Steve Albini Talks Music Business

Renowned producer Steve Albini sat down for a telling interview last week at the Primavera Pro conference in Barcelona, Spain. In town to perform with his band Shellac at the Primavera Sound festival, the famed In Utero producer discussed the trials and tribulations of the music business with Joan Pons, a local music reporter. Known for his 1993 essay, “The Problem with Music,” Albini was almost boastful in his comments, as many of his projections from the ’93 essay have come to pass. Albini has always been forthright in discussing the problems with the music business, and has been supportive of artists who he feels are under-compensated for their music.

“I don’t feel like I am part of the music industry,” Albini noted at the conference. “The music industry meaning the corporatized business structure where there are people on the lower level and people on the upper level, and people in administration making legal relationships between all these people. I’ve never felt like I was part of that. All of that has always really bothered me. And when I think about it, it makes me angry that it exists as a parasite on the music scene, which is the fans, and bands the people who go to shows. This administrative business structure that’s siphoning money out of that whole scene, that has always to me seemed artificial and unnecessary.”

Albini went on to discuss how he works with artists, as well as the business of his studio, Electrical Audio in Chicago. “I don’t use contracts in my business,” the producer explained. “If someone wants me to work on a record we organize the time, we do it, they pay for it and its done. As long as everyone is having a good time it will continue. And I think that is the best, the safest and above all the most reasonable way to conduct business. Not just with an informal thing, but even very important things like millions of dollars worth of business through my band and a record label.” Albini also talked about how his own bands have never used recording contracts. “My band has been releasing records on the record label Touch and Go since the 1980s,” he said. “One band and the next band and now Shellac. We’ve never had any kind of formal arrangement with them, no contracts, not even a conversation about how we are obligated to each other. But they keep doing a good job with our records and they keep being satisfied with us, and we keep having a good experience, so the relationship just naturally continues.”

Albini also discussed the existing copyright model as “an expired concept,” and suggested that society will have to modify how it looks at intellectual property. ” That old copyright model of the person who wrote something down owns it and anyone else who wants to use it or see it has to pay him, I think that model has expired. And people who are trying to defend that model are like people on horseback trying to fight against the automobile,” Albini explained. The engineer also said that using the term “piracy to describe people downloading music for free is absurd. “Actually, piracy is people boarding a slip with violence and killing people and physically stealing material goods that are then no longer available to people who used to own them. I think equating somebody downloading something on his iPhone with that is preposterous.”

Steve Albini has engineered or produced hundreds of albums from a wide variety of artists. He is perhaps best known for his work on Nirvana’s In Utero, but has also worked with Jimmy Page, Rober Plant, Chevelle, Bush, The Pixies and many other popular musicians. Albini has worked with four different bands as a musician, and hundreds of albums have been recorded at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago.