Musician, Industry Insider Sheds Light on Labels’ Accounting Practices

Eliot van Buskirk’s Wired piece on Tim Quirk is rather enlightening. As he explains, Quirk has experience as a musician with both indie and big label releases so is in an uncommon position to compare how well he gets compensated, as an artist, from each model. Not surprisingly at least to me, Quirk’s band made more off the indie releases than the big label releases despite the latter being arguably more popular.

Quirk estimated that his band’s three out-of-print major-label releases should have earned between two and five times as much digital revenue as its four independently-released albums earned, given that they are “far more popular.”

If Quirk was solely an artist, the story might end there. He is also a senior vice president at Rhapsody, the streaming digital music subscription service. In that role, he clearly has a lot of experience that bears on the question of how downloads or streams are tracked and payments made to the various stakeholders appropriately.

His experiences at Rhapsody taught him firsthand that it’s possible to build a big database that accounts for what each copyright holder is owed. However, he and others contend, major labels have no incentive to put such a transparent database in place — quite the opposite: They only stand to benefit by obfuscating the accounting process for middle- and long-tail bands and tracking their digital streams and downloads casually.

To be clear, Quirk seems to be hinting that any lack of transparency or faulty accounting is more likely due to inertia than malice.

Regardless, I think this is a story that needs to be spread far and wide, as accurately as possible, to fuel discussions about fair compensation to artists and inefficiency deeply ingrained within the traditional models of distribution.