December 12, 2008 – 3:37 am

A message to the music industry from Jack Ely, the lead singer of the Kingsmen.

My name is Jack Ely and I’m the one whose voice is heard daily on The Kingsmen’s 1963 recording of Louie Louie, (may it rest in peace) so you know I have some music business experience.

First I’d like to express an opinion that probably will not be very popular but which oozes with truth. In the early ’60’s when I was recording, records were thought of as a tool to help promote live performances. The live performances were the main revenue stream and the records were just promotional tools to get people to come see the shows. Somewhere this mode of thinking got turned upside down.

Consequently in years hence, record companies, producers, et. all, have made recordings, hoping to profit from the sale of those recordings alone, regardless of whether or not the artist could ever pull it off live. This did some things to the music business that weren’t very healthy.

First it made available to the general public, music of artists who may or may not be good live performers; almost anyone can make a good recording with enough cut-ins and loops. And… it made music by groups of players who never ever intended to perform that music live, and who may or may not have ever been able to get along with each other long enough to really sustain any kind of a road show.

The solution is to give the world all the free music it wants, but to give the recording entity, whether it be a record company or a producer, or whomever, a cut of every live performance.

Music is meant to be played for the enjoyment of the audiences. For instance, if I go into the studio with an acoustic guitar and simultaneously play and sing on a recording, people would come to see me perform in that same mode; I.e. playing guitar and singing as a solo act. I don’t think they would come to see me expecting a full band. Conversely, if I advertised a ‘Night with Louie Louie” people would come expecting to see a rock band that they could dance to, and would be quite disappointed if I showed up with just my acoustic guitar.

The suggestions that recordings are produced today just to sell recorded music is all backwards and the sooner the record companies and producers and artists figure this out the sooner they will all quit sniveling over the fact that the entire world is freely sharing their music digitally and isn’t willing to stop; and in fact will do anything to circumvent their efforts to get paid for the recordings alone.

The days of producers and musicians putting bands together just to get a recording deal so they can get paid by the record company for a product that usually never even gets released; those days are over. It’s time record companies went back to their roots and became what they started out to be; entities who record working acts in order to
1) capture the performance for posterity, and
2) make a promotional tool to get audiences to the next show.

The solution is to give the world all the free music it wants, but to give the recording entity, whether it be a record company or a producer, or whomever, a cut of every live performance. That will do at least two things and maybe more that I haven’t even thought about yet. First it will give everyone involved in the recordings a source of revenue (pay day) for all their hard work of producing and promoting the recordings.

Second, it will weed out all the so-called “recording artists” who couldn’t, in a live venue, perform their way out of a paper bag. In a down economy the public craves live entertainment, so what better time to get back to basics. The timing couldn’t be better for a profitable turn around. So now is the time to get it going.

I send you these thoughts in hopes that just maybe a new/old perspective on the subject of recorded music can be presented to the entire recording world and they can all start making a real profit.

Note: Jack Ely, the former lead singer of The Kingsmen, is a veteran horse trainer. He lives in central Oregon.


  2. Clarity of thought & a voice of reason..The bottle is now worth more than the wine contained.

    By Conor Ryan on Dec 12, 2008

  3. I guess he forgot that the Beatles stopped touring and became a studio only band. Besides, what if an artist doesn’t want to perform live? If the music is good, I want to hear it, and I will pay for it. I don’t need to see it live.

    By Bruce Y on Dec 13, 2008

  4. If musicians don’t want to perform then they should be paid hourly, like most other non-performers. The music would be free and a virtual ‘tip hat’ could be made available for people who want to subsidize the creator.

    By Arioch on Dec 14, 2008

  5. Arioch, can I hire you to work for me free? I will set up a tip hat for people who pass by to leave you your salary for the work you do.

    By jim shelley on Dec 16, 2008

  6. Although I see Mr. Ely’s points and agree on many levels, many actively touring bands do stuff in the studio they couldn’t/wouldn’t live. Jimi, CSN and so many others using backwards recorded instrument tracks and such can’t be done live (Stephen Stills, who played the backwards guitar on Pre-Road Downs, plays the guitar part often through a volume pedal to somewhat mimic the recording, but it’s not the same. And as Bruce Y mentioned, what about The Beatles? Even if they HAD continued playing live - the end of I Am The Walrus? Or so much of their stuff. Some of his ideas are sound, but I’m hesitant to support ‘weeding out’ artists who create only in the studio, whatever their reasons.

    I, for example, play live, and prefer to, but there are many experimental things I’ve done in the studio that I couldn’t do live. Should these be discounted, then?

    Well, maybe they should, but only because i suck; not because they’re studio-only.:P

    By Society's Pliers on Dec 16, 2008

  7. I would, however, like to thank Mr. Ely for Louie Louie, and through that seeming to profoundly affect the directions of future music (recorded or live).

    By Society's Pliers on Dec 16, 2008

  8. Absurd. Ely is only speaking of his own experience in making records and performing. In fact, there were tons of records produced in the 50s/60s that were made up of studio musicians, not actual bands. Start with country music (with session players backing the vocalists), then go to Phil Spector and work your way through Pet Sounds, The Monkees, most of bubblegum music and up to The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper for just a handful of varying examples of music that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be played live - for a host of differing reasons. And before you even ponder that, try factoring session players and THEIR livlihoods into your equation. Yet… you’re actually ADVOCATING the music companies get a piece of touring revenues? That was what kept you fed the last 4 decades. I doubt you would have EVER let that go. Besides, that concept is fine for Madonna and her ilk, who sign for multi millions with Live Nation (time will tell if that’s even a sustainable model), but to take money from working stiff musicians is absurd. Record Companies are notorious for accounting fraud, and you want them in YOUR business? This notion is short sighted and simplistic at LEAST. Buffoonery when seriously considered for even a moment.

    By Sam on Dec 20, 2008

  9. Sorry… forgot to mention the home recording musician who does it ALL himself. Recording, marketing, promoting, etc. You feel he should lose out on downloading, too? In your model, if a home recording enthusiast makes beautiful music on a multitrack machine - and is cursed with stage fright - he’s shit out of luck. Ely needs to think past his own nose.

    By Sam on Dec 20, 2008

  10. I like the Radiohead/NIN ideals, by donation or free, make $$$ at the shows and tour extensively. In many case most of today’s gems are indie releases and self promoted. At the same thought thought I can’t count how many bands I’ve been turned on to at concerts and festivals. Jack Ely hits the nail on the head but as Sam mentions, misses the beat. It boils down to greed, avarice and rapaciousness when money gets in the way of creativity, entertainment and art.

    By Deak Mauvais on Dec 22, 2008

  11. Before I go on, I have to say thanks to Jack Ely and his friends, and Richard Berry, too, for giving us one of rock’n'roll’s immortal icons. I’d love to know what it’s like to have been part of something like that, or “Layla,” or “You’ve Lost That Lovn’ Feeling,” or “Wipe Out” (how many tables and desks were pounded on in homage to that song?), something along that line?

    Live gigs pay the musicians more than most record sales ever will. The lion’s share of record profits go to the producers, manufacturers, and distribution companies.

    Obviously, the exact figures, or percentages, vary from one act to another.

    Not being able to exactly replicate a recording is, as I see it, a good thing. If I wanted to hear a song the saame way every time, with none of the passion a live performance gives, I’d buy the record/tape/CD for a lot less than the cost of a ticket to a show. For me, the “4 Way Street” live version of “Pre-Road Downs” beats the shit out of that backwards crap (and let’s not forget the vocals fasttracking CSN and the Byrds did, also not desirable in stage for me).

    Most of that “throw a band together” stuff from the early days of rock’n'roll gave us a lot of one-hit wonders, and a lot of musicians were never able to break free from the companies and producers - many of whom pushed their own songs, or ones they had a piece of.

    When that part of the business faded, we were all better off for its demise.

    When you become friggin’ huge in the industry, then you can record all kinds of jabber, knowing your huge fan base will buy it without any supported tour. But that is the exception, and not the rule.

    And, again my own tastes, if a recording is way too over-produced - which is just about everything these days - I’m not going to buy it, watch the band play, not even on TV, or listen to them.

    The portion of the music industry Mr. Ely refers to has struggled for years under the yoke of big business and RIAA opression; fortunately, self-produced, small labels, and indies have taken foothold.

    By O.B. Dan on Dec 29, 2008

  12. It’s simple: Musicians should get paid for their music AND for their performances.

    If they have to rely only on live shows, a lot of problems arise.
    First, as Sam mentioned, stage fright or “natural things” like illness or having children can prevent a musician from touring. Why should these people starve?

    Second, if (more or less) all musicians have to make their money with touring, chances are that they want more money for the shows (because they have no other income, because they don’t want to be far from home nine months a year, because travelling is expensive,…).
    That would make concerts even more expensive than they already are.
    No concert should cost more than 70 or 80 Dollars/Euro. Higher prices are a ripoff and nothing else and these concerts should be boycotted. But who does this when he has the chance to see a show of one of his favourite artists? I paid 170 Euros to see Leonard Cohen (and I fear I would do it again): it was a wonderful concert but I still get angry when I think about the money.
    Who on our side (fans/consumers) has so much money to see more than 2 or 3 “big” concerts in a year (when you also want to see some smaller ones)?

    If it should turn out the other way – that there are too many bands and the prices are sinking – it’s also bad for the musicians. This might happen on the lower level of the business and the already poor and struggling independent and underground bands would be the victims.

    I don’t think that the “big names” drop their prices just because there’s a crisis somewhere out there. There are still (too) many people who can afford these shows – but unfortunately much too often real fans can’t afford the tickets any more.

    By Walter on Jan 7, 2009

  13. Walter… the sad fact is, over the decades, most (low end) musicians have ALWAYS relied exclusively on touring to survive. As you probably know, when a band signs a deal, gets a hefty advance and gets a couple of albums out (even a million seller or two) - their record company money is gone quickly, and their royalites are (essentially) NEVER accurate. As almost any working musician will tell you, their record company/royalty arrangements are like an open bank account held by an ex-wife that never balances out - continually slammed by the record company’s own special way of accounting for advertising, tour support, studio costs, income, promotion, etc, etc. One great example: Were you aware that records and CDs sold via record clubs do not garner royalties for the artist? They are considered “promotional,” which is how they’re sold so cheap through the clubs (average $5-$6 when you factor in the free ones). That’s just one of hundreds of shameless ways that record companies - dedicated to their own bottom line (as most businesses are) - keep themselves in the black to bankroll more acts. Sure… that scenario changes for the artist with uber-stardom (and better lawyers and the record company needing the artist, instead of the other way around), but so does the living conditions of a plumber when he hits the lotto. Same odds, too. It’s why Ely’s notion is so absurd and unworkable. It’s just surprising the idea he’s pushing is coming from a working musican of his ilk - that is, surviving off the road for so long. I don’t know the guy, but I suspect that, over the years, old age had turned him into someone’s crazy uncle who just shouts shit at the dinner table and is largely ignored by those who know him best. Who knows… maybe he’s a genius. I just doubt he means what he says.

    By Sam on Jan 9, 2009

  14. I still agree with Ely. I got to know a lot of musicians when I worked for a local promoter, which paid off for me when I bought my bar (the acts I met on the way up were looking for decent bookings on the way down).

    A show that is not bloated with excess glitz that smaller promoters can handle turn the highest percentage of the take to the musicians. Keeping in mind that 20% of $5000 isn’t as much as 10% of $20,000, the percentages don’t necessarily mean it’s a big-bucks operation for the lesser acts - but it is a whole lot more honest.

    By O.B. Dan on Jan 10, 2009

  15. The corporate networks knew that their products were playable and could be duplicated on home computer equipment; if they’d wanted to prevent these options, this would have occurred. There simply could’ve been tactics to prevent it in the first place or to enourage alternate date usage or security measures. The tardiness with which certain corporations and artists have allowed their recordings to be legally distributed by download meant that a marketplace was open, indeed increases all the time, but had long been without sufficient product to distribute in that manner. It’s impossible to be sympathetic toward those blunders. While it’s important that copyright holders receive due royalties, it’s at least equally important to allow our free-speech rights to be exercised by sharing information with others. As long as no one illicitly profits, that system is sound. Glad to see someone who has a role in rock and roll history and is quite articulate look at the situation reasonably; he’s obviously far removed from the right-wing reactionary geeks in Metallica, for example.

    By Ned Kelly on Jan 22, 2009

  16. The whole Common and Drake situation,has reminded me of why fueds in Hip Hop are healthy. some of today’s best hip hop artistsjust don’t have that hunger that old school hip hop folk had.

    By Leslee Mau on Jan 16, 2012

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