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Monday, August 12, 2013


In the course of this really excellent discussion about how musicians are to make a living nowadays Dave Allen of the Gang Of Four says that after thirty-five years he's still not recouped from EMI Records.

That's what happens, or at least what used to happen. The record companies, which operated to all intents and purposes like banks, advanced a band a certain amount of money out of which they had to make a record and live.

If the record didn't sell enough to earn back the advance (and even in the rare cases where it did), they borrowed another advance to make the next one, piling new debt on old, in the (usually vain) hope that they would make it big with the third or fourth album, clear the debt and advance into the broad sunlit uplands of solvency.

For the overwhelming majority of acts - as many as 90%, I'm guessing - it never happened. When the megastores would mount those mammoth "3 for £10" CD sales ten years ago all those albums were made by acts who had no prospect of ever earning back what they owed to the record companies.  Their CDs were sitting around cluttering up warehouses and at the normal rate of sales they would be there for ever. So why not knock them out cheap?

And it doesn't make any difference whether the acts were well-known or had lots of hits. They'd kept on getting advances to make albums that people didn't buy and therefore the money would be recouped out of the revenues of the ones that did.

At the time their first album came out the Gang Of Four were quite celebrated. They were on the cover of music papers. Their views were sought. Their name was dropped. They got into the chart. It doesn't mean that you break the advance. Wonder if they'd have believed it if you'd told them at the time.