For What It’s Worth

The Sunday New York Times for November 3 ran a front-page story—below the fold, but still on the front page—on rap music that was undoubtedly assigned as a result of the murder of Jam Master Jay the preceding week. What is striking about the story is that the first person quoted is Bert Padell, “an accountant whose clients include Madonna, Run DMC and others.” While this may seem to be somewhat unusual, it should be noted that the subject of the article, which is headlined “In Rap Industry, Rivalries as Marketing Tool,” states, “Now with rap album sales even more depressed than the music industry as a whole, these rivalries”—as in the East Coast vs. the West Coast, for example—”may hold a key to its turnaround.” Great. People rhymin’ against one another, people shootin’ one another… All for a turnaround.

Padell breaks down what would be left over to a rap artist who might get an advance against royalties of $1-million for a disc. Consider these expenses:

  • $35,000 to $100,000 per track for a name-brand producer
  • $10,000 to $50,000 per track for a name-brand musician to accompany the lead performer per track
  • $50,000 (5%) to the lawyer who negotiated the advance

Then, Padell suggests, if there is $300,000 left:

  • 20%, or $60,000, to the manager
  • 5%, or $15,000, to the business manager or accountant.

Now it is down to $175,000. Of which:

  • $70,000 due in taxes.

“Mr. Padell said that performers who make a 500,000-copy gold album might end up with more money working for UPS.” Having worked at UPS loading a truck (OK, only for a shift, but, hey, I was lifting those boxes), I’ve got to believe that the musical lifestyle is a hell of a more…comfortable. Until the hardware gets pulled out. (The most I would have probably had to worry about was wearing a truss.)

So the sale of albums is off. Down 20% year over last in the category of interest versus 13% overall. Consider that this past October Ford sales were down 31% compared with October, 2001, and GM was down 32%. So far as I am aware, no shootings are associated with the comparative collapse. Things are bad all over. We don’t need to prove that by pulling out the heat.

What is horribly sad about all of this is the fact that “the industry,” which is making far more money than the people who are living large before they’re not living at all, is an “industry” that is evidently mainly about the benjamins, not about the people who are making it for them (there’s more; there is always more, anxious). In that regard, the music industry is pretty much like any industry, but the price being paid by the likes of Jam Master Jay is far too dear.

2 thoughts on “For What It’s Worth”

  1. When Shakespeare wrote about the green eyed monster, the sounds of music made by damaged people pervaded the annals of his mind.

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