MASTODON Won’t Be Able To Continue If Current Streaming Payment Model Persists, Says Guitarist

MASTODON guitarist Bill Kelliher discussed the current state of the music business, saying on Let There Be Talk that a new law will soon regulate how artists are paid (as transcribed by “I was one of the few people [back in the day] that actually publicly said, ‘I agree with Lars Ulrich. I think he’s got balls to actually stand up to Napster.’ Do I agree with arresting everyone who’s illegally downloading? No. It’s the same as like, legalizing marijuana. If 50 million people are smoking it, you’re not gonna arrest everybody. Just make it legal.

“So with illegal downloading, the way I look at it is: Everyone’s like, ‘These rock stars, they make enough money, I can just illegally download a couple of songs here and there.’

“But if millions of people start doing that, it kills the record industry. And to me, the record industry, the record companies, should have foreseen this coming in the future and prepared for it.

“They should have done something about it, but they really didn’t. Basically what they did was they sold the masters of all the bands that they have to a computer company – Apple. And it took Apple to say, ‘Yes, sell us all your music rights and then we’ll just figure out a way to sell it to people.’ That’s the record company’s job, not Apple’s.

“So now Apple and Spotify – who are brilliant businessmen, of course… But, who gets hurt in the end is the artist. Because we aren’t getting the fair pay. We’re not getting any pay for these streams.

“Let me just make sure I say this correctly: Apple and Spotify and Pandora – all these streaming music sites, I think are great. They’re amazing. I use Spotify all the time. It’s so simple, it’s so easy, it’s a no-brainer, you can download as much music as you want on your phone and listen to it anywhere.

“But the problem is that there hasn’t been any legislature to compensate the artist since 1972. That’s why myself and Brann Dailor, our drummer, being members of The Recording Academy and The Grammy Academy – we were asked to Capitol Hill and lobby for the MMA, which is the Music Modernization Act. We just did that a couple of months ago and it passed unanimously.

And they’re gonna retool how to get paid in the digital world?

“Yeah. They’re just gonna retool it. Because there’s nothing on paper that says, ‘Hey, we have to pay you any amount of money.’ I mean, there’s royalties on records and physical copies and stuff, but they haven’t changed the law since 1972.

“And we all know back in 1972 people were buying 8-tracks, cassettes, reel-to-reel… They didn’t foresee that music will be streaming through the air and you would just pay a monthly fee and be able to download thousands and thousands of songs.

“We’re not asking for a lot, we’re just asking it to be fair. We’re saying, ‘We just want some of that money that should be going to the artist.’

“Because in my opinion: if this continues, the artist is gonna disappear. Because we cannot afford to go out here– There’s so many people behind those songs you hear on the radio. I can only speak for my genre and the people who know how we do it.

“Hip-hop and all that stuff is a totally different animal. But when it comes to us doing a record, sometimes those records cost just to do a record. That means to pay a producer over half a million dollars. That comes out of your pocket. The record company fronts you that money.

“This is how it works – they give you the money up front, they say, ‘Here’s $600,000, you’re gonna make a record that’s gonna cost $575,000.’ So there’s that money. You owe that money back to the record company and they own your music. Why, I don’t know.

“Because I guess they’re lending you the money to make a record, but once it hits the internet and it goes out there for free and people just download it, where is the money to be generated to make that money back? There is no way to make that money back.

“I could live a thousand years and if Spotify played all day long I’d maybe make a couple of thousand dollars, I don’t know. It’s very miniscule. The only way to make any money is to get out here on the road and tour, tour, tour constantly.”

And these guys are getting trapped in these 360 deals now where they’re not making anything.

“That’s ridiculous. That’s because record companies are desperate. They have no idea what to do because they’ve completely given up the keys to the kingdom, to Apple and Spotify and Pandora.

“So now they’re now trying to talk bands into giving them part of their merch. Which, in reality, when we play these clubs… And I wanna make it clear. A lot of people say, ‘Why are your t-shirts $50?!’. Well – newsflash – the venues take up to 20-25-30% of that right off the top.

“So our $50 t-shirt, we’re only getting $30. But then that $30 has to be split up between management, lawyers, taxes, everything. Plus everything. Tourbuses, just to rent for a month is $60,000. It’s ridiculous.

“And everyone has their hand in your damn pocket when you’re out here.

“You see us up on the stage, you see us on TV, you hear us on the radio… Of course, the artist is the last one to get paid but looks like he’s a rich guy up on the stage dancing around and playing music.

“Don’t get me wrong, I chose this field because all I know to do is play guitar and write music and I love doing it. But if you could see behind the scenes, there’s a lot of people with their hands in the musicians’ pockets. You just have to be smart, because they’re trying to rip you off at every freaking corner.”