Bill Maxwell: I Used To Think Record Companies Were Crooks (1982)

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L-R Leon Russell & Bill Maxwell

SKF NOTE: Drummer/producer Bill Maxwell stopped by Modern Drummer on August 17, 1982 for a feature interview, published in August 1983Andrae Crouch, The Winans, Freddie Hubbard, Koinonia — Bill Maxwell’s work as drummer and producer is among the best. I said in my previous Bill Maxwell post — Bill had many valuable things to say about music, drumming, and life.

Here’s Bill Maxwell on drummers knowing about the music business. That was a key interest of mine. As often as possible, I asked interview questions about “the business.” Of course, the world of digital music hadn’t arrived yet. Some of the details here about record companies is dated.

But some of what Bill says holds true. Understanding the music business still makes good sense. And readers can sense in this exchange some record industry pressure spots that, once digital recording and distribution was in full swing, exploded.

Scott K Fish: How did you learn about the business end of music?

Bill Maxwell: I remember I took a course in high school on business law and business math that made sense. The first record contract I ever signed — I was about 17. I remember reading that and getting the legal jargon.

Then when I got hired at the record company three-and-a-half years ago to be Director of A&R — I had already started learning this — but, I got to go in and be privvy to where every cent goes in records.

The record business is a thing of pennies. At that time you could buy a record for $6.00. So many pennies go into that.

When you break it down to the fact that the store buys [a record] for half of retail cost, or about $3.00. Then you’ve got a [record] distributor. Now you’re talking about $2.50.

You’re talking about pennies by the time you pay for the album covers, artist royalties, promotion, operating costs of your business. I learned how every bit of it worked, how it went.

I used to think record companies were crooks, that they were all out to cheat us out of our money. But you’d be real shocked when you break it down that simply.

The only questionable area is how some companies operate in their expenses, or why their overhead’s high.

But if I had a million dollars, and I was going to invest in something, a record company would be about the last thing. It’s just not in a profit ratio.

SKF: Are [music] videos hurting records?

BM: A lot of things are. I think the first thing is that the music’s not happening. The second thing is, a lot of money’s been spent on video games. There’s a lot of addiction to that that we didn’t have before.

There’s the accessibility of movies in homes, accessibility to concerts over television. But, first and foremost is that there’s not that much new being done.

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