Cracker’s David Lowery Says the Music Industry Is In ‘For Another Wild Ride’
As Cracker prepare for the release of their 10th studio album, ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’ — a double-disc endeavor that explores the band’s country and punk rock roots — we had the opportunity to chat with founding member and frontman David Lowery.
While we touched on all things related to the new record (that full interview is coming soon), we also picked Lowery’s brain on another item; it’s no secret that he is an outspoken critic of streaming services and music piracy, so with the recent discussions about platinum albums going extinct, we were excited to get his thoughts on the current state of the music industry.
“To me, I look at this and I go, clearly streaming is the future,” Lowery admits. “But I’m not sure the revenue model is the future. I’m not buying anymore f–king albums unless they’re not on the streaming services. It’s just not going to happen — it’s irrational to do it. Even though I know it’s better for the artist to buy their album, it’s so irrational if you have these streaming services.”
Lowery speaks with conviction from personal experiences. After publicly decrying streaming services, he says that everyone came to him and offered up their premium subscriptions for free, trying to show him they’re not all that bad. “As a consumer, it’s pretty f–king awesome — but the only albums I’ve bought since I’ve gotten these premium versions and apps are the ones not available on those services,” he explains.
After getting those initial thoughts off his chest, the numbers side of Lowery takes center stage (he is a trained mathematician and at one time worked as a quant handling high frequency trading).
"We’re in for a wild ride that’s going to be as bad as the post-Napster years."“My first prediction, and it’s just pure math, is if 90 million households adopted paid streaming services, you will only have a $4 billion music business — and it’s a $7 billion music business right now,” he says matter-of-factly. “We’re in for another wild ride, we’re in for a wild ride that’s going to be as bad as the post-Napster years, that first big phase of piracy. Taylor Swift may very will go platinum, but she’ll be the only one for the year.”
“There’s less and less money on the recorded side of the business,” he continues. “There’s this myth that artists make a lot of money on the road — we actually don’t. The top one-percent make a lot of money, but most artists earn a pretty middle-class existence. It’s going to be another tough five or six years for artists. I don’t see anything great — services are attempting to lower their digital royalties. It’s going to be a rough few years, and I don’t mind speaking out about it. I think people are sympathetic. It’s just not an easy fix.”
Just because the fix isn’t easy, there is, theoretically, still a solution. “The only way it bounces back — and it depends which artist you’re talking about, right? I don’t think Taylor Swift is suffering. Middle-class niche artists are having a much harder time with this,” Lowery says. “What’s going to happen is smaller niche independent artists are going to have to be able to not have their stuff on the streaming services. Look, you only need one out of every 200 people to buy your album as opposed to stream your album. You only have to reach 1/200 of the people to make the same amount of money.”
That’s quite a stirring statement, but Lowery knows he’s not the only one with the realization: “I think a lot of niche artists are figuring out that we don’t have to be on all these services. I think that’s what you’ll see happening — the bigger artists will be on the streaming services, smaller ones might only have a song or two on them. But, it’s going to take five or six years because that’s how long it’ll take for artists’ contracts to adjust. I would do all of my contracts all over again because I would want to approve what songs get on the streaming services — and I tell you, it won’t be the whole albums. That just doesn’t work for a niche band.”
And to wrap up the conversation, Lowery admits some irony about Cracker’s upcoming album. “It will actually be on all the streaming services because it’s under an old contract,” he admits. “If I had my choice, it wouldn’t be — but a lot of our contracts were written well before this stuff came out.”
‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’ hits store shelves on Dec. 9 via 429 Records. Get details on the record here. Stay tuned for our full interview with Lowery.