In today’s fiery think-piece I have for you all, we’re going to explore what I’d describe as my Festivus moment from the TV show Seinfeld. Its currently the Airing of Grievances part of the episode, and as the late great actor on the program Jerry Stiller would say, I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!
Specifically, you’re going to hear about my grievances with country-folk label Bloodshot Records, as well as what digital streaming services are doing to harm the only reason they have money in the first place! Remember that point specifically: the ONLY REASON these companies even exist.
But first up, batter up Bloodshot. There are several publications readers interested should research about this topic, as multiple writers have done some excellent reporting on the heavily problematic, years-long issues with this label. I myself had been drawn back into the organization’s orbit following 2019 allegations of inappropriate behavior leveled at the partner of Bloodshot co-owner Nan Warshaw (who later resigned). But, I hadn’t become aware of shady financial impropriety until Bloodshot co-owner Rob Miller recently departed his post as well.
I can’t pretend to say I’m a fly on the wall inside the label’s operations knowing what goes on, but leaving yourself allegedly thousands of dollars in debt to your unpaid artists who have been dealt a highly-uncertain future through your own sketchy actions is wildly questionable behavior. Leaving those creators in the dark about when or how they might get their master recordings back if the shit hits the fan might be even worse, especially when those in charge start to go and jump ship. And you know why that is?
Because in music, so much remains cyclical. Pick an era and odds are you can fit these same scenarios into some other past creator’s nightmare. I love music don’t get me wrong, but the business is a hellscape that can deny those in its path money, opportunity, and property of their own art for generations no matter how good, “big” or influential they might happen to be. Even those few hypotheticals are just the tip of the iceberg; I know we probably all have our own favorite infuriating “musician getting screwed over” story. The nature of the system never seems to improve for the better.
The overarching point is this: Bloodshot Records, pay your fucking artists who helped you even get a seat at the table of notoriety. Give them the rights and publishing to their music they well-deserve. This week the label was acquired by Exceleration Music, a collective put together by various industry notables. We can only hope that the move means deeply overdue compensation is coming for those that have earned it. Singer-songwriter Cory Branan comes to mind especially (who was quoted as allegedly being owed $10,000 by Bloodshot).
On that note, lets jump over to my complaint for digital streamers Spotify, Amazon, and Pandora. You can read more details here, but suffice to say the three biggest giants on that market would like to propose giving the artists whose work they constantly use an even lower cut of the money generated off their own songs through each stream. Do these decision-makers think we can’t read or understand what these actions mean? It’s like so many other industries in the free market economy, how much more can you push down the smallest person on the totem pole until they push back because they’ve got nothing left to give to you and your greed?
I’ve known and spoken with countless musicians who’ve continuously derided the streaming system as a complete joke that generated them fractions of pennies on the dollar. It reminds me of trying to monetize old Youtube videos I made that qualified for the status, only to eventually realize the site’e monetary program with Google was exclusively designed toward the benefit of a fortunate few. It’s great if you wind up becoming one, but unless the stars are aligned for you odds are video and/or streaming services won’t provide much more than joke checks worth roughly half the paper they’re printed on.
And yet, here we are with these belt-tightened proposals sitting before the US Copyright Royalty Board trying to create an even more skewed deal for 2023-2027. I’m just one lowly writer and I don’t profess to quitting my day job anytime soon, but as a hypothetical musician if I could avoid digital streaming I’d walk over broken glass to do it. Having an online outlet like Bandcamp for those to BUY your work outright is one (problematic) thing, but streamers like Spotify start to feel more like the plain, two-bit prize at the bottom of a Crackerjack box by the day. Like pornographers ready to rob exposure in exchange for a few suspiciously wet dollars while they sit there slicked back in gold Gucci slides.
But that all-seeing hand with its fee-seeking fingers out causes pain in both digital streaming as well as physical releases, where artists often get saddled for the costs to make merchandise, vinyl and CD’s. Inevitably, everyone in the chain wants a piece of the profits, and the pie never equitably spreads out. It’s hard to say when or even if that wobbling table will ever be fixed; there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done.
I wish I could wrap up this rant with a neat, bow-wrapped solution for this entire unwinding set of dilemmas. Unfortunately, its not made for fixing in a single blog post. Its made for plenty of grievances as I wished to demonstrate here, but with any luck over time we’ll also see bigger pushes in the right direction leading to greater industry independence.
Until then, I’ve got my eye on you Bloodshot, Amazon, Pandora and Spotify! We need solutions!