that a film can be made for 5000$, but no one is going to watch it. Because they control the distribution channels. And also because many people still think the only films worth watching are big-budget films made by Hollywood.

    More and more people need to stop loving who they tell us to love and start seeking out the best films and music available from independent artists. the more that happens, the less power and control they will have over what people are watching and listening to.

  • What's the evidential basis that consumers aren't enjoying the music and films that they are purchasing?

    I don't care for Beiber's music in the least, but he's not really selling music. He's a teen-beat popstar, selling a musical entertainment package... one that millions of girls enjoy and pay for. The fact that he's no Yo-Yo Ma doesn't make it any less enjoyable to teen girls.

    Music is one of those personal things; talent and success - and financial rewards - are no so clear-cut. I can't stand Radiohead, but understand many do. My dislike of them doesn't mean there's no talent there, nor a market for it.

  • Music is one of those personal things

    Generally, whole data tell that it is not "personal thing", may be just some illusion of it, and that professionals and techniques work all day so it won't become such.

  • Seems like the music industry has become similar to a "winner take all market" where the revenue and profits accrue to a small number of players, and everyone else gets very little.

    The Android app marketplace is said to be something like this too - a small # of apps are accounting for the bulk of revenue and profits and most apps do not break even.

  • I don't agree with the conclusion the author makes - "Instead the marketplace has shown us that humans are just as much wandering sheep in need of herding online as they are offline." The data in the chart simply shows the % of money earned by acts such a Spears, The Rolling Stones, etc. There's nothing in that data that proves/disproves a herd mentality.

    To put a different way: One could say a high percentage of diners enjoy french fries. French fries constitute the largest percentage of potato usage. However, that doesn't mean there's a herd mentality of french fry consumption - all we know from this stat is how popular fries are.

  • Since the advent of MTV the music industry is more akin to the 'fashion' industry.

    I think most consumers are not that interested in music. They are interested in fashion and how they will be perceived by their peers.

    As such there can only be a few major trends. Thus the wealth stays confined to a small group of people even though the ability to distribute and create music has been democratized by the digital revolution.

  • If he isn't a genius, no one is.

    Yo-Yo Ma's father drilled him relentlessly on the cello virtually from birth, as is the case with most master musicians today, in having accomplished, and usually professional, musicians for parents. Without that, there would have been no "genius".

    This doesn't work with composers, btw. If it did, there would be at least a few dozen Mozarts and Beethovens. So maybe that's real genius.