< Blog
May 24, 2024

bad industry vol 1

10:00pm PDT on Fri, May 24th, 2024

We tried to build an artist-first business in the music industry. We gazed into the abyss. And now the abyss is defo gazing into us. From LA, welcome to bad industry.

Each week we'll explore the dark side of sex, money and power in the music industry. No clickbait here babe, these are case studies.

In the past few years, many have loudly celebrated the return of the music industry post-piracy. Last year recorded music revenue reached nearly $30B globally, a 10% increase from the  year prior. Double digit growth! Nobody cares if it's orchestrated rap beefs and backcatalog no diff than digital payola. Live events are back too, nearly approaching the same $30B watermark. We thank you Taylor and so does the Federal Government.  But not you, LiveNation.  

This *sounds* like a healthy industry.

It's not. The numbers are great but the industry is bad. Healthy industries have markets, supply & demand, decent, but not perfect reporting. Some decorum.  The music industry has cool kids, bullies and meth-fueled ragers in the Hills.  Today’s music industry is the high school from Cruel Intentions. And Sarah Michelle Gellar is definitely bumping lines off a crucifix. Gen Z: think Euphoria and ketamine, but fun.

The thing is...high school is benignly corrupt because the primary cultural currency of adolescence centers on navigating what and who is cool. A currency nobody understands and yet everybody feels. And that’s fine when you’re 14. The whole point of teenage angst is to learn to make sense of your values through misdirected socialization.

It’s not fine when we're talking about billions of dollars revolving around the most primitive articulation of shared human experience. Turns out values (and vibes) kinda matter. Of course, the entertainment industry has mostly been this way forevaaaa. Nothing I'm saying is new.

In fact, today's music industry is frozen in time. The Grammies are named after the Gramophone, invented in 1877. The mechanical license is named after being mechanical - as in player pianos invented in 1895.  Record deals from Motown – now 60+ years ago - continue to define the terms many artists still accept. Granddaddies, still active, like Clive Davis, Quincy Jones and Tommy Mottola were born in 1932, 1933 and 1948 respectively.  Combined they're 259 years old - old enough to take us back to Colonial America. Ger-ger-ger-ontocracy.

The reason I think high school is a fun metaphor is because, sure, you have jocks, nerds and band kids.  Kinda like genres. And everyone co-exists. Except bullies, who dominate and control everyone else.  And for the most part, nobody does anything about it.

Paul Graham, a successful technocrat and financial mercenary recently tweeted:

Ok, sure. But the mafia is illegal. It’s illegal to run a racket. That’s called racketeering. It’s illegal to beat people up. Diddy. It’s illegal to run a business like Tony Soprano.  

But we do have Tony Soprano and their names are Lucian Grainge, Rob Stringer, Robert Kyncl and their nepo operatives.

One artist recently said to me, “we are all sharecropping” for these men. Sharecropping was devised as a way to persist slavery after the Civil War. Plantation owners paid black workers a wage, but they also sold their former-slaves essential goods at the ‘Company Store.’ The plantation owners were able continue 'owning' black workers because it was a foregone conclusion that the wages were essentially loans. It was a poverty cycle you couldn’t possibly escape from.

When Prince tattoo'd slave on his face, he fucking meant it. Bad industry.

It’s even worse because let's take the case of Warner Music. Warner is a privately owned UK-based company majority owned by an entity vaguely named ‘Access Industries’ run by a Russian fella named Leonard Blavatnik who made his fortune during the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Besides Warner, Sir Lenny also owns LyondellBasell, the largest producer of polyethlene and polypronese  - a.k.a. toxic plastics.

What’s the point? The same man who pollutes all the balls in the world also owns Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Bruno Mars, Cardi B, Coldplay, Led Zeppelin, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.   Thank you to the leadership team at Warner Music for all that you do.

Listen, the problem is that being bullied in high school has different stakes than manipulating $60B of intellectual property. It’s corruption. Corruption of people’s work. Corruption of culture. Of art. As Nietzsche truthfully observed, “Life without music would be a mistake.” We love Nietzsche tonight.

And it’s that core truth that industry bosses weaponize to maintain a grip on their own power. They understand music is primitive to the human experience and in turn use power over that need – in the form of sex and money -  to exert control over art and artists.

Now, is some of this tolerable or perhaps even helpful? Maybe kinda. It wasn't long ago that recording, producing and distributing an album cost millions. In that world, labels and their upfront capital were quite helpful.  Hey, even Michelangelo, owned by the Medici family in the 1400s, produced David and the Sistine Chapel under their patronage.

But that’s not our world anymore. Lil Nas X broke while trolling Walmart. Juice Wrld was discovered dropping tracks on SoundCloud.  Swift, say what you will, re-recorded her master recordings so, theoretically, she is the sole financial beneficiary. Power is shifting, albeit slowly.

Now, there’s no going back. But if this continues, our music and culture will continue to be hovered up by a handful of corporate masters and private equity that only care about maximizing financial gains, leaving us with endless AI-powered playlists pumping nameless faceless laptop-monoculture-music into our numb-dumb flappers.

We must stop letting our stages be the birthplace of corruption.  To let bright lights be the fuel for truth, rather than living in the shadows they cast.  And that’s what this newsletter will explore each week. A bad industry.  Welcome to the abyss.

Got ideas, feedback or tips? Contact tips@majr.app or Text/Signal 323-394-4292.

Take a minute and share this with a friend who might like funny, conspiratorial but essentially truthful lil monologues. Subscribe here.