The Top 10 Most Inaccurate, Erroneous Or Irrelevant Things Being Stated About The Music Industry

By George Howard
(Follow George on Twitter)

One thing’s for sure: people love lists.  Looking to get some traffic to your blog? Make a list.  In a few months, as the holidays approach, we’ll even see lists of lists (e.g. “ten best top 50 songs of 2011” lists).  So, it stands to reason that at some time the TuneCore blog would include a list; that time is now.

Herewith, The Top 10 Most Inaccurate, Erroneous or Irrelevant Things Being Stated about the Music Industry.

10. SoundExchange Sucks. This erroneous statement is a classic case of how a good PR campaign can trump truth.  Several years ago, while the Copyright Board was frantically trying to establish rates paid to rights’ holders for digital transmissions, SoundExchange and (most visibly) Pandora got into a battle royale.  SoundExchange represents performers and master holders (labels), and collects performance royalties when their copyrighted works are digitally transmitted in a non-interactive manner (as Pandora does).  Pandora argued that the rates SoundExchange was recommending that they and other non-interactive digital streaming services (web radio, etc.) pay were prohibitively high; so high, in fact, that Pandora essentially accused SoundExchange of attempting to put them out of business.  Pandora argued this case so effectively that not only did they call to question the rate structure, but also SoundExchange’s very existence.  Because of this, many, many artists were erroneously convinced that SoundExchange was anti-artist.  While we can debate whether or not SoundExchange’s proposed rate structure was/is too high, what shouldn’t be debated is the importance of SoundExchange to performers and master holders.  The reality is that if you’re a performer and/or master holder (for instance, if you release your own music), and you’re not a SoundExchange member, you’re forgoing your public performance income any time your music is streamed non-interactively.

9. Music is crap and cluttering.  This argument that has been put forth by any number of people who should know better, essentially states that because it’s easier than ever to create music, we have a marketplace full of bad music that distracts consumers from the so-called good music, and, thus, less music is selling (more on this below).  This is the “gate-keeper” argument.  It basically states that only “qualified” people with “discerning” ears should have the power to dictate what music gets released.  The great fallacy of this argument is, of course, that long prior to the vast amount of music being released that there is today, these “discerning gatekeepers” (A&R people, program directors, etc.) were wrong with their picks far, far more often than they were right.  In fact, the democratizaion of not just the creation of the music (via ProTools, etc.), the distribution of the music (via TuneCore, natch), and the promotion of music (via Social Media and Direct to Fan methodology) has allowed for far more artists to break through and find an audience that enables these artists to have sustainable careers — on their own terms — than ever before. Not to mention music sitting on Apple’s hard drive that can only be found if searched for, stops nothing else from selling.

8. Less music is selling. The above-mentioned gatekeepers tend to toss this inaccuracy around in conjunction with their spiel about clutter.  What’s most interesting is that even with the underreporting of music sales provided by the old industry sales monitoring system of  Soundscan, numbers are still being reported as up.  The spin of the old guard here is is equating fewer album sales with fewer music sales which is simply false.  By unit, music sales are up each and every year.

Then of course add on top of this all the music sales occurring outside of the Soundscan system (drop cards, CD sales at venues, data they do not get etc).  And now add on top of this streams and accessing music via the forthcoming iCloud service.

We hear 8-Tracks aren’t selling much anymore either, it certainly doesn’t mean music isn’t selling.

Here are Nielsen’s reports from the last five years…

Nielsen Music 2006 Year-End Music Industry Report 2006 U.S. Music

Nielsen Music 2007 Year-End Music Industry Report 2007 U.S. Music

The Nielsen Company 2008 Year-End Music Industry Report 2008 U.S.

The Nielsen Company 2009 Year-End Music Industry Report 2009 U.S.

The Nielsen Company 2010 Year-End Music Industry Report 2010 U.S.

7. The way to determine the success of an artist is via how many records the artist sells. This I blame on sloppy/naive journalism, but it does perpetuate a really bad myth. To understand why this is such a wrong-headed and troubling statement, you must realize that historically, artists haven’t owned their records — the record labels have.  There are typically two copyrights involved when a record is released: (1) the copyright for the songs on the album, which are owned by the songwriter (and/or publisher), and represented by the (c) symbol; (2) the copyright for the collection of songs as released by the label (the master), which is owned by the label, and represented by the (p) symbol.  As you might guess, when the record is sold it’s the label that derives the lion’s share of the income from the sale.  However, as the copyright holder to the song, the writer has vastly more earning opportunities than those derived from the sale of records.  For instance, when a song is played on radio, streamed online (Pandora, web radio, etc.), used in a commercial, used in a movie, covered by another artist, offered for interactive stream (Rdio, Spotify, etc.), sampled in another work, translated into another language, etc. it is the songwriter (holder of the (c)) who gets paid.

In today’s era where the actual sale of a download or physical copy of a song/album has become such a small part in the overall spectrum of ways in which music is used, it is simply crazy to judge the success of an artist based purely on the number of albums an artist sells.

As more and more artists are also their own label and publisher, it’s imperative to understand these rights associated with copyright, and how they have a direct impact on the different uses of — and, therefore, income derived from — your music.  Happily, we’ve created a free downloadable PDF that articulates these concepts.

6. The music industry is dying. Here’s one for all of you who might feel your place in the business is on the business side, rather than the performance side.  Look, to paraphrase the prophet Chuck D, “The CD business is dying, the music business is thriving.”  While Mr. D may want to update that to state that “The CD business and the download business are dying,” the essential truth remains: the music business is thriving.  Importantly, it’s not the music business that we traditionally think of (major labels, cover of Rolling Stone, etc.) that’s thriving; that business is in trouble.  Rather, it’s new models that are still emerging that are thriving.  There is entrepreneurial opportunity in disruptive times, and these are some disruptive times.  Music isn’t going away, and as with anything that plays a large role in peoples’ lives, there is money to be made in doing so.  Your job as an aspiring (or active) music business person is to stop thinking of it as the “music business,” and start thinking of it as business involving music.  Throw out the old paradigms, and instead begin thinking about how to build value (and multiple revenue streams) around the music/artist you (and hopefully others) feel passionately about.

5. The job of the artist manager is to get a band signed. No, the job of the artist manager is business development. Artist managers must realize that they are in charge of increasing brand equity for the artists for whom they work.  They must create value propositions between (directly between) the music creator and constituent.  If this results in a label coming along (and if you do it well, it will), the manager will be in a far better negotiating position if he or she decides that doing a deal with a label makes sense.

4. Music Business Programs are jive. Another one for those on the non-performance side of things. Are some music business programs jive? Sure. But so are some computer science programs or medical schools; it doesn’t mean they all are.  In fact, music business programs that teach you how to effectively create value around art, and find ways to sell something that is able to self-replicate, positions you incredibly well to sell just about anything else.  It’s sort of like taking the donut of the bat; once you’ve learned to sell music, when you get to sell something else.  It’s important to realize that the skills you learn are portable and applicable to other business, but, like anything else it’s up to you to see where the opportunity to apply these skills lies.

3. With the rise of the Internet/social media I can build an audience online. No. You can amplify the authentic connections you make offline via online tools, but you cannot create real connections online.  Think about why Facebook worked and MySpace didn’t.  MySpace was (odd that we speak of it in the past tense) a purely online experience; you “friended” people online and communicated with them online.  Facebook, on the other hand, from day one was about amplifying your offline experiences.  It’s essentially a photo sharing site, where the photos you take (took) offline can be viewed, commented on, and shared online.  The same is true with music.  You must build the connections offline through live shows, etc., and then use the social tools to amplify and spread these connections.  A pure online strategy won’t work any better than a pure offline strategy. And one other thing with respect to your online strategy: never, ever forget that you’re competing with porn.  Take a look at your site; is it going to beat out porn for the attention of your fans/perspective fans?  Make sure that your site is social, fun, and competitive and you might at least distract people from the porn for a while (I’m sort of kidding here…sort of).

2. Musicians are bad business people. This drives me crazy.  The windmill I’ve devoted my life at tilting towards is to try to convince musicians (and other creatives) that they can be good business people (and, unlike Mr Q, I’m hitting some). I’m not sure at what nightmarish stage musicians are convinced/convince themselves that they can’t be good business people, but you gotta stop thinking this way.  The reality is that most musicians lack any type of training to give them not only the skills, but, more importantly, the confidence to believe that they can be good business people.  It’s like asking some dude to operate on your knee without first making sure he went to medical school. The difference, of course, is that there are boundless resources out there (many for free) where you can far more easily give yourself the knowledge that will lead to the confidence to begin believing (and thus becoming) a good business person. We desperately need more artist cum entrepreneurs.  We desperately don’t need any more VC/bankers “dabbling” in the music business.

1. Never sell your publishing. I’ve saved the hoariest of music business fallacies for last.  I’ve had so many non-conversations that resulted in artists missing out on tremendous opportunities because somewhere along the way some “wizened” old music veteran took them aside in a smoky roadhouse, and said to them in an avuncular manner, “Son, I have only one piece of advice for you: never sell your publishing.”  This “wizened” dude needs to die.  Let me say this loud and clear, “No one wants to buy your publishing!”  Sure, there are many, many deals out there where you will have to share in the revenue generated from a song you wrote, and, with some frequency, you may have to share in the revenue of this song in perpetuity.  However, there is a spectrum of publishing deals out there — from full pub deals to admin deals to copub deals to admin plus deals — and none of them require you to hand over 100% of all of your rights in your song(s).  Now, undeniably there are scammers out there of all stripes, and you shouldn’t enter into a publishing deal (or any other type of deal) without an entertainment lawyer (not your Uncle Steve, the real estate lawyer) reviewing the document.  But you should also not dismiss publishing deals out of hand.  As above, you must look for any and all opportunities to generate revenue, and in an era of streaming and music placement, you really need to make sure that this particular part of your house is in order; a good publisher will do this for you.  Remember, if you’re not able to unlock the value of your song and you insist on holding on to 100% of it, that 100% of nothing is nothing.


George Howard is the former president of Rykodisc. He currently advises numerous entertainment and non-entertainment firms and individuals. Additionally, he is the Executive Editor of Artists House Music and is a Professor and Executive in Residence in the college of Business Administration at Loyola, New Orleans. He is most easily found on Twitter at:

  • Indie-Monster

    Thanks for this!

    • my pleasure. thanks for reading and commenting.


    • Anonymous


      you are very welcome


  • Indie-Monster

    Thanks for this!

  • Brandonlball

    This was a great read. Very accurate!

    • thanks for reading.


      • Clyde Mckenzie

        I am so happy to see someone willing to shatter some of the myths which some of us  have taken as gospel in the music industry particularly those “gurus” who pontificate on the poor quality ofour music today
        Clyde McKenzie

  • Svavar Knutur

    Thank you very much for this interesting blog 😀

  • Great list George! And great insights to remember. Thanks for sharing.

  • Abrigo ‘Ohana

    We are new to the business and are glad to gain perspective from your blog.  Looking forward to the next one.  Mahalo

  • Abrigo ‘Ohana

    We are new to the business and are glad to gain perspective from your blog.  Looking forward to the next one.  Mahalo

  • Chriss Floren

    Great blog George! My name is Chriss Flroen and I’m a music Producer owining a recording studio in Los Angeles and working with my 12 years old son Samuel Cristea and got in touch with lots of fans being Samuel’s friends on facebook, by posting a you tube video and itunes link of the single on the profile… We sold  pretty good, a few hundreds, what would be your advice of marketing and promotion to reach new fans that are out of the community area  and other than the facebook friends???

    • thanks for the kind words, Chriss.

      you (or your son) have to play live. you can’t really make connections online; it occurs offline. use the online tools to amplify the online experience.


    • Aliaswestlord

      cross market if you driving in that much off his friends then proote on his friends page and so forth. Living in LA has its advantage like. hollywood  the clubs on sunset. and even city walk you’ll be surprised

  • Dperry9

    The Nielson report from last year indicates a drop of 2.4% of combined music sales, not a gain. 

    • Anonymous


      not at the unit level – the track level

      digital track sales up another 1% – 1.7 billion

      and then add streams on top of that…both interactive (they make artists/labels/songwriters money) and non-interactive (they make artists/labels/songwriters money)

      • Dperry9

        “By unit, music sales are up each and every year.”

        What does “by unit” mean? I see no “by unit” statistic from Nielson. I see an overall music sales statistic, which includes all non-streaming music media sales. The overall was down between last year and the year before. 

        • Anonymous


          a unit is the sale of music. one song = a unit. one album = a unit. one stream = a unit. one sale of an EP = a unit

          sales of music by unit are up, not down.

          Soundscan is woefully inaccurate as it stands and yet it shows sales by unit are up in the digital sector.

          Their numbers for reasons not clear to me do not include any streaming data

  • Great blog! Going down the list, I was just nodding my head in agreement until I got to #3 about purely online interactions not cutting the cake. I’m far from alone in tending to delude myself with this idea that I don’t need to hit the pavement and tour to get some decent interest and hype built up in an act. I still maintain that extremely potent content (potent enough to cause viral sharing) could be the exception to this rule.

    • Thanks Square Eyes. You’re not wrong, of course, “potent content” can be (and is) shared. My point is that it will be shared further when you sort of straddle the online and offline world.


  • Interesting post. I would have to say that I agree with you 60%. The music industry, as it was in the 80s, is dead (not dying). Napster was an eye opener for the “big dogs” thus why now the “new music industry” has standardized the .99 cent song and made it popular.

    You are right on the fact that nothing beats playing live. The connection, via the Internet, is NOT there (which compliments your comment below).

    Lastly, the music business is sadly a business driven by mostly money-driven people. Otherwise, we would not hear the crap we hear on the radio (5 songs played over and over again). Here’s the documentary to watch which I think nails it explaining how the music industry “evolved” to what it is today:

  • From #2: “there are boundless resources out there (many for free).” Could you give some good examples of comprehensive resources? I don’t mean comprehensive as in a masters degree in a box necessarily, but comprehensive at least in a particular area.

  • Guitarfitch

    ” Music is crap and cluttering” I would change that to just ‘Music is cluttering.” There is so much out there one could never hear it all. Good or bad. Sometime time too many choices can lead to no choices. I notice with my students so many flavor of the week bands and artists, these kids never seem to sit still long enough to absorb what an artist is about. Or is it just me…

    • Anonymous

      @ Guitarfitch

      all this music will exist regardless of iTunes etc. Its just now available to be found if searched

      But yes, with the Net, social media etc, attention spans are shortening

      we need the next thing this second!

  • Clintonslurvey

    I AM my own music industry.

  • Aliaswestlord

    rumor has it that if you get signed or become successful tunecore/ or the parent company takes a slice of your royalties/publishing due to their site being the avenue of ones success..  how true is this

    • completely not true. where did you hear such a rumor? it’s VERY important to make the distinction between “back end” payments, which are essentially royalties paid out of sales versus an upfront fee.

      tunecore charges an upfront fee for their services, and then whether you sell 1 copy or a million copies, the artists keeps all of their revenue.

      many other services charge a fee AND keep a back end percentage of sales (often 9%). this means, that if you sell $100,000 worth of your music via outlets that a service that takes a back end fee facilitated your entre to ( used this servie to make your music available on, for instance, iTune), that service would keep $9,000.  So, maybe that’s what you’re talking about, but, again, to be clear: TuneCore does not now and never has taken a back end fee.


    • Anonymous

      Well thats just nuts. Why would you come to my site and just make that up?

      First there is no parent company. I founded TuneCore and I run it.

      Second, what caused you to make something like that up? Nor only is it false, it’s insane.

      Now I have heard rumor that some come to TuneCore and make things up in an attempt to try to disparage us.

      To that end where did you hear such a ridiculous non sensical rumor, are you a TuneCore customer and , if not , who are you and why did you choose to post at our blog?

      Thank You


  • Lloydstanbury

    Excellent – Great list. Sure hope many will get the chance to read.

  • vaughn

    i heard that ditto music is better than tunecore what do you all think

  • Flipfraser

    Great article .. very informative and timely. Thanks

  • A Legend In My Own Mind

    My first question is, if someone(high scool or college kid) asked you
    is becoming a music artist, or playing in a band a good career choice what
    would you say?

    If they asked you(and you haden’t heard their music,
    and no one in their family had any connections) whould you stear them
    toward that choice?

    As a percenatge of artists you’ve seen come
    and go, how many were able to retire from their msuc earnings?

    The “New Music Buz” is going to make
    a small amount of money from A LOT of unsuccessful artists
    the so called “Music Clutter” that is increasing music sales
    but not making the average artist more money.

    Tunecore founders learned the hard way what it was like to
    run a label, and all of the politics involved. They made the
    right choice.not to take a percentage from a few successful
    artists, but to make a small amount of mone from
    A LOT of artists. This is how corporate america has always made
    money. Tunecore, and anyone making a few cents on
    millions of “UNIT”S will be the winner in the rnd.

    Unless you play live, and make your money that way
    you have almost no chance of making it. And in 10 years
    from now you will probably be of the buying publics radar.

    Who is “Making it today” people on the “Music competition”
    shows, kids of rock stars, kid on Disney and Nicolodion shows.

    Another want to be, A Legend In My Own Mind

  • John Weaver

    To much tech. pushing the artist to perform using the latest technology is not new! In many cases the artist is only famous because of the new technology being used by the artist…behind the upcoming artist is a new product…promoting the product is the artist? Be honest packaging a “new product” with a new artist is still all that you sell today…when will you sell music for the joy of the listener…and the artist?

  • I disagree with “a pure online strategy won’t work” – it may be less common, but with everything that’s available on the internet these days it’s a possibility. I’ve been making my living as an online-only musician for the past 7 years, and I know others who are as well.

  • Nice one.

  • hadeel shalabi