Next month, HBO will premiere the four-part documentary The Defiant Ones, which chronicles the lives and working relationship between veteran record executive Jimmy Iovine and legendary producer Dr. Dre.
In an interview that appears in the June/July '17 issue of Esquire, Iovine, who co-founded Interscope Records and signed Tupac Shakur, Eminem and Lady Gaga, among others, discusses collaboration, innovation and his more than 40 years of success in the music industry.
At the end of his conversation, the 64-year-old is asked by writer Adam Grant if he has any idea what he'll be doing in 10 years. While the short answer is that he has no idea—"All I care about is that Beats is successful and Apple Music is as great as it can be."—Iovine used the question as a springboard to discuss why artists are getting screwed and how it's his responsibility to protect them.
"I have a responsibility to these guys... A lot of music is out there for free, with people taking advantage of cracks in the laws. Artists are getting screwed, and I think that sucks. You have to spend too much time on the road, not enough time making music."
Jimmy's right, recording artists (and producers and songwriters) are getting screwed, but not being able to spend more time making music isn't the reason why.
This past March, for the first time ever, streaming revenue overtook the combined revenue of digital and physical sales. But while more music is being consumed than ever before, the money being generated from individual song streams is a pittance compared to the cash flow that was coming in during the height of physical sales. Spotify, which is the most popular streaming service in the world with its 50 million paid subscribers, paid out a per stream average of .00437 in 2016.
Basically, unless you're a superstar or your new single gets struck by a viral bolt of lightning, it's nearly impossible to make a real, sustained living off of only recorded music sales. Touring, on the other hand, especially for artists who are not signed to a 360 deal with their label, is highlylucrative.
While Jimmy's position that people are taking advantage of the "cracks in the laws" and that a lot of music is available for free online isn't false—you can still find just about any new album for free using a simple Google search, and unofficial stream uploads are often widely available—in 2016, a study found that the proliferation of Spotify (and streaming in general) has lowered illegal music downloads across the board. In fact, piracy reached a record low last year.
Simply, the label stands to profit more if the artist is spending more of their time creating new music that can be streamed and sold, assuming that the artist didn't sign a 360 deal, which would force them to share in touring revenue.
I'm not saying Jimmy Iovine's "I have a responsibility to these guys" comment is complete bullshit, but the major label system doesn't care about the financial well-being of their artists—they care about their bottom line.