Music Business

It’s Amazing That The Old Record Industry Existed In The First Place

ImagesBy Philip Kaplan on

The world was abuzz this week with reports that Taylor Swift removed her music from Spotify. She called the service “a grand experiment” and said she wanted no part of it. Music writer Bob Lefsetz said it’s just a PR stunt. 80's rocker Sebastian Bach (who looks kinda like Taylor Swift) said that fans appreciate music more when they have to pay for it.

 Who knows.

 But we’ve all been told a million times that the old music industry is dying, record stores are gone, and labels are closing. More specifically, record execs who were around in the the 90's miss the good ol’ days when albums went platinum. But here’s the thing.

Those who made a killing from the record business of yesteryear, should count their lucky stars that it ever happened in the first place.

The record business as most people know it, was just a short hundred-year blip in the 40,000 year history of the music business. A stopgap to solve a temporary problem that existed between the invention of sound recording (1890's), and the invention of the internet (1990's).

Few other art forms lets artists get rich off copies of their art.

How did musicians get so lucky? Here’s some history.

Record players were invented in the late 1800's. But there were no records. So for the same reason Microsoft made Word & Excel to make Windows more useful — electronics companies like Sony and Columbia started making records. 

Turns out the music was more profitable than the hardware. And so the recording industry was born.


For about a hundred years (ending around 2005), artists were able to get rich off of duplications — records, tapes and CDs. We still even use the word “copies,” like when a platinum record sells a million copies.

Early musicians didn’t have that luxury. Mozart didn’t sell one fucking copy. Taylor Swift sold 110 million.

Not to mention other art forms. Painters wish they had an opportunity to get rich off copies. The Mona Lisa currently on your computer screen below, is not worth as much as the one in the Louvre.



When record stores were a thing, there were exactly sixty musicians who figured out how to work within the system to become wildly successful (in that case, selling 100 million copies each).

Specifically, they took advantages of inefficiencies in the market.

How many of those millions of people only liked one track but had to buy the entire album? iTunes fixed that by decoupling the tracks from albums. How many of those millions put the album on a shelf and never listened to it? Spotify fixed that—artists only get paid for plays.

By removing herself from streaming services, Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market. Like Comcast and Walmart, her product is popular enough that people will put up with it. And while I believe an artist gets to choose what happens to her art, I still think it’s a dick move to her fans.

Today there are more opportunities than ever for musicians. Tomorrow’s superstars are taking advantage of that now by posting viral YouTube videos, getting their shows Instagram’ed to death, using Eventbrite to sell tickets directly, using Meetup to organize events, getting discovered on Hype Machine, selling directly to fans using Bandcamp, making hits in the back of a taxi, and using DistroKid (disclosure: I’m the founder) to get into iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and everywhere else while keeping 100% of their royalties—all without needing a record company.

And finally, in a semi-related coincidence, my heavy metal band, “Butchers of the Final Frontier,” has a new song & video premiering tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov 11. Check it out and buy it if you like it. It will be available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Beats, Deezer, and Rdio. 😉

Thanks for reading.

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  1. This pamphlet is a rather incomplete retelling/invention of ‘the music industry’. Picking out that Mozart didn’t sell one ‘copy’ of his music is plain wrong. He a) sold plenty of ‘copies’ – though paper copies but copies nevertheless. There were countless musicians who made their living selling those kind of copies!!
    ‘Taylor Swift is adding inefficiency back into the market’ ? Share the weed man, what does that supposed to mean? I somebody writes a novel does this person have to cater to an audience that only wants to read chapter 6 (the juicy one) out of 12? Let’s iTunes fix that please. And Spotify fixes what exactly? Absolutely nothing! Spotify sells a questionable convenience by yes, exploiting artists all over again paying them with promises. What a joke!
    I do understand that the ‘old’ system, the recent old system I mean had its deficiencies but that does not make the ‘new’ one better just by definition.
    Look at the film industry, all this stupid talk of ‘democratization’ is just intellectual BS. Only because now everybody can shoot his wonderful 1st feature on an iPhone does not make the ‘old’ studio system invalid nor does it make the new ‘everybody is a director and cinematographer now’ inherently better.
    The world in general and in this case the music business is a bit more complex than articles like this one portrays.
    I do expect more and deeper thoughts.

  2. I “love” how these music distributors (like him) tries to sell us how great is the music business today… because musicians have sooo many opportunities now… yea right… This guy gets a tons of money from all those struggeling musicians. I know really GREAT bands who spent 20 years of practicing/learning, thousands of dollars for recording the songs, and they sell zero to 30 albums. But hey… it is so great that we can put the songs on Spotify and get 0.0007 cents for every play… At the end, the only ones earning money from this are these distributors. So that’s why they try to sell us how great opportunity is this… (sorry for my english)

  3. This article is so clueless , it’s either written by an alien who just landed in his UFO, or someone who’s got his calendar mixed up ( no, 1st of April is in April, not November )
    It makes it look like recorded music is some form of bizarre unique thing.
    – Do you know how writer’s make a living ? Go ahead, think. I’ll wait. Can’t find the answer ? by SELLLING COPIES of their work.
    – Do you know how filmakers make a living ? By SELLING entries to COPIES of their films in theaters, then COPIES to Tv, DVD, BLU-RAYS, Etc..
    – Do you know how software developers make a living ? by SELLING COPIES of their software.
    “Mozart didn’t sell one fucking copy” Yes he did sell a big fucking amount of copies, copies of SHEET music by his publisher. Sheet music was the CD of that era, you had to “spin” the music yourself on a piano.That’s where the term Music Publisher came from.
    Either that or you just decided to troll us out of boredom.

  4. The very first blog we posted when Altavoz was restarted was about this issue ( and believe the poster doesn’t understand it that it’s the copy that was at (and still is) at the heart of our business.
    As I pointed in the blog, there Talky box was happening and someone wrote to John Phillip Sousa , down in DC and said hey you’re band should make a sound recording on this thing.
    So, John went to his publishishing company Columbia Publishing and said can I make a record and they said what’s a record and he explained it them and then they said sure because it will sell more copies of the sheet music (publishing) that it where the real money is made.
    As for distribution since we been doing this Digital thing since 1995 and physical too. I have to ask, again, with over 60 percent of sales still being physical how can anyone that be taken seriously if they are only selling to 40 percent of the market and not one company that is digital only is profitable.
    BTW Our get you into every digital outlet (over 200) and into the public libaries.

  5. Please add my voice to the outcry of this inanely written article (articles like this are good reason to stop reading hypebot BTW).
    Before his death Beethoven’s main means of support came from composing new music and then getting it published as sheet music….which (as we ll know) he got paid per copies sold!
    This article feels like it was written by someone who last looked at the music industry 15 years ago.

  6. This whole article sounds more like a sales pitch. The best part are the comments…glad to see people not being duped by this nonsense.

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