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OK Go's Open Letter on the music business

The band OK Go has posted an open letter to the world on their message board regarding the current state of the music business, but more specifically the current state of their record label EMI and how they and their label get paid. Here is one quote from the article.

Fifteen years ago, when the terms of contracts like ours were dreamt up, a major label could record two cats fighting in a bag and three months later they'd have a hit. No more. People of the world, there has been a revolution. You no longer give a shit what major labels want you to listen to (good job, world!), and you no longer spend money actually buying the music you listen to (perhaps not so good job, world). So the money that used to flow through the music business has slowed to a trickle, and every label, large or small, is scrambling to catch every last drop. You can't blame them; they need new shoes, just like everybody else. And musicians need them to survive so we can use them as banks. Even bands like us who do most of our own promotion still need them to write checks every once in a while.

The crux of the letter comes at the end where fans are encouraged to embed OK Go's new video on their blogs and websites as a means of promoting the OK Go's new album. It is worth reading  the entire message, however, as it does provide an overview of how the money flows in the music business and why bands still the major labels to survive. Labels front all of the production, distribution and promotion costs of a band's record. The band then has to repay the label through record sales and appearances.

As revenue into the major labels has dwindled with the advent of the Internet, the music labels are getting desparate to squeeze every penny out of every crevice they can. In any company, including record labels, that often means cutting expenses. For us that means cutting the cost paid to all the contributing partners such as photographers, producers, graphic artists, promoters, etc. Music labels have traditionally been a great source of income for music photographers once a solid reputation and working relationship has been established. Unfortunately, the labels are paying less and less for our work, often resorting to free fan imagery as a means of limiting the expenses of producing a record and promoting an artist. After all, it is the music business, meaning the business of music rather than music itself.


Very interesting article.  A band who obviously have their finger on the pulse and the music industry could do with listening to them.  They may well help save their remaining profits.

Only in the last year, I have expanded my photography business toward musicians and an active style of portrait.  While I am receiving great recognition and praise from musicians for the quality of my work, I am constantly getting that blank surprised stare when I tell them that I actually want to be paid for my work.

What is happeining locally, is that everyone with a halfway-decent digital SLR and a little creativity is starting a weekend hobby and/or "business", photographing the same things I do.  When a musician or label needs to chose between standard rates for one of my photos, or "free" for a a dozen photos that are "good enough", what do you think they are going to chose?  These weekend photographers are multiplying like rabbits.  It is really very discouraging!