NPR logo Where's My Money?: The Musician's Neverending Question

Where's My Money?: The Musician's Neverending Question

Think this guy is making millions off his debut album? Probably not. Before he gets paid, many other people -- from songwriters to business managers -- take a piece of the pie. DeusXFlorida/Flickr hide caption

toggle caption DeusXFlorida/Flickr

Think this guy is making millions off his debut album? Probably not. Before he gets paid, many other people -- from songwriters to business managers -- take a piece of the pie.


Prince (or the artist formally known as Prince, or the Purple One) has a new album coming out called 20TEN — his thirty-third, to be exact — this Saturday. But get this — it's only being released in print. Or should I say, with print. For free. Inside a plastic sleeve of newspapers outside the U.S. Its release in Rolling Stone will follow in suit later this month. Whaaa? With the rise of digital downloads via iTunes and other online stores, one would think Mr. Purple Rain is shooting himself in the foot. But Prince tells the Daily Mirror in a bizarre interview that:

"The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it.

"The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.

"They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

This isn't the first time that the music superstar has given digital platforms the cold shoulder. In 2007, he granted the British tabloid Mail on Sunday the rights to release Planet Earth for free. In a jocular retort, jazz saxophonist Kenny G tells AP, if the Internet is dead:

"then I must be dead, too, 'cause I use it all the time." He adds with a laugh: "Maybe I've got a sixth sense, and I only see dead people. I don't know."

Whether you agree with Prince or Kenny, it's safe to say that music distribution has been pushed more to the Web. But digital releases could mean less moolah for you, the artist, and more for the industry. And if you really break it down, as Cord Jefferson of The Root did in a recent investigation of who gets paid in the music industry, for every $1000 in music sold, the average musician makes $23.40. Here are only a few of the middle men who benefit from your purchase at the local Best Buy:

SLRP: The suggested list retail price of a CD is currently $16.98, while the standard wholesale price — what retail stores pay the label per CD — is about $10. Once the retailer gets the CD, they can sell it for however much they'd like — hence "suggested." Artist's royalties are a percentage of the retail price. Superstars can get 20 percent of the SLRP, but most get 12 percent to 14 percent.

Reserves: Records, especially records by newer artists, are generally sold with the caveat that retailers can return to the label whatever copies they don't sell for a full refund. Thus to ensure they don't lose too much money on artists, record labels will sometimes pay artists for only 65,000 copies out of 100,000 copies, just in case 35,000 (25,000 if you consider the free ones) are returned. If the retailer ends up selling all their copies, the label will then pay the artist the balance owed, which can sometimes take years.

AFTRA and AFM: These are the musicians unions. Singers join AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), while players join AFM (the American Federation of Musicians). If an artist cuts an album, he has to join a union, which will then take $63.90 in base dues plus 0.743 percent of the artist's first $100,000.

Still want to rock the stage and bring down the house? You may want to check out the charts breaking down the payouts here first. I guess when you're a superstar like Prince, you can afford the pro bono record release.


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