Sunday, January 23

Courtney Does the Math...

Here's the article (or at least the first part) by Courtney Love that I mentioned a few days ago. I never would have thought she could form such coherent thoughts, or talk about something with such good detail. The full article is too long to post here, but if you like what you see, check out the rest at

By Courtney Love

June 14, 2000 | Today I want to talk about piracy and music. What is piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing an artist's work without any intention of paying for it. I'm not talking about Napster-type software.

I'm talking about major label recording contracts.

I want to start with a story about rock bands and record companies, and do some recording-contract math:

This story is about a bidding-war band that gets a huge deal with a 20 percent royalty rate and a million-dollar advance. (No bidding-war band ever got a 20 percent royalty, but whatever.) This is my "funny" math based on some reality and I just want to qualify it by saying I'm positive it's better math than what Edgar Bronfman Jr. [the president and CEO of Seagram, which owns Polygram] would provide.

What happens to that million dollars?

They spend half a million to record their album. That leaves the band with $500,000. They pay $100,000 to their manager for 20 percent commission. They pay $25,000 each to their lawyer and business manager.

That leaves $350,000 for the four band members to split. After $170,000 in taxes, there's $180,000 left. That comes out to $45,000 per person.

That's $45,000 to live on for a year until the record gets released.

The record is a big hit and sells a million copies. (How a bidding-war band sells a million copies of its debut record is another rant entirely, but it's based on any basic civics-class knowledge that any of us have about cartels. Put simply, the antitrust laws in this country are basically a joke, protecting us just enough to not have to re-name our park service the Phillip Morris National Park Service.)

So, this band releases two singles and makes two videos. The two videos cost a million dollars to make and 50 percent of the video production costs are recouped out of the band's royalties.

The band gets $200,000 in tour support, which is 100 percent recoupable.

The record company spends $300,000 on independent radio promotion. You have to pay independent promotion to get your song on the radio; independent promotion is a system where the record companies use middlemen so they can pretend not to know that radio stations -- the unified broadcast system -- are getting paid to play their records.

All of those independent promotion costs are charged to the band.

Since the original million-dollar advance is also recoupable, the band owes $2 million to the record company.

If all of the million records are sold at full price with no discounts or record clubs, the band earns $2 million in royalties, since their 20 percent royalty works out to $2 a record.

Two million dollars in royalties minus $2 million in recoupable expenses equals ... zero!

How much does the record company make?

They grossed $11 million.

It costs $500,000 to manufacture the CDs and they advanced the band $1 million. Plus there were $1 million in video costs, $300,000 in radio promotion and $200,000 in tour support.

The company also paid $750,000 in music publishing royalties.

They spent $2.2 million on marketing. That's mostly retail advertising, but marketing also pays for those huge posters of Marilyn Manson in Times Square and the street scouts who drive around in vans handing out black Korn T-shirts and backwards baseball caps. Not to mention trips to Scores and cash for tips for all and sundry.

Add it up and the record company has spent about $4.4 million.

So their profit is $6.6 million; the band may as well be working at a 7-Eleven.

Of course, they had fun. Hearing yourself on the radio, selling records, getting new fans and being on TV is great, but now the band doesn't have enough money to pay the rent and nobody has any credit.

Worst of all, after all this, the band owns none of its work ... they can pay the mortgage forever but they'll never own the house. Like I said: Sharecropping. Our media says, "Boo hoo, poor pop stars, they had a nice ride. Fuck them for speaking up"; but I say this dialogue is imperative. And cynical media people, who are more fascinated with celebrity than most celebrities, need to reacquaint themselves with their value systems.

When you look at the legal line on a CD, it says copyright 1976 Atlantic Records or copyright 1996 RCA Records. When you look at a book, though, it'll say something like copyright 1999 Susan Faludi, or David Foster Wallace. Authors own their books and license them to publishers. When the contract runs out, writers gets their books back. But record companies own our copyrights forever.

The system's set up so almost nobody gets paid.

Wednesday, January 19

Old Country Again

So I'm back in Europe. It's been a few years, and after having traveled around Canada for the last while, it's strange to be a tourist in a place where I obviously stand out as such. Still, I've been in England since I left Canada, and I'll be sticking around for the next week or so, so the culture shock is relatively mild.

In a way, I didn't feel like leaving Montreal. My friends had shown me such great hospitality since I came back, and at the very least, I should mention it here. I've already talked about my friends Eugene and Xin, but after leaving there, my friend Andrew put me up for a week, followed by staying with my friend David for damn near a month. All of this, with no complaints, and the offer to stay longer if I needed to. Still, I wouldn't have felt right crowding them for any longer, and I was starting to get stir crazy anyway.

Luckily, I was able to get my French work visa sorted out before I left. After having tried repeatedly to get it for the last two months, and consistently getting caught up in bureaucratic red tape, I was beginning to feel like throwing in the towel. But in order to make one last stand, I spent about four hours going though all relevant parts of their web site, and printing off anything that might be useful. It's amazing how the bureaucrats that work at the consulate are so out of touch with their own rules and regulations. In the end, I was able to finally side step attempts to use obscure rules to pan me off onto someone else, mostly by showing them copies of what the web page itself said. To put it mildly, a huge headache, but in the end, I'm finally authorized to work for a year in France. All of this beats washing dishes in some under-the-table job in Paris.

A few comments on Britain, as I'd forgotten what it felt like being here. Seeing how small all of the cars are is very refreshing. With the new macho trend in North America of owning hummers just to drive around down town, I was starting to wonder when I'd finally see a full blown privately owned tank rolling down the center of the city. Apparently SUVs just don't guzzle enough gas, despite costs for petro going straight through the roof. Maybe they're trying to compensate for something else...

On the flip side, an oddism about Britain is how polite everyone sounds. Hit the word sounds. On the one hand, everyone sounds just oh so sweet, but on the other, they're shoving you out of the way at the same time. It seems that manners are only skin deep, particularly in London.

Something else that's strange about England is how early the bars close. I was out with an American girl that I met in a hostel in London, Renée, and after looking around for two hours for pool tables, all in vain, we finally decided to just go for a pint or two at a tavern. It was only 10:45, so we figured we had a good couple of hours until we should head back to the hostel. But there was a bit of a surprise. I hadn't taken more than a few sips of my drink before I get a tap on the shoulder from the Bartender. Seems that closing time was in five minutes. That's right. 11pm. A bit of a piss off taking into account the price of beer, and that chugging isn't exactly the best way to enjoy a drink.

As of now, I'm in Norwich. It's about 200km north east of London. I came up here to see my friend Nick, who I first met several years ago in Jasper, back in Canada. He's the manager of a subsidized housing project here, and the town itself is very pretty. Lots of old, classy buildings [by North American standards, anyway]. Basically, a typical English town. It's a relief being out of London, as the pace of life there could easily eat someone alive. I felt my blood pressure finally start to drop after the train starting crossing open fields on the way here.

I'll round this off with a few things that I want to vent on:

First off, the outpouring of support for the Tsunami victims is wonderful in principle, but it seems like everyone [at least the media] is missing the point by a pretty hefty margin. For instance, as of yesterday, only 30 cents of every dollar given actually reaches victims. The rest is lost in that endless void of bureaucracy. Second, a full two weeks after the disaster actually went down, only 1 person in 4 had received any aid whatsoever. Yet these facts were hardly reported. We were too busy patting ourselves on the backs for the record amount of pledges that had been gathered. Note the word pledge. In other words, not nearly so much hard cash had been collected. Just promises of donations. And to put this into perspective, after the devastating earthquake in Iran last year, there were over one billion dollars in pledges collected. Yet a full year later, only 17 million dollars had actually been given. That's less than 2%. After the media got tired of the story, everyone conveniently 'forgot' to make good on their word. And one last thing on this subject. In the time since the tsunami happened, more people have died of AIDS (again, just in these last three weeks) than all of the people that perished in the tsunami and it's aftermath combined. But nothing is heard about them at all. If only media coverage for these sort of things was consistent, and thereby charities were able to raise desired amounts for every disaster that happens, more lives could be saved then most aid workers could hope for. But the public's attention span is sporadic and short, so malnutrition, and the Darfur region of the Sudan, among MANY others, become forgotten, but are anything but resolved.

Second, I've heard that for the first time in six years, the sales of CDs has increased as compared to the year before. The record company of course was very quick to blame internet piracy for the decline in the first place, while attempting to make themselves come off as the poor victims. This reminded me of an excellent article that I read years back written by none other than [*gasp*] Courtney Love. Will wonders never cease? Yet, it really was excellent, and rather than try to sum it up here, I'll repost it for you to have a look at in a few days.

One final word on how often I'll be posting on here. A few of you have complained that I've been getting lazy when it comes to how often I do a new blog. It's true that I am lazy when it comes to this, but it's in a different sort of way. I don't like to sit down at a computer too often, which would be what I'd have to do if I post short entries every couple of days. So what I usually do is wait till I feel like I have enough to say, and do one long entry every two weeks or so. If I happen to get enough stories to tell in a shorter time, I'll post more often. But thanks for reading :)

Tuesday, January 4


Well, every year it seems that New Year's is a time when everyone looks back and meditates over the last twelve months. Seeing as how I'm always one to jump on a trend [cough, cough], here goes...

In hindsight, it's been a pretty trippy year. Sorry for the hip hop lingo, but I honestly can't think of a word to better describe it. Mind you, it's not just the traveling that I've done for the past couple of months. Not wanting to go into too much detail about things that have happened since July [just check past entries of blog] I'll sum it all up as a good way to unwind after finishing school, and as a good way of putting some of the past to rest. It's not good to forget the past, but being stuck in it isn't any better. Maybe I'll explain what I mean by that farther down the road.

The first part of the year was different from my experiences with school in the past. Being almost finished, I was able to choose courses that were interesting, and yet not too difficult. After four and a half years of a steadily increasing work load, I finished my last higher-level courses the previous fall, leaving me with more freedom and less stress. For instance, I was able to feed my cravings for politics by taking courses in international development, something much more applied than the other theoretical courses that were required by my program [economics and math].

The weirdest part of the year [and possibly my life] just happened to coincide with graduation. Since before I can remember, I was raised by my grandmother, and she was by far the most important person in my life. Still, she had been fading for some time, after having a heart attack last year. After I finished my classes in May, I went back to Nova Scotia to see her. The family knew that she didn't have much time left. After seeing her, it was obvious that she was in a tremendous amount of pain. The strange thing was that in the end, I was the last one to see her. She passed away a day after I got back to Halifax. For me, the most shocking thing was I was in seeing her, as I always expected to hear of her passing over the phone. As well, we were all very thankful that she had as much time as she did, as after her heart attack on Easter of 2003, she was given no more than three days to live, with no possibly of more than a month. Thirteen months later, she finally slipped away.

After the funeral, and before I was scheduled to come back to Montreal, I managed to squeeze in a quick tour of the Gaspesie, a peninsula in Quebec that runs north of New Brunswick. It's interesting because for the majority of Quebeckers that don't speak English, it's the only real tourist destination. Hence, the only place where I've backpacked through where I encountered very little English. Although the landscape was very beautiful, in the end it was the language quirk that made the trip stand out. I think my French improved at least two or three levels over the course of the week.

Although I'd finished all of the requirements for my degree, a teacher of mine from the past semester had told me about a summer course that sounded very interesting. So upon my arrival back in Montreal, I hit the books one last time, if you can even call it that. This course was just for pleasure, and in the end delivered in full. Called Comparative Religions, it was a graduate class that was more of a seminar than anything else. With ten students and five professors [each a specialist in one of the world's main religions], this was the sort of course that I'd always hoped to take since arriving at university. Unfortunately it didn't come until the very end, but at the same time, it was nice to be able to end on such a high note. To see especially the scholars of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam getting along to the point where they all became fast friends was incredibly encouraging. To get a full grasp of what this was like, consider that each professor was extremely religious (rabbi, minister, etc), and that the classes lasted 12 hours a day for two weeks straight. And then pick up a newspaper...

I started keeping this blog shortly after I finished the class, so I'll skip ahead to a quick word on recent happenings. Christmas was the first without my grandmother, and also the first that I've spent in Montreal. Yet, in the end, it was better than I'd ever expected. For the night of the 24th, I stayed with my friend Norm, and we did a make-shift orphans X-Mas [sorry, I couldn't resist :)]. The following evening, we were joined by two other friends for a Christmas of pool and foozeball. The rest of the week was fairly quiet. For New Year's, Norm and I wandered around the main entertainment district of Montreal, before settling on a cafe to do some people watching. Of the people that we saw come through, quite a few were comical, others not so much so, and still others were downright scary. Some looked like they were completely dead. What a way to start the new year...

To end this, I'm going to put my finger on something that I've been asked more times than I can count. Which, out of places that I've seen over the last year, was my favorite? Well, I've been thinking about this for a good five minutes now (!), and, in part just to be different, I'm going to have to go with Saskatchewan. In particular, Saskatoon. Perhaps because it was so underrated, but mostly because the people there were just so darned nice. For more on that, I think the blog entry that centered around Saskatoon was called Flatlands, as well as possibly the one that came after it.

-end, part 1-