Moses Supposes: Bon Voyage, Bon Jovi

Moses Avalon is one of the nation’s leading music-business consultants and artists’-rights advocates and is the author of a top-selling music business reference, Confessions of a Record Producer. More of his articles can be found at

Jon Bon Jovi says that Apple killed the music business.  Now he is public enemy number one on the blog-o-sphere. Does he deserve it?

Jon Bon Jovi has learned a lesson of the Internet age the hard way.  The lesson he learned is that the techies, who wave the freedom-of-speech flag when it comes to music being free and net neutrality, are not so cool about free speech when it criticizes one of their gods, like Steve Jobs. Indeed, they respond rather childishly to just about anyone, no matter how famous, if even the slightest opinion about Internet-related services is anything less than 1,000,000% positive. (Read what Bon Jovi said here.)

Now, in the before-time, no one cared what geeks thought.  They were in the back room.  But blogs have given them the big stick in the public debate.  And they want respect. They are getting it, but also proving the old adage: power corrupts. Using their new tools, they have silenced and intimidated those that are a threat.  If they agree with you, you are launched to the top of a mountain; if you disagree with their position, they can out-SEO you, out-blog you, and make you look ridiculous in a matter of seconds across the entire globe.

Most politicians and other public people learned this lesson years ago. Even I got a taste recently of how infantile some of these cats can get if you throw the slightest criticism at them. (I noticed an error in a Techdirt blog wherein it called IPS licensing fees a “tax” for music.  The guy freaked out on me and called me a “liar” all over Twitter.)

These techies cannot take it when you disagree with them.  It shatters their entire foundation, and they get nasty.  But poor Jon Bon Jovi must have missed this memo.  He committed the most heinous crime that a person can commit in today’s blog/news world; he committed the offense of being obvious, of saying what everyone in-the-know knows but is afraid to say: iTunes is bad for music in the long run. Why be afraid to say it?  Well, you’ve no doubt seen the posts; legions of keyboard jockeys will come after you in their blogs and virally disseminate a twisted version just to increase their Google rankings.  They’ll even Skype to each other while doing it, and have a virtual party with virtual booze and virtual girls.

Now, what did Bon Jovi say that was so terrible?  Well, he spoke the truth, for one thing.  iTunes has helped devalue the business model that made music an industry. It may not have started the fire, but it poured gasoline on it in gallons.

When musicians were in charge of music, they helped end wars and elevate social consciousness. Now it’s in the hands of the techies.

Let’s look at some iFacts:

1. iTunes has not, as some have suggested, “saved the record business.”  iTunes has made up less than 10% of sales over the years since launch.

2. Nor did Steve Jobs “invent” a way for artists to get paid from the Internet. (I think Al Gore did that.)

3. Finally, I believe it was Lawrence Lessig, or some fool like him, who promised, “If you give people a legal way to buy music, they won’t steal it.” Remember that one? Not true: P2P file sharing did not decrease since iTunes went online — it actually increased.

What iTunes did that sucks most for music is that it destabilized the “album model.”  Yeah, yeah, I know, many of you think that that is good for the consumer, but it’s really not in the long run. Not if you’re a true music fan. Why?

Point 1: Economics. It costs more to make less, which means fewer risks will be taken on new acts.

If you remove the 80 cents or so that songwriters used to receive for each album sale and replace it with the nine cents that they get for a single, you don’t have to be a math genius to see that you need to sell about seven times more units to break even on a promotion that costs $1,000,000. This holds true whether you release an album or a single — a production costing about $10,000/song to produce if you do an album, but $25,000/song if you go single for single.

Yes, it costs majors the same money to promote a single as it does to promote an album, and three times as much to record the equivalent amount of singles that an album comprises.

And without the album economics, you reduce the 1:14 chance of one of the cuts becoming a hit to a paltry 1:1. To have the same shotgun effect with singles that’s delivered with “album promotion,” labels would have to spend more than 10 times as much.

Who Cares?

Why should indie artists care about majors and their costs?

Well, now that it costs more to make less, these costs trickle down to everyone in the music food chain.

To sell a single for 99 cents on iTunes, the indie artist ends up netting about 64%.  With a CD sold at a local store for $14, the artist/label took almost $10 home — almost 75%.  Sold off the side of the stage for $10, the same indie artist took home almost all of it — save $1 for manufacturing — 90%.  Big winner here: Apple.

Point 2: Art. For those interested in music as an art, the devaluation of an album as an art form has neutered the musical experience. Deep cuts are dead for the future.  This decreases the value of music as an experience and as a communication method.  This disembowels artists from helping do what they are supposed to do — make the world a better place.  They have been relieved of that job, thanks to iTunes and P2P. Now they are just “content providers,” and all that we want from them are “hits,” nice, radio-safe singles.  Great.

When musicians were in charge of music, they helped end wars and elevate social consciousness. Now it’s in the hands of the techies. I can only pray they do not abuse this power. So far, I’m not impressed.  How a culture fails to value one of its greatest cultural contributions, pop music, is beyond me.

This is what Jon Bon Jovi was really trying to say.  What he probably meant with his comments was that the glory days of music are over. They are. It’s true. And iTunes did accelerate the legitimacy of that decline more so than any other vehicle. But was it Steve’s fault?  No. Someone else would have done it eventually.

Jon, I feel ya, brotha. I feel your pain. I kid you not when I say that some of these guys are so cult-like in their Apple fanaticism that it would not surprise me if I read that an Apple fan threw a rock at your window. Get an extra bodyguard for a week or two, and hire a great defamation lawyer. I have.

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