Tag Archives: publishing

Artificial Authors & Blank Bands

“Finding my books on the Books3 data set was disappointing and disorienting: writing is how I’ve made my life, artistically, and—this is important—practically too. . . . Books and writing are how I pay my mortgage, my children’s tuition, my grocery bill. To see my work so cavalierly stolen and used, without my consent, by corporations eager only to increase their own profits, is frankly terrifying.”—Elisabeth de Mariaffi, in The Walrus

Books3, if you’re not familiar with it, is a dataset of books—thousands of them (as in around 183,000)—that were downloaded from pirated sources—so the authors received nothing for their work—and then used to train the AI language models of several companies, including Meta and Bloomberg.

Odds are, you’ve not heard of de Mariaffi.

Odds are, you have heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is estimated to be worth $96 billion. Zuckerberg? About $115 billion.

Neither probably thinks about making their mortgage payments or the size of the grocery bill.

There are lawsuits against Books3 by authors and other interested parties.

There are lawsuits against OpenAI for illegally using authors’ works. There are some more famous writers—Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin, George Saunders, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen—involved in suits, as are some, well, outliers, like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Silverman.

While the name brands probably aren’t too concerned about the price of a gallon of milk, what is notable about these undertakings is that these people are trying to protect their work from the potential unfair reuse of manipulated variants thereof that would lead to increased corporate profitability and no benefit redounding to them.

Think about it: Books3, used by humongous corporations, didn’t even plunk down $20 for a copy of The Firm.

Continue reading Artificial Authors & Blank Bands

Camrys, Cornflakes and Superfans

Back in the days of yore—or 2017—the music industry revenues, according to investment firm Goldman Sachs—were pie-sliced like this:

  • $26 billion live
  • $30 billion recorded
  • $6 billion publishing (which it defines as “Revenue collected by music publishing companies, which act as agents for songwriters and composers, collecting and distributing royalties on their behalf.” So when you read about musicians selling their catalogs, it means that those royalties no longer are funneled their way, and the big organizations that consequently own those rights probably invest via firms like, well, Goldman Sachs.)

The people at Goldman Sachs are seemingly bullish on the sorts of returns that can be garnered in the years to come, as this it what they project for 2030:

  • $38 billion live
  • $80 billion recorded
  • $12.5 billion publishing

As you can see, the increase in live performance is the least gain, 46%. Of course, these reckonings were made prior to Taylor Swift’s tour. Publishing is a 108% increase. And recorded music rises 167%. Of course, “recorded music” doesn’t mean just physical media. Clearly, that’s merely a fraction of the total take, which is clearly dominated by streaming, which, Goldman Sachs says has grown 2.5 times since 2017, from 950 billion on-demand streams to 3,359 billion streams.

But those involved in this space aren’t necessarily busting out the champagne because (1) the revenue per steam is down 20% over this period and (2) the average revenue per user is down 40%.

But these billions of dollars certainly aren’t chump change.

Continue reading Camrys, Cornflakes and Superfans

“Coo, coo, ca-choo”

Music written for its own independent existence has long been a part of motion pictures. That is, there are soundtracks composed especially for movies, but there are other songs that are used as part of the soundtrack that were written to stand on their own. By and large, these additional songs were used primarily to give the characters a reason to dance. Sometimes there was a Bing Crosby croon to set a scene, which was then used in Elvis movies. But still, it was mostly dancing, especially in beach movies.

Arguably, the most significant change occurred in 1983 with the release of Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill. In this case, the music—and there is an abundance: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye version), “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” “Tell Him,” “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Kasdan, along with George Lucas and Philip Kaufman, wrote the screenplay for that movie), “Good Lovin’,” “Strangers in the Night,” “Theme from J.T. Lancer,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Quick Silver Girl,” “The Weight,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Aretha version), “In the Midnight Hour,” “I Second That Emotion,” and “Joy to the World”—is so fundamental to the plot that it is almost a character onto itself. It isn’t simply to add background to the scenes; even when there is dancing (e.g., the kitchen scene to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”) it is more organic than is typically the case in movies. (Presumably when Kasdan pursued his MA at University of Michigan, the proximity to Motown was influential.)

There is a bit of music that wasn’t written for a movie that has fundamentally become part of how the movie remains in memory: “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel in the Mike Nichols movie The Graduate. It is so entwined with that film that people probably mistake Anne Bancroft’s character’s name for the actual name of the movie.

Continue reading “Coo, coo, ca-choo”

Shine On, You Crazy. . .

Bob Dylan, the troubadour of the ‘60s who managed to write his way through the following decades with a number of songs that have become like cotton for many people, whether they know that he wrote the songs or not, is 81. For some people his career might be like the old joke about McCartney being in a band before Wings, but in Dylan’s case, that he actually did something before the Traveling Wilburys (and if you think about that band, it is a rather creepy situation, given that only Dylan and Jeff Lynne still on stage, with George Harrison, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison all exiting) may be somewhat astonishing to some people, although the best of Dylan was in that earlier period, not the later.

Although Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature (2016), he never had a number-one song on the charts. He did get to #2 twice, with “Like a Rolling Stone”* and Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” The Byrd’s 1965 cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” did make it to the top of the charts, however.

Dylan, of course, has a resonance that transcends whether he managed to acquire gold discs to adorn his walls. Which goes a long way to explaining why he’s managed to acquire, in the last couple of years, some $350-million or more by selling his recordings and catalog (to Sony Music and Universal Music respectively). Given that an LP weighs about six ounces and the price of an ounce of gold is $1,825, Dylan could easily wallpaper a room with gold records.

If we roughly estimate that Dylan has been working for the past 61 years, that means $5.7-million per year, which is probably somewhat better than he’d imagined when he lived in a cold water flat. (I don’t know for certain whether he lived in such a place, but obviously the nature of the performer lends itself to that, just as now we can posit that he has more than the wherewithal to live in the manner to which he has probably become accustomed, which has an expectation of more than hot water.)

Springsteen has done better with his catalog, estimated to have garnered $550 million, and odds are that he will add more work to his back pages.

Word now is that Pink Floyd—or the band previously known as Pink Floyd—is putting its catalog up for sale. The price is estimated to be $500 million.

Continue reading Shine On, You Crazy. . .

On the Potential Commercialization of Bruce Springsteen

And here you have it:

NEW YORK – December 16, 2021 – Sony Music Group today announced it has acquired Bruce Springsteen’s entire recorded music and songwriting catalogs through separate agreements. The two agreements cover the recorded music and music publishing rights to all of Springsteen’s songs, including “Born to Run,” “Born In The USA” “Dancing in the Dark” “Glory Days,” “The River,” “Hungry Heart,” “Brilliant Disguise” and “I’m On Fire,” among many others. Sony Music Publishing partnered with Eldridge on the songwriting catalog purchase.

And the news release goes on from there, including a quote from Springsteen: “I am one artist who can truly say that when I signed with Columbia Records in 1972, I came to the right place. During the last 50 years, the men and women of Sony Music have treated me with the greatest respect as an artist and as a person. I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the Company and people I know and trust.”

A few things.

First know that Springsteen is 72 years old, and according to the Social Security Administration, a 72-year-old has a life expectancy of 13.25 years.

It is reported that the purchase is on the order of $550 million. Presumably, that would be liable to the 37% federal tax rate, which would leave him with $346,500,000.

Serious walking around money.

Continue reading On the Potential Commercialization of Bruce Springsteen

Two Separate Things: Morrison & Money

“Jim’s drinking habit had grown in parallel with our success, so the members of our band and crew rotated the chore of attempting to keep him as sober as possible on show nights. On December 9, 1967, that chore had fallen on me. . . . He wasn’t drinking more than his usual amount, but his usual amount was more than usual to most people. I had yet to discover a successful strategy to lure Jim over to moderation. Arguing didn’t work. Saying nothing didn’t work. Encouraging him didn’t work.”

That’s Robby Krieger, guitarist for The Doors (as well as a subsequent number of other groupings, although none, obviously, as influential and consequently memorable—as in making a memoir something that might have a wider audience than, say, fans of Robby Krieger’s Jam Kitchen), from his new memoir, Set the Night on Fire: Living, Dying and Playing Guitar With The Doors.

And it is fairly evident that trying to discourage Morrison from getting drunk was something that didn’t work.

The night in question was when the band played the New Haven Arena, promoted by the New Haven College.

According to Krieger, just before the show “Jim was making out with his date in a shower stall.” A police officer didn’t recognize the man who was yet to become The Lizard King, apparently thought he was someone who slipped in, and Morrison “allegedly mouthed office and the cop allegedly sprayed him with Mace.”

Krieger goes on to say of the alleged occurrences (which seems somewhat odd, given that this happened 54 years ago and presumably any legal ramifications are no longer existent so either it happened or it didn’t or Krieger is being ironic, which doesn’t work particularly well in this case if that is his intention), “Jim loved mouthing off to cops, and cops loved having an excuse.” The proverbial double-win.

Undoubtedly, someone who was essentially mouthy to cops under ordinary circumstances had his hackles at stratospheric levels after that (if he was the Lizard King, in this context he would have to be a Komodo dragon). . .but he had to go out on stage, during which performance Morrison, not surprisingly, “launched into his now-famous rant about the little blue man in the little blue suit with the little blue cap who had temporarily blinded him backstage.”

The police came on stage, arrested Morrison, and the rest is legend, especially as a writer for Life magazine happened to have been arrested, as well, and there was coverage of the band in the middle-brow weekly magazine that emphasized the outlaw nature of the band.

Morrison died in 1971 at age 27. Think about that: about four years between the arrest in Connecticut and a heart attack in a bathroom in Paris.

Continue reading Two Separate Things: Morrison & Money

The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

Of course it is like this. The Save Our Stages Act, S.4258, which allows the Small Business Administration “to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues”—and we’re talking real money, an initial grant up to $12-million that can be supplemented by one equal to 50% of the initial grant—has been passed. Months ago.

But according to recent reporting in Variety, there is one non-trivial snag: the venues haven’t gotten any money.

The problem? Oh, probably the website.

A representative of the Small Business Administration is quoted by Variety saying, “the SBA is committed to quickly and efficiently delivering this pandemic relief to help our theatres, music venues, and more get the help they need. While there continues to be some fine-tuning of technical components of the program, we expect SVOG Priority 1 (90% revenue loss) awards to tentatively begin next week, kicking off a 14-day priority period. We will then move on to begin processing Priority 2 awards.”

Possibly by the time you read this some of the $16 billion (yes, with a “b”) will be making its way to a venue near you.

But think about that for a minute: a given operation has experienced a 90% revenue loss? This isn’t a short, one-time event, like having a lemonade stand: one day it is hot and the sales are brisk; the next day there are torrential storms and the stand gets no customers; the following day it is back to sweltering and the thirsty return. That middle day there is a 100% loss. But the pandemic has lasted for more than a day. Obviously.

Certainly things are opening with a feeling of freshness, like throwing open the windows after a long winter of dealing with steam heat.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that for far too many small businesses—such as bars and clubs—the winter has been too long, and what seemed as though it would be at least a way to recover somewhat so far isn’t helping. One wonders whether it will be able to help at all for some of these venues or the life preserver will be thrown in the water after the third time the operation has gone down.

Continue reading The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

“God Only Knows”

One of the more enjoyable TV series of the late ‘00s was “Leverage,” an Americanized version of a better British show, “Hustle.” Both are about grifters. The American cast is led by Timothy Hutton, who plays the “brains” of the operation. During each episode they would find someone who did some innocent wrong in some mean, devious financial way, and then the crew would go after that person in an unexpectedly imaginative way.

Depending on the circumstance of the con, Hutton’s character, after devising the plan, would say, “Let’s go steal a _________.” The object would always be something outrageous in scope, such as a museum or a mountain or a carnival or a town.

That phrase came to mind, albeit in a somewhat different form, when I read that Irving Azoff, long-time manager of The Eagles, started a company, Iconic Artists Group. . .and bought the Beach Boys.

“Let’s go buy a band.”

The purchase from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and the estate of Carl Wilson, includes masters, part of the publishing (Universal owns the music from the 1960s), the brand, and Beach Boys memorabilia.

While we’ve seen musicians from Dylan to Young selling publishing rights of late, this is different.

The Beach Boys become a “thing” that will be brought to market via brand development and the ever-important brand monetization.

Continue reading “God Only Knows”

The Winning End

To enter Hipgnosissongs.com please confirm you are not accessing this website from: the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan or South Africa or in any jurisdiction in which such an offer or solicitation would be unlawful.

A few weeks back, when I wrote about Bob Dylan selling his song catalog, I figured that that would be that.

Little did I realize how this is not a one-off but becoming something of a trending phenomenon.

This past week Neil Young sold half of the rights to his 1,180-song catalog to Hipgnosis Songs Fund Ltd. (Jimmy Iovine and Lindsey Buckingham also sold.)

That disclaimer up there: It is at the bottom of a homepage of legalese. This is serious business. Go beyond the homepage at your peril.

In the site, which is, make no mistake, about making money, not music, there is this description:
“The Company’s Investment Adviser is The Family (Music) Limited, which was founded by Merck Mercuriadis, former manager of globally successful recording artists, such as Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Morrissey, Iron Maiden and Beyoncé, and hit songwriters such as Diane Warren, Justin Tranter and The-Dream, and former CEO of The Sanctuary Group plc. The Investment Adviser has assembled an Advisory Board of highly successful music industry experts which include award winning members of the artist, songwriter, publishing, legal, financial, recorded music and music management communities, all with in-depth knowledge of music publishing. Members of The Family (Music) Limited Advisory Board include Nile Rodgers, The-Dream, Giorgio Tuinfort, Starrah, Nick Jarjour, David Stewart, Bill Leibowitz, Ian Montone, Rodney Jerkins, Bjorn Lindvall and Chris Helm.”

Bet you never thought you would see Iron Maiden and Beyoncé in the same sentence.

According to a story in the New York Times in December 2020, Mercuriadis, whose fund then had spent $1.7-billion on hoovering up catalogs—Times: “Hipgnosis owns, in full or in part, 188 songs by Jack Antonoff, a collaborator of Taylor Swift; 197 by Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie; 814 by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan; 315 by Mark Ronson; 1,068 by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics; and production royalties for 108 tracks by the hip-hop producer Timbaland”—said that he’s doing it because “I wanted to be able to do something that would contribute to having the music industry recognize that the songwriter and the producer are really the star of the show.”

So by buying up the catalogs, said songwriters and producers get more ready pocket money than they would have otherwise had. I must admit I am a bit mystified as to how producers make money off the deal, though I suspect they must.

Clearly, Mercuriadis, who may be a fan with exceedingly deep pockets, to say nothing of ready access to the pockets of others, isn’t doing this entirely for Sir Gawain-pure purposes. There isn’t that large warning on the top of the Hipgnosis page because all ye who enter are going to come out unscathed: this is about betting on the come.

Continue reading The Winning End

Dollars, Sense and Soundtracks

A word or several about the reported $300-million+ that Bob Dylan reportedly will be getting from Universal Music Publishing Group for his catalog of 600+ songs, songs written from 1962 until now. That is $500,000 per song. Yes, some of them—“Blown’ In the Wind,” “The Times They Are a Changin’,”“Like a Rolling Stone,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”—are certainly well known. One assumes that there are many, many, many others whom only the most dedicated Dylan fan would know or even be aware of (as I am not the most dedicated Dylan fan, I’ll not name any).

While it does make one wonder whether he’d gotten a few more dollars were he to have used the “g” rather than the “’” in the title of some of his tunes, we’ll let that go. Dylan has sold some 125-million records during his career. If we look at this as being a 58-year career (starting in 1962), this would mean that Dylan has sold an average 2.1-million records per year.

The times certainly are changing. For example, according to numbers from Billboard, Taylor Swift’s Folklore has become the first—and only—album to sell more than a million times in 2020.

Since her self-titled album of 2006, there have been nine Swift albums that have sold more than a million copies.

These are:

Taylor Swift: 5.75 million
The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection: 1.08 million
Fearless: 7.21 million
Speak Now: 4.71 million
Red: 4.49 million
1989: 6.25 million
Reputation: 2.28 million
Lover: 1.22 million
Folklore: 1.04 million

That is a total 34.03-million albums during a 14-year period. Which means that Swift has sold an average of 2.4-million per year, just edging Dylan out.

To be fair to Ms. Swift, she is 30 years old. Dylan is 79. She, presumably, has a whole lot more music in her to come than he does. [Correction: Swift turned 31 yesterday. -ed.]

This might lead some of you to think that I am making a comparison between the two musicians, causing a certain level of apoplexy among you. Yes, while I am making a comparison, this is not a comparison of talent.

Rather, it is a comparison of numbers.

Continue reading Dollars, Sense and Soundtracks