By Sounni de Fontenay, MusicDish.com
Moses Avalon is the author of “Confessions of a Record Producer: How to survive the Scams and Shams of the Music Business,” music industry consultant, columnist and workshop organizer (www.mosesavalon.com). He discusses his evolution in the business, gives insights on the perennial question, “Where are we [the music industry] going?”, and speaks about the state of being an artist in a corporate world.
[Sounni de Fontenay] Moses, you started in the industry by working with major labels Warner Music & BMG. What experience did you walk away with, especially in terms of your current views on the industry?
[Moses Avalon] Essentially, the major label system can be compared to a large ocean liner. They see the iceberg visible on the horizon, but the ship is too big and bulky to steer it away before a collision. The Internet was the major label’s iceberg. Too little, too late in that area has caused a lot of misunderstandings about the product that major labels produce: the music. I now fear that labels, desperate to cover their large overhead, will turn to even more pedestrian marketing strategies that will further require the artist to do many more things besides create art… such as sell stuff for companies that labels have entered into large licensing deals with. I’ve learned that the majors are a huge, huge machine that is very hungry. And lately, there are only small fish around to eat. Eventually (through consolidation) they will eat each other. There is no other away for them to grow.
[Sounni de Fontenay] In your latest outfit, you have been an outspoken proponent for artist rights as well as a controversial pundit on the latest issues facing a changing industry. Having started in recording and producing, how did you evolve into your latest incarnations?
[Moses Avalon] Wow, “pundit”… I haven’t heard that word since I took my SATs. It’s all basically in the forward to Confessions of a Record Producer. I got tired of seeing my clients, with platinum records, hard up for money. I wrote the books, people started calling me for advise and it grew for there. At first, I had unsigned garage bands. Two and a half years later, I have lawyers, managers and some high level artists who consult with me. It’s been very organic, really.
I’ve recently been approached by a major label to caucus with their attorneys on redrafting their artist engagement agreement. That was a triumph. If these guys want my advice, it means I’ve made a dent. The Confessions Workshop is the latest method I’ve come up with to help everyone. The last one I did in June had a mix of artists, label employees and managers. This time I’m hoping to attract more of the same. I like a mix of people. That’s what makes a fun experience. And it’s far cheaper than most “music industry seminars” that cost hundreds to go to, where you might meet a few people, but no one on those panels is saying anything paramount.
[Sounni de Fontenay] Why such a proponent for artist rights? Do you feel they get a raw deal in the current make-up of the industry?
[Moses Avalon] Artists make the product. They have a lot of help, but it all starts with them. I’m not pathologically pro artist. I’m pro fair. I don’t hate major labels, I just know how far they will go to protect their money. I want the artist to have the same advantages. If it’s a fair game, then I say let the better player win. But labels don’t make it fair. They control far too many rules and don’t educate their opponents: the artists. That’s not their job.
So that’s where I come in. Labels don’t need education on the rules, they made them. So I’m more pro artist because the artist is always playing catch-up to the label’s rules. In the near future, however, that might change. Artists have more independence now than ever before, and the need for a major has never been more diminished. So, we’ll see what the future holds. Who knows, in ten years I might be saying that artists have too much power and are ripping off their record labels. Wouldn’t that be some shit?
[Sounni de Fontenay] Has the Internet had any beneficial effects on artist rights?
[Moses Avalon] Absolutely. There has never been a cheaper way for independent artists to communicate with the world. However, for signed artists I’m not sure that I can say the same thing. Aside from the downloading debacle, most artists are required to sign over their “virtual identity” to record companies when they sign their exclusive recording contract. That means they can not put up their own website. In this way indie artists have a huge advantage over ones signed to a major.
[Sounni de Fontenay] You regularly come out with your own newsletter, called Moses Supposes, with biting analysis of various “hot” topics. From your articles, you have been attacked by all sides of the music industry – obviously, this is a sign that you are doing something right – how do you take this criticism?
[Moses Avalon] Attackers are out there but they are laying low for now. Mostly what I’ve experienced are people on the inside, some in higher places than you might think, who have been seeking me out as a conduit for speaking their mind. They can’t be quoted as saying it themselves, but I can say it for them, provided I agree, of course.
[Sounni de Fontenay] Currently, many know Moses Avalon as a book author, with “Confessions of a Record Producer: How to survive the Scams and Shams of the Music Business.” You are not the first to speak of the scams & shams of the industry – and will not be the last – but what has made your book hit the spot, so to speak?
[Moses Avalon] I think it’s because I don’t talk down to artists and musicians, I talk to them. Other books are written to impress colleagues, mine was designed to really inform. I take flack for some of the accusations I make in the book, but I say to those that nit-pick about little things, like whether most artists really get 12% or 15%, write your own book and you’ll see how hard it is. Forget about writing one that has opened up issues that should have been opened up long ago, and simultaneously, could cost you every friend you made for 20 years. Just let me see you write one that is both informative and entertaining. That’s challenge enough.
[Sounni de Fontenay] Your years of experience has now come together in the production of a Workshop based on the Confessions book. You had your first Workshop in June and will be having another one in November of this year in LA. Tell me about the Workshop: who is it targeted towards, its mission, and what you hope attendees will walk away with?
[Moses Avalon] I want to see artists, songwriters, managers and producers all sitting in the same room learning about how to make a better industry TOGETHER. I have special accelerated teaching techniques that makes it easy to teach years of information in a short time and make it cool, and exciting. Over the two days, there are contests, prizes, and everyone has a great time learning about the boring side of the business: how to hang on to the money you will earn. It’s something no one wants to invest time in learning, but you have to if you’re going to survive. I’ve made it quick and fun. One weekend will teach you more than you will learn in most three years programs. If you don’t believe, me check out some of the testimonials by people who took it along side of their college music business programs. They say they walked out with far more usable business knowledge than in their standard school curriculums.
By the end of the second day, you will be able to calculate exactly how much money you will make on any given deal and how they will try to get you to give up your rights to more money that you are entitled to. Naturally, this type of workshop is not for everyone. I tend to get the more serious minded people. In this way, not only do you get an education but you’re networking with people who are actually making money in this business.
[Sounni de Fontenay] Between artist rights issues, like the seven year statute, to technological innovations, such as p2p & CD burning, to copyrights & consumer fair use rights, where do you see the industry headed? Will it look completely different ten years from now… or will the big boys still have control?
[Moses Avalon] There will always be “big boys” in control of something. But what they will be in control of will defiantly look very different in ten years. I see large “record companies” (if indeed that’s what we call them in ten years) specializing in mega-licensing deals. The artist development will be delegated to so-called indie labels. Distribution will probably be entirely digital and “soft” in the US. CDs will still be manufactured but mostly for marketing purposes, overseas sales and bundling.
[Sounni de Fontenay] Who do you view as the “heroes” of the industry, those standing up for a higher standard of actions in the music market as well as those helping to make the business a level playing field – or better yet, a transparent business?
[Moses Avalon] Recently, a person came up to me at SongsAlive! in LA and said that I was his hero. I was very flattered, but honestly, all I do is point out what’s wrong and try to offer stimulating commentary on how to fix it. Then, others take those ideas and turn them into reality. I’ve received letters from people who have used Confessions as a template to build their companies on. They are involved in the doing. Me, I just sit on my ass and bitch all day. So, my heroes are all of them. And it is those people (and you know who you are) who are going to really make a difference in this industry in the long run.
And, believe it or not, although I threw stones at the legal profession a bit, there are many lawyers that I’ve met that have impressed me. Lawyers are, by and large, conflicted, because they want to make money, and being of generally conservative thought, they are a bit scared of change. But many fight for artists. Consultation clients of mine, when they get a referral to an attorney, get one of these people. Great people who know their stuff and give a shit. The Future of Music Coalition has been something I’ve been keeping my eye on.
NARAS has done some excellent things in their programs to help artists both in business and in the much needed health care issues that plague our industry. On the grassroots level, there are those with websites who are trying to service artist’s needs without charging an arm and a leg, Tonos, to name one, Muse’s Muse, and the others that I list on my website under “Cool Resources.” Those are my heroes.
[Sounni de Fontenay] So where can we expect Moses Avalon to be in the next few years? What issues will you be tackling on? What entrenched interests will you be battling?
[Moses Avalon] All-in-all, it’s a great time to be in the music business if you’re an newcomer. And since I help mostly newcomers, it’s a great time for me. Fortunately, the record industry provides me with endless fodder for content. LOL. Seriously, I’m seeing some of my goals come to fruition. These hearings on accounting practices and other things like that are the stuff that activists dreams are made of and tell me that my work for this lifetime is almost complete. I’ve been asked to help out with some fairly high profile situations lately; government stuff, major label mediation and creating some education programs for institutions. That seems to be the realm that I’m headed towards.
I’ll always have the consultation business for artists, but I’d like to expand and try to effect change on some higher levels as well. Right now, my company is working on alliances that will help get more royalties to artists that are signed and create health and benefit programs for all on the creative side of the business. Everyday I get to help someone get a step closer to their dream. And that’s a great job to have.
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