When New York Times op-ed columnist, Nobel Prize-winning economist and indie-music fan Paul Krugman, 62, goes to see a band at Bowery Ballroom, he can't help but run the numbers. "Even for bands that have wildly enthusiastic followings, it's still $15 a ticket," he says. "At that level, it's very hard to see how they get very far." Billboard asked Krugman, who's a fan of Lucius and San Fermin, to take a macro look at the music industry. His read was not exactly rosy.
Let's say you are made the czar of the music business. How do you ensure that artists are paid fairly?
Wow. I wish I had a lot of positive suggestions. When I did some homework for a South by Southwest panel, I was surprised at how little has changed for artists. Extreme superstars always have earned about the same relative to the mere mortals. If you look at Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, who toured America in the 1850s, and Elizabeth Billington, the star of London opera in the 1800s, and if you scale what they made by our best estimates of per capita income at the time, basically, they were Taylor Swift. It was always about the live performances. Artists have never made much money from royalties. Even in the height of the CD era, artist earnings from live performances were something like seven times that from their recording.