Adam Ruins Music

Sep 11 2019

It's time to face the music, as Adam reveals the racism behind rock & roll's origins and the egregious fees of Live Nation's monopoly. He then defends musicians who "sell out" to make a living in today’s digital landscape.


"Long before Elvis was dubbed 'The King,' black men and women developed some of the most iconic, recognizable sounds in music. Muddy Waters’ electric blues guitar sound laid the groundwork for rock ‘n’ roll."

“Muddy Waters.” Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 1987.

"Whoa, that’s in a BUNCH of songs -- 'Faith,' 'Desire,' 'I Want Candy...'" 

Neil Strauss. “The Indestructible Beat of Bo Diddley.”Rolling Stone,25 Aug 2005.

"And my personal favorite, gospel artist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, was arguably the FIRST musician to ever play a rock 'n' roll guitar run!"

Jessica Diaz-Hurtado. “Forbears: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Godmother of Rock n’ Roll.”WBUR News, 24 Aug 2017.

"There were separate record labels, publishers, venues... even GENRES! And from 1920-1949, ANY music made by black artists was sold and marketed as a 'Race Record.'"

Nelson George, Billboard,26 Jun 1962.

"But in 1955, when a New York DJ named Alan Freed started billing popular R&B tracks on mainstream radio as 'rock 'n' roll,' white record execs wanted IN."

Portia Maultsby. Issues in African-American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation. Routledge, 2016.

"...which REALLY meant, 'more marketable for white people.' So they started having WHITE singers cover hit R&B songs, and putting ALL their resources behind making THEM the faces of rock 'n' roll." 

Glenn C. Altschuler. All Shook Up: How Rock ’n’ Roll Changed AmericaOxford University Press, 2004.

"...and soon, white guys like Elvis weren't just singing the same lyrics -- they started straight-up adopting the distinctive R&B vocal SOUND. And while black radio stations embraced both black AND white rockers, white pop radio REFUSED to play the black artists."

Portia Maultsby. Issues in African-American Music: Power, Gender, Race, Representation. Routledge, 2016.

"Despite the fact that bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were clearly -- and openly! -- influenced by black artists, music critics and fans worship THESE bands as the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll..."

Jack Hamilton.Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination.Harvard University Press, 2016.

"So in 1982, TicketMaster started offering concert fans a way to purchase tickets by phone -- and more importantly, offered VENUES a way to make an EXTRA PROFIT off of each sale. 

Dean Budnick and Josh Baron. Ticket Masters: the Rise of the Concert Industry and How the Public Got ScalpedPlume, 2012.

"It was SUCH a successful business model, within three years, TicketMaster grew into a multi- million dollar company! And to keep it going, they just kept RAISING their fees!"

Janet Morrissey. Can Ticketmaster’s Builder Now Unseat It?New York Times, 11 Jun 2011. 

In 1994, Pearl Jam led the charge to fight BACK against TicketMaster’s exorbitant fees. 

Eric Boehlert. Pearl Jam: Taking On Ticketmaster.Rolling Stone, 28 Dec 1995.

When Pearl Jam filed a federal anti- trust lawsuit against TicketMaster and tried to go AROUND them to sell tickets without fees, TicketMaster convinced all the major venues and promoters to BAN the band. 

Fred Moody. Pearl Jam Versus Ticketmaster.Seattle Weekly, 2 Nov 1994.

"Think about that! TicketMaster was SO POWERFUL, they were able to keep one of the most popular bands in the WORLD from touring, just because they wanted to use a different ticket vendor. In the end, the band had to CANCEL all their shows, lost $3 MILLION, AND, the anti-trust complaint they filed with the Justice Department failed to move forward."

Fred Moody. Pearl Jam Versus Ticketmaster.Seattle Weekly, 2 Nov 1994.

"Approving this merger was a HUGE deal. Because once it happened, LiveNation and Ticket Master could control basically the ENTIRE concert experience! Now they’re the talent managers, the venue, AND the box office! 

David Dayen. “The Ticket Monopoly Is Worse Than Ever (Thanks, Obama.)”New Republic,15 May 2018.

And since they have no significant competition, that means they can charge concert fans WHATEVER they want! In fact, ticket prices are now at an ALL-TIME HIGH."

Ben Sisario and Graham Bowley. “Live Nation Rules Music Ticketing, Some Say with Threats.”New York Times,1 Apr 2018.

"In 2017, roughly HALF of LiveNation- TicketMaster’s revenue came from ticketing fees!"

Ben Sisario and Graham Bowley. “Live Nation Rules Music Ticketing, Some Say with Threats.”New York Times,1 Apr 2018.

"NOT DEFENDABLE! WOOO! But who’s gonna stop me?!" 

Dave Brooks. “Live Nation’s Michael Rapino Admits Some Ticket Fees ‘Not Defendable.’”Billboard,13 Oct 2017.

"And the worst part is, even their biggest competitor, AEG, uses this model -- so artists and fans are stuck with these fees no matter what. Even MY live shows have them!"

Althea Legaspi. “Ozzy Osbourne Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against AEG."Rolling Stone, 22 Mar 2018.

"But the rise of streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music have changed the industry. In 2017, music sales revenue was just 60% of what it was in 1999."

Recording Industry Association of America, 2018.

"Every time one of their songs is played on Spotify, artists only get around one tenth of one cent!"

Stuart Dredge. “Here’s How Much Musicians Make Online from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube.”The Guardian,3 Apr 2015.

"And that means it's harder than ever to make a living off music! For an artist to earn the U.S. monthly minimum wage, they have to get over 4 MILLION Spotify streams a month!"

“How Much Do Music Artists Earn Online?”Information Is Beautiful, 13 Apr 2010. 

"When early streaming services offered ILLEGALLY downloaded music, everyone took a hit. But then the labels started cutting contracts to license their ENTIRE catalogs."

Anna Nicolaou. “Revenue Streams: Spotify’s Bid to Generate a Profit.”Financial Times, 14 Jun 2018.

"And while their profits aren’t quite back to what they were in ‘90s, they’re bouncing back at a rate of $1 billion per year."

Recording Industry Association of America, 2018.

The only problem: the artists AREN’T getting a fair cut of those deals. Even Beyonce, one of the BIGGEST artists in the world, only makes 10% of her money off of her music sales! 

“Billboard’s Top 50 Moneymakers of 2016.”Billboard,13 Jul 2017.

"The Top 40 live acts can make up to 80% of their income touring. But everyone who’s BELOW the Top 40 is lucky if their tour even BREAKS EVEN!"

“Billboard’s Top 50 Moneymakers of 2016.”Billboard,13 Jul 2017.

"And TONS of artists get paid just to SHOW UP at events!"

Harry Wallop. “Here’s How Pop Stars Make Money Now That People Don’t Buy Music.”Business Insider, 7 May 2014.

In 2017, DIDDY was the highest-paid musician thanks to his 8-figure deal with Ciroc vodka -- and he hasn’t made an album in since 2010! More like Mo’ Money Less Albums, right? 

Zack O’Malley Greenburg. “Why Diddy is No. 1 on the 2017 Celebrity 100 List.”Forbes, 12 Jun 2017.

"It's also known as involuntary musical imagery, or INMI."

Lassi Liikkanen. “Musical activities predispose to involuntary musical imagery.”Psychology of Music40.2 (2011).

"Though commonly considered annoyances, earworms can be a variety of different songs, from those we like, to those we don’t, to totally random songs that we have no idea why they’re stuck in our head. We’re just more likely to remember the earworms that are annoying after the fact!"

Stephanie Pappas. “Why Do Songs Get Stuck in Your Head?”LiveScience,5 Mar 2017.

"There are ways to actually get rid of an earworm successfully! You can try listening to another song. Or even chewing gum."

Markham Heid. “You Asked: Why Do Certain Songs Get Stuck in Your Head?”Time,24 Jan 2018.

What’s that? We don’t have the rights? Well we don’t actually need them, because it’s in the public domain! Until very recently, singing Happy Birthday on film could cost you the shirt off your back, leaving you in your birthday suit. And how did that happen?

Joe Mullin. “‘Happy Birthday’ is public domain, former owner Warner/Chapell to pay $14m.”Ars Technica,10 Feb 2016.

"The melody was originally written schoolteacher Patty Hill and her sister Mildred in 1893 with the lyrics 'Good Morning To You.'"

Paul Collins. “You Say it’s Your Birthday.”Slate,21 Jul 2011.

"Their claim was always kinda suspect, but that didn’t stop Warner/Chappell from charging whatever license fees they wanted! Since filing their copyright, Warner Chappell Music raked in nearly TWO MILLIONS DOLLARS PER YEAR off the birthday song alone. Now, that’s a Happy Birthday!"

David Mikkelson. “Is ‘Happy Birthday to You’ Protected by Copyright?”Snopes,22 Sep 2015.

"Warner/Chappell Music settled for nearly fourteen million dollars, which is a lot, but only a FRACTION of what they made off the song."

Benjamin Weiser. “Birthday Song’s Copyright Leads to a Lawsuit for the Ages.”New York Times,13 Jun 2013.


This Slate podcast with Jack Hamilton discusses how rock n’ roll came to be coded as a white genre.

This is a good 20-year retrospective piece on the Pearl Jam - Ticketmaster battle.

This stunning infographici illustrates musicians' earnings through streaming services.