Something’s Off About Online Music

By Mark

I think everyone knows that life is pretty hard for indie musicians in Korea. Very few make it out of Hongdae (or wherever) and onto the national stage, very few can make a living at it. So with that in mind, there is a very interesting article over at the Hankyoreh’s website about the state of online music in Korea, in particular the bum deal that the artists receive from most music portals.

The lede comes from the recent death of Lee Jin-won, the singer behind the indie band Moonlight Nymph (aka, Moonlight Come From Behind Grand Slam), which the Hankyoreh relates to his having money problems. I did not know the singer, and I think he had not performed in about a year, or at least quite some time (actually, I have been told that he had been performing, with his last show on Oct. 31 at Club Bbang). Regardless, it is sad news.

The main problem mentioned in the article is the very low rates artists receive for their music here. In the rare instances where someone actually pays for a download (what a radical thought, I know), Korean portals typically charge 500 won, less than half of what iTunes charges. And then, the portals share much less of the money than Apple does, around 55 percent. Then there is 13.5 percent that goes to various rights groups (some of whom are extremely dodgy in Korea, and do not distribute their money fairly, if at all). So in the end, the artist and production company get just around 200 won to share.

Of course, the music sales sites would point out that they have to compete with streaming websites and all sorts of illegal downloading, so have no choice but to pick a low price point. But I think that misses the point. It is in the portals’ interest to have a strong, flourishing local music scene, so more people want to listen to more music. Pop music is what it is, but there is so much room for growth in live/indie/alt music. It is in the portals’ interest to support that scene. By being so short-sighted, the portals are just hurting themselves … not to mention all the artists struggling to make a living.

(Note: Cross-posted over at my other blog).

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