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Speculating About Rebecca Black’s Money

To start, four takes on how much the Rebecca Black phenomenon might have made last week.

Forbes: $1,000,000.  “At 30,000,000 views, that lands Black and Ark Music Factory $20,000 – a 1000% return on investment …the song currently sits at #45 on the iTunes Top Singles chart. According to 101 Distribution, an independent music distributor, iTunes pays out $.70 per single download in the United States. That’s a much juicier check for Black and Ark Music Factory; even if the numbers are exaggerated, the intake from ‘Friday’ could top $1 million.” (via Forbes)

Digital Music News: $45,850.  “This is not the rags-to-riches story the mainstream media craves, and it may never be.  So far, after a week-long frenzy and 35 million YouTube views, Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ has stirred just $45,850 according to our estimates, far less than the gargantuan numbers reported in places like Forbes.  That number will increase, and may push past $100,000 soon enough” (via Digital Music News)

Slate: $40,000. “there are a few problems with this accounting. First, the numbers. As for downloads, Billboard reports that “Friday” has sold just 37,000 copies, meaning the song has earned about $26,000. And as for YouTube plays, the number could be lower. Rates depend not just on page views, but also on how many people click on the advertisements. Thus, the song and video have earned perhaps $40,000 and counting—hardly chump change, but hardly $1 million either.  Then comes the all-important question of who is benefiting from such frothy pop nonsense. Specifically, how big of a cut is the Ark Music Factory, which wrote the song and made the video, taking?” (via Slate)

Billboard: $24,900. “Here’s the math: 43,000 tracks at $0.70 cents to the artist minus a 9% distribution fee, minus 0.91 cents apiece for mechanical royalties equals $24,900.  She may be pulling in a bit more money from YouTube views if she had the foresight to set up a content partner agreement before she got 30 million views. If so, that could amount to $15,000 to $20,000 for her 33 million views.” (via the excellent Glenn Peoples at Billboard)

On Friday, Ark Music released an exclusive video interview with their CEO vaguely describing their business practices, which in many ways reminded me of the major label model.  It inspired me to revisit Steve Albini’s now infamous essay about the Problem with Music from the artist’s perspective.

With the help of a video, the album went like hotcakes! They sold a quarter million copies! Here is the math that will explain just how fucked they are. (via The Baffler)

This essay captures the heady rollercoaster ride of ‘success’ while also shining a light on exactly how various standard music industry practices typically result in the artists walking away with very little.

Some people might compare Albini’s analysis with Rebecca Black’s situation and say, it’s different because she’s famous for being bad.  She was told not to expect anything to come from the video.  But based on the evidence I’ve seen, her situation doesn’t seem to me to be substantively different than many high profile artists that are widely considered inspiring or talented or otherwise worthy of benefiting from their gifts.  In both situations, the artist does not do it alone – there is a partner that makes an investment in their potential, shows them the ropes, and expects compensation in return in the event of success.  Sometimes the relationship becomes a fruitful partnership, other times it’s a power struggle, sometimes it’s both.  The devil is in the details of the agreement.

Did you see the Ark video?  That Patrice Wilson guy is running a business.  He co-wrote the song, produced and appeared in the music video, is advertising her iTunes downloads on his website.  In the video he talks about how “we provide that video, that image consultant, the photo shoot, everything… you even get lunch” for $2-4,000.  You think he’s not going to put a clause in their agreement that says in event of unexpected overwhelming viral success, he recoups his expenses and/or take a managers cut?

This false narrative we’re seeing of Rebecca Black making a million dollars in a week is problematic for me.  You really can’t count her money until you’ve seen the contract.

About Jean Cook

Jean Cook is a musician, producer and Director of Programs for Future of Music Coalition, a national nonprofit that works to improve the lives of musicians through research, education and advocacy on policy issues that directly impact the ability of musicians to make a living and reach audiences. She is a founder and director of Anti-Social Music, a New York-based new music collective, and currently records and tours with Ida/Elizabeth Mitchell, Jon Langford, and Beauty Pill. For FMC, she currently project directs initiatives to fix jazz and classical music metadata, analyze what is actually played on jazz radio (and how to improve data collection), and understand how copyright impacts indigenous artists in places like Ethiopia, Tajikistan and Australia.


  1. Thank you for bringing sanity to this topic. That Albini piece is *still* required reading for anyone who is considering a career in music.


  1. […] Speculating About Rebecca Black's Money You think he's not going to put a clause in their agreement that says in event of unexpected overwhelming viral success, he recoups his expenses and/or take a managers cut? This false narrative we're seeing of Rebecca Black making a . […]

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