Hard to cry for Lyle Lovett

July 21, 2008

I’m not normally one to defend the music industry, but I don’t know if I agree with this Techdirt article lamenting how Lyle Lovett sold 4.6 million albums but has “never made a dime” from album sales.  Specifically, I take issue with this line:

“Of course, the truth is that it’s quite rare for any musician to make money from selling their albums, as has been pointed out for years”

While that might technically be true, it ignores that Lyle Lovett almost certainly was paid a healthy advance — precisely due to the anticipation of future sales. 

And lo and behold, the sales rolled in.  It says he’s sold 4.6M albums.  That’s over a long period where I’m sure prices have fluctuated, but let’s say a $10 average album price, so $46M in revenue.  Thus if he had a $10M advance, that means he’s earned 21% of revenue from his albums since 1991.

Is that good?  Bad?  Frankly, that sounds pretty good to me.  If he were the founder of a startup, that’s like selling for $46M and keeping a 21% stake — it’d be widely seen as a success.  Granted, that’d be a 17 year startup but still.  Hard to criticize his deal.  I sorta agree with Kurt: even if he’s not paid per album, he’s still well paid, and especially given he didn’t take on any of the risk.

Then again, if his advance were much smaller — say, $1M, then he’s only looking at 2.1% of the album revenue, which isn’t very cool at all.

Furthermore, that’s only counting albums since 1991.  He had three albums before that that aren’t included in the above analysis…

So, it comes down to the numbers, but I don’t think it’s clear whether he’s being screwed or not.  Not to mention, he’s still paying down his advance, and one day will probably start making money.  Or maybe not.  But that doesn’t change the fact he was (probably) paid a crapload of money up front for a service that had yet to be performed.  We should all be so lucky to be in such an unfortunate position.

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