Anyone who's at all interested in the way major labels operate will enjoy this essay on the blog of alt-pop group Too Much Joy. TMJ were one of many bands who amassed enough of a cultish underground following in the 90s to persuade a major label, in their case Warner Brothers, that they could attract a mainstream audience even though their music was obviously not the stuff of chart-topping success.
In the essay a Too Much Joy member—the post is unsigned but appears to be by outspoken front man Tim Quirk—details the Kafkaesque process of getting Warner Brothers to turn over information on the group's digital sales, which are the only TMJ sales that the label has to deal with now that the band's records for Warner are out of print. As is to be expected, the experience was long, convoluted, and unsatisfying.
But beneath the not-so-simple tale of Too Much Joy trying to wring information on their royalties out of the Warner bureaucracy is a deeper story about major labels' treatment of bands that haven't recouped—meaning not that they've lost the label money but rather that they haven't sold enough records for their sliver of each purchase price to cover the advance the label gave them. What emerges is a picture of an attitude toward money that has almost surely helped put the majors in their current disastrous-looking financial position. One label guy laughs at the band's concern over an accounting error, telling them "$10,000 is nothing!" That kind of sums up the whole thing, as does one of the footnotes: "Of course, these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive—it is also possible that labels are evil and avaricious AND dumb and lazy, at the same time."
(via the Daily Swarm)