You buy a music CD. Who gets what?


I still buy CDs because you get lossless audio and the lossy formats of your choice, plus permanent rights thereto and a massively durable backup.

The real shame is that, since '95 or so, CD’s have been so dynamically limited to compete in the stupid Loudness Wars that their general sound quality has actually declined quite shockingly.


Given that the artists only earn 13% of the retail price of a CD, it’s an absolute scandal that 5% goes on ‘administering copyright’. Since the collection societies are all about ‘protecting the artists’ (yeah, right) why don’t they give the artists 18% and forget about hounding the pirates? How many illegal downloaders actually bought stuff that they wouldn’t have bought in the first place because of the efforts of the RIAA/PRS etc? An extra 5% for every CD sale would probably do more for artists than the collection agencies ever did.


When you consider the now near-invisibility of CD stores, 70% is a really scary number for the industry. This is not without its downsides; there was a lot of room in the industry for people who really loved music but weren’t musicians. They contributed in unnoticed ways to musical culture, championing their favourite artists and composers - not everyone receiving the rest of the CD revenue were evil copyright trolls.
Also, copyright collection is a complicated business that involves a lot of dull work carried out by a lot of people. I’m not advocating all the policies of the RIAA et al, but they do still serve a useful purpose for artists, even if they don’t seem to be able to cope with new technologies. It’s not like all of that 5% is just going into the pocket of a cigar smoking charlatan and her team of snickering lawyers.


Actually, as the article notes, the breakdown varies widely depending on deals with labels. The classic split for many fairly-run independent labels is an even 50/50 split between artist and label after expenses (to the author’s credit, she mentions this–but not till the last paragraph). Of course there are still costs associated with manufacturing & distribution. But I would imagine that many Boing Boing readers listen to independent music which uses 50/50 splits, rather than major label artists like “N-Dubz and Charlotte Church,” who are represented by the source for these figures.

That “5% for administering copyrights” is poorly described and probably needs unpacking. Does it mean the sound recording copyright or the songwriting/publishing copyright? In the US, 9.1cents for every track goes to the songwriter (who may or may not also be the performing artist). But the UK uses a different system. It would be lazy to suggest that this fee simply goes to useless middlemen.

It’s also the case that in the UK, prices for CDs have long been generally higher than the US, which means that the breakdown of retail price works out somewhat differently.


Wait dynamically limited whatawhosihuh? Mind going into some detail?


Some resources for you:

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Downhill Battle is a non-profit organization based in Worcester, Massachusetts. It launched in August 2003 and argues that the four major recording labels have an oligopoly that is bad for both musicians and music culture. They believe that there is an opportunity to change that.

I appear to be going against the majority of peoples’ view that corporations are all evil but the fact the artist is getting about 50% of the revenue of the Label per CD seems not at all unreasonable and the rest just seem to be covering costs and all the necessaray middlemen

I personally think that the producers and publishers are more important than the artist when it comes to music, there are many many people with a good voice and creative talent but you don’t hear of most of them because they do not have good representation.

At the end of the day the record label is the one taking the largest risk and so should be compensated as such.

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There are only 3 major record labels now.

Downhill Battle folks have moved onto other projects, but their understanding of the recorded music industry was always very poor.

I was startled how high that 13% is. I was under the impression it was more like 2%. So hooray for the music industry, I guess?

13% for the artist? Not on a major, and not for most artists. Ms Donovan plainly has never negotiated with a record company. 12 or 13% is probably the best deal you’d ever get. In my experience 7 or 8% is more realistic, and I’ve heard of as little as 3 or 5 on numerous occasions. Plus, these figures are sometimes negotiated as post-recoupables; in other words, you don’t see a cent until after the record company has claimed money it spent on recording fees or music clips, for example.

I sell my music directly to the web now and I make more - much more - than I ever did through record companies.

Just FYI the PRS benefit small/indie artists and labels too. Chris Randall wrote about how his elderly mom who had been a singer back in the day would still get her PRS checks in the mail fairly regularly.

Since I’ve been running small labels for my own music and that of friends and sometimes doing contract work for larger labels on and off since the mid 80s, I dont mind that 5%. I’ve more than recouped that in the long run.

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