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How iTunes Hurts Weird Al 495

Johnny X writes "Weird Al Yankovic recently said he makes far less money when you buy from iTunes than when you buy an actual CD. This guy did the math and showed that Weird Al could be losing up to 85% of his record sales income due to the 'weird' ways the record companies compute digital sales. Are all artists getting the shaft like this?"
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How iTunes Hurts Weird Al

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  • Re:eat it eat it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sancho ( 17056 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:40PM (#15537169) Homepage
    He didn't seem to be complaining. He merely said he didn't understand why they want to take more out when there are fewer distribution costs.
  • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chuck Chunder ( 21021 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:41PM (#15537181) Homepage Journal
    I am extremely grateful for your support, no matter which format you choose to legally obtain my music in, so you should do whatever makes the most sense for you personally. But since you ASKED
  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) * on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:44PM (#15537196) Homepage
    Submitter's (?) blog references this, but here is Weird's Al's website [] where he actually talks about it ... his response on this topic is the 4th bold one down.
  • Re:So what's new? (Score:5, Informative)

    by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:51PM (#15537231) Homepage Journal
    Pretty soon, the artists will have to PAY the record companies for the priviledge of getting screwed.

    They already do, actually. Read up on record contracts sometime. Many artists end up in massive debt due to their contracts and have to tour endlessly to pay it off. Fuck major labels. I'd trust Satan before I trust a record label.
  • Help a guy out... (Score:3, Informative)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @10:53PM (#15537242)
    Check out his short-lived TV series:

    The Weird Al Show DVD []

    It's surprisingly good, if you check out the clips available on youtube [].

    Oh, and yeah, can't forget one of the most underrated, quotable comedy movies of all time: UHF [].

    Ryan Fenton
  • Re:The Shaft (Score:5, Informative)

    by Geno Z Heinlein ( 659438 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:23PM (#15537407)
    Musicians will continue to "get the shaft" as long as they rely on majors.

    One of the best references on the subject: Courtney Love Does The Math [].

  • Re:New name (Score:5, Informative)

    by sketerpot ( 454020 ) <> on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:25PM (#15537424)
    Fuck you, asshole. Here's what Weird Al actually said:
    Tim Sloane of Ijamsville, MD asks: Al, which of these purchasing methods should I use in order to make sure the most profit gets to you: Buying one of your albums on CD, or buying one of your albums on iTunes? I am extremely grateful for your support, no matter which format you choose to legally obtain my music in, so you should do whatever makes the most sense for you personally. But since you ASKED... I actually do get significantly more money from CD sales, as opposed to downloads. This is the one thing about my renegotiated record contract that never made much sense to me. It costs the label NOTHING for somebody to download an album (no manufacturing costs, shipping, or really any overhead of any kind) and yet the artist (me) winds up making less from it. Go figure.

    He's not the greedy one here.

  • Re:The Shaft (Score:5, Informative)

    by Poppler ( 822173 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:35PM (#15537467) Journal
    I would also recommend Steve Albini's piece The Problem With Music [].
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) * on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:35PM (#15537468)
    Forget the RIAA, Weird Al's record label is definately the entity in charge.

    Because the RIAA and its subsidiary organizations are the representative of the label.

  • by The Vulture ( 248871 ) on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:52PM (#15537550) Homepage

    In fact, by even posting it on Slashdot, they've pretty much ensured that Weird Al would never make the song.

    From the FAQ section of his site ( []):
    "Can I send my song ideas to Al?

    Sorry, for legal and personal reasons, Al does not accept song ideas from fans (he's got plenty warped ideas on his own!) You might try following in Al's footsteps by recording your songs and sending them to Dr. Demento - maybe you'll hear yourself on the radio!"

    I've never met him, but I'm told that he's a really cool guy (a family member of mine who was working security at one of his shows talked to him for a bit). And of course, being the diehard fan that I am, I have quite a few of his albums.

    -- Joe
  • by Babbster ( 107076 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (bbabnoraa)> on Wednesday June 14, 2006 @11:52PM (#15537551) Homepage
    Forget the RIAA, Weird Al's record label is definately the entity in charge.

    It's kind of funny that the names of the companies involved haven't been mentioned, so I'll go ahead and do that: Al's current label is "Volcano" which is owned by "Zomba" which is owned by "BMG" which, of course, is part of the "Sony/BMG" ubercorporation...OMGWTFBBQ, I just realized! This is yet another anti-Sony story!
  • by Baddas ( 243852 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @12:42AM (#15537787) Homepage
    There's a reason creative commons was created, and that's because BSD and other software licenses don't work for music, stories, video, and other non-code media.

    For example, most songs you can buy the tablature and lyrics (source), or even get them in the liner notes. And for stories, well, the only compiler is the one that resides in your brain.
  • by DashEvil ( 645963 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @01:07AM (#15537879)
    1) Great Singer
    2) Very clever paraodies.
    3) Albums contain a slew of hilarious original songs as well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 15, 2006 @02:25AM (#15538087)
    does not a signed contract (not signed under duress) demonstrate a meeting of the minds? there may even be a clause in it that says he fully understands what he is signing (which is complete speculation on my behalf).

    aside from that, while he said he doesnt "get it" perhaps he doesnt understand the business model when compared to CD sales (as mentioned elsewhere)
  • by Soong ( 7225 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @02:51AM (#15538148) Homepage Journal
    This article [] seems to summarize nicely how Sony in particular breaks down the profits from an online sale to deliver "a payment to the artist of approximately 4 1/2 cents per download".

    So, on the one hand, the greedy bastards should be less greedy.

    On the other hand the artists need to empower their own asses and get out of stupid contracts like that and find some sort of cooperative or direct to consumer sales model. Technology is only getting more enabling of that kind of thing. Go do it.
  • by SonicSpike ( 242293 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:14AM (#15538205) Journal
    Have you ever seen a record contract? I work in the recording industry and I have.

    They are usually about 70-90 pages of small print which are "the result of the accumulation of thousands of lawsuits through the years".

    These contracts are written to minimize liability for the label and obviously maximize return. However, there is always a "this contract applies to any current, future, or past medium of distribution, seen or unforeseen etc..." clause written in. It is up to the artist and his attorney to negotiate that out of the contract if they feel the need to.
  • Re:Cuplrit? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eivind Eklund ( 5161 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @03:25AM (#15538232) Journal
    20 cents base fee, plus something in the 2-5% range depending on risk. That quickly adds up to 25c on a single dollar purchase.


  • dubious argument (Score:3, Informative)

    by kirk__243 ( 967535 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:29AM (#15538373)
    What nonsense. The blogger 'did the math' based on dubious figures gathered from other artist's notably unfair record deals.

    He's just lifted 0060428SonyBMGInDigitalMusicTrouble.html [] and replaced the 'Allman Brothers' with 'Weird Al'.

    Artist royalties are generally standardised as a percentage of revenue that the label receives. If you're a big artist with some clout you can negotiate a better deal, but almost all artists will get a basic, low royalty deal. But it is based on record company revenues.

    Of the couple of musicians I personally know with songs on iTunes and cds stocked in local stores, they firmly recommend that people buy through iTunes. This is solely because they will receive more money from each purchase - that is the lure with which labels have been drawn to iTunes. Weird Al might have negotiated himself a great deal for physical sales and a poor deal for digital, but on a basic / generic record contract the artist will assuredly get more from iTunes.

    Weird Al is probably losing out on selling his filler tracks. On iTunes people often only buy a couple of tracks, rather than the full album. And that is truly the only way that an artist can lose on iTunes.

  • by colmore ( 56499 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @04:30AM (#15538376) Journal
    Musicians are not typically very business savvy people. There are exceptions of course, but it's a general rule. Even a successful musician is unlikely to be able to afford more than one lawyer and one accountant. The labels on the other hand have vast teams of people insuring that they squeeze every cent out of their talent and customers. The record industry has been pulling this kind of sneaky contract shit since the 20s to rip off talent.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 15, 2006 @05:57AM (#15538538)
    If you read his FAQ he ASKS for premission to do the songs, and pays the orginal writer royalitys. (something he does not NEED to do).
  • by halfcuban ( 972832 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @06:45AM (#15538613)
    I believe if it is a parody of the work itself you don't have to pay royalties but if you merely use the work as a basis for satirizing something else than I believe you have to. The idea being that you could write a song using, for instance, the chords of Yesterday as long as it made fun of the original lyrical concept (that of falling out of love) but , not if you used it as a basis for say a political satire. In theory its supposed to stop people from claiming "parody" when they take a work and use it as a jumping off point for something completely different.
  • by Sleepy ( 4551 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @07:23AM (#15538697) Homepage
    Who is this "Johnny X" (I see no /. UserID) and how did he come to the conclusion iTunes hurts Wierd Al?

    The sensationalist story submission implies iTunes does something unique relitive to other participants in this field. You could just as unreasonably write a story submission about Repetitive Stress Injury, and blame it on "Microsoft". Sure, Microsoft is what people mostly use, but RSI is not their doing (minor quibbles aside, one cour argue they need more anti-rsi researche, yadda yadda yadda).

    What is not well said is, the recording labels have ways of screwing the artist. NEWS FLASH! That's not Apple's fault. In fact the Wierd Al link (for those that RTFA) clearly says DIGITAL sales, not iTunes. Johnny, are you some sort of Creative flack? What's with the bias?

    Read Courtney Love's insightful Slate article from like 6 years ago. If the record label wants to show NEGATIVE SALES, they'll find a way to do it.

    In the meantime, iTunes is in the long term a way to BYPASS record labels. Young creative artists will take advantage of this to break out of the crowd. It's not hard to imagine record stations (at least not those owned by Clear Channel) using iTunes statistics to decide what people want to hear. In addition to payola of course. ;-)

    No disrespect to Al, but I can readily agree he loses out in the digital world: I might be tempted to buy one of his songs, but NEVER the entire album. Artists don't make concept albums (like Rush's 2112) anymore, for one thing, and in Al's case... I'll wager most people who like his music, like only a few tracks. They're funny, but don't have the replay power (IMHO).

    Johnny, don't hide - please go work for Fox News if you want to create news spin. (I'm sure that statement will get me -50, Troll, like I'm really trolling on such an old Slashdot account - not.).
  • by hburch ( 98908 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @08:03AM (#15538794)
    Weird Al said that he did not understand the reason that the contract was written to get him less money from online sales. He did not say he did not understand the contract, but rather the reasoning for it. In his words []:
    This is the one thing about my renegotiated record contract that never made much sense to me. It costs the label NOTHING for somebody to download an album (no manufacturing costs, shipping, or really any overhead of any kind) and yet the artist (me) winds up making less from it. Go figure.
  • Re:Cuplrit? (Score:3, Informative)

    by shawb ( 16347 ) on Thursday June 15, 2006 @11:27AM (#15540300)
    That "and maybe instruments" line is kinda funny. Let's put the costs together for a traditional four piece rock and roll band with halfway decent equipment capable of gigging out once every other weekend.

    $1000 drum set
    $250 drum microphones and cables to record/play live

    $1250 drummer

    $500 bass guitar
    $500 bass amplifier
    $150 bass efects
    $125 straps, cables, etc

    $1275 for the bassist

    2X the following for two guitars
    $750 guitar
    $500 amplifier
    $250 effects pedals
    $175 straps, cables, etc

    $3,400 for two guitarists

    $200 2 vocal microphones, stands, cables
    $150 for microphones to mic the instrunments (if you line out, you're never going to sell a record) $1000 PA system (Even if the club has one, you'll need this to practice with)
    This brings us up to a little over 7,000 dollars for quite modest equipment if the band wants to sound good enough to play a local bar or club. Yes, you can get buy with a $200 acoustic guitar and write some songs that will wow the girls at a party or maybe even captivate a coffe house croud, but that's not going to get you anywhere close to professional unless you have extraordinary talent.

    While it would appear that a genre like techno could be done a lot cheaper, you're not going to be able to get a sound that's good enough for people to actually pay for if you just do it on a $1000 PC. You'll need several synthesisers, drum machine, high end equalizing mixing board and other hardware. On top of that you'll probably need a few thousand dollars in software (if you're making money with the project, you'll get your ass handed to you if you pirate the stuff. open source software and amateur commercial stuff (E.G. Garageband) won't get you anywhere near a professional career.)

    Let's go other styles of music. Classical music would probably take a post-grad degree and an instrunment that costs well over $10,000 to get you anywhere near pro level, and that's just one person. Hip-hop? Decent set of decks and mixer will run about $1000, but you'll have spent a number of years digging and several thousands of dollars on records before you have a colletion that will gain any respect. If your hip-hop is studio crafted and not mixed by a DJ, see techno music for costs. Folk music? Still be prepared to spend thousands of dollars if you want to get out of the coffee house, and that's assuming you can find a market.

    Add on top of all this up front costs in merchandising, advertising, travel costs, studio time, a practice space, replacing lost/broken equipment, theft and the opportunity costs involved with the time spent getting your music together and getting your name out there... it is very difficult to maintain a full time professional career, maintain your home and health, keep a social life and put forth the energy to bringing a band to life. If you have a family to take care of, something will eventually give as there likely isn't enough time and money. Even large name professional musicians that don't have any other job and don't have to worry about cleaning the house and repairing the toilet or a broken window at home because they can afford to hire someone to do that will have problems maintaining a family due to the time constraints of touring.

    So yes, it is possible to create music with $1000 of equipment. You will most likely not be able to turn that music into a career, it takes a much higher level of dedication both financially and timewise. $1000 is about what it costs to rent a studio for a day to record a 5 or 6 track demo to shop around to distributors or clubs. After you have this master demo pressed, you have to spend even more money to send it out to the pressing shop to have cds made. A CDR will get you laughed out of most clubs, just as sending a cassette into a radio station in the eighties never got you anywhere.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) * on Thursday June 15, 2006 @12:31PM (#15540921)
    . . .the RIAA is merely a lobby group that represents the labels.

    No it isn't. It is also the group responsible for enforcing certain rights. It is attorney to the labels.


The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky