Monthly Archives: February 2016

Why so greedy?

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It’s tax time here in the United States, and I have money (or at least taxable income) on my mind. So I thought I’d do a post about something that comes up in K-Pop and elsewhere: Why do celebrities get all upset over amounts of money that the average person would be delighted to come across?

The answer that most people come up with is that celebrities are greedy entitled douchebags. While that can certainly be true, there are also very good reasons why celebrities want what sounds like a whole lot of money–and why the very same people calling them greedy would do the exact same thing in their shoes, no matter how generous and good-natured they might in fact be.

It basically boils down to two issues.

Issue #1: The pie can be really fucking big–you’re just not seeing it.

If you remember the thought exercise I did recently, I made a $2 million pie shrink down to $33,000–just like magic!

Yeah, this kind of magic happens all the time in the arts.

And not just the arts. When Marvin Miller was elected to take over the U.S. baseball player’s union in 1966, a third of the players were making less than $10,000 a year. A few decades later, the average salary is $4 million, and $100 million contracts are not unheard of.

Where did all that money come from? It was always there.

I mean, yeah, owners now have to squeeze baseball fans more because it’s not like that $4 million per player is going to come out of their pockets, but 1. they can–fans will pay, and 2. the owners certainly weren’t making no shitty $10,000 a year back in 1966.

So why do regular people wax rhapsodic about the good old days–you know, back before greed ruined the game of baseball (and players were basically serfs)?

For one thing, Americans don’t like to acknowledge how much we spend on amusing ourselves. The fact that a team can afford to pay lots of people seriously large chunks of change means that . . . you are making that possible, instead of living the simple life and donating any excess income to charity like any decent saint would. Hedonist!

But the bigger thing in my mind is that regular people have a general sense of how much money individuals have, and it’s not gazillions of dollars. Corporations have gazillions of dollars, but that’s to be expected, because they are these abstract faceless enterprises that employ many people, plus it’s not like a regular person owns one and says, “Hey, yours is bigger than mine!”

So people read that Stephanie Meyer made $21 million from May 2010 to May 2011, and they think that’s obscene (especially if they didn’t like Twilight much) because they can envision that that’s a shit-load of money for one person to have. But when her publisher reports that falling sales of her books led the company to make $160 million less in 2011 than in 2010, unless people are total finance weenies, they don’t think about how small a piece of the pie (probably less than 10%) Meyers got.

And then they don’t ask: Is it fair that she got pennies for every dollar that Twilight made?

Issue #2: Careers can be really fucking short.

Do you know who’s a millionaire in the United States? The average high-school dropout who works full-time.

Oh, I don’t mean they get a million dollars all at once–but over their lifetime, if they work full-time, the average high-school dropout can expect to earn $1 million. Finish college, and it’s $2 million!

Of course, we’re talking about estimates that rely on a person being in the workforce for 40 years.

The average professional baseball player has a career that spans 5.6 years–and that’s actually pretty long for a professional athlete. It’s also a little shorter than the life-span of the average ’90s boy band, but not by much.

Let’s say that you are a somewhat popular pop singer with a five-year career, and in your brief but relatively successful time in the spotlight you make–dundunduuuuunnnhhhh!!a million dollars.

You started when you were 18, so now you’re 23. You’d rather not work a normal job (boooooring), but no one’s going to pay to see you on stage any more.

But you’re a millionaire!!! How hard can it be to live off your nest egg?

Your first plan is to spend it through! You’re 23, you’re thinking you’ll last until you’re 73, so that’s 50 years.

$1,000,000/50 = $20,000 a year

$20,000 a year!?!?! That’s fucking $10 an hour–you make that at Wal-Mart these days! This is not the glamorous existence you were expecting. Plus, what if you live until you’re 83? 93? What then?

OK, back to the drawing board–you’re going to invest. You’re going to sock that $1 million away into some solid, reliable blue-chip stocks that pay a dividend of 2-3% every year!

What’s 2-3% of $1,000,000? $20,000-$30,000 a year.

We can play this game forever, but the fact is that a million dollars is really not a lot of money for an entire lifetime. (Half a million, like what Luhan was supposedly making? No wonder he bailed.) And we’re assuming that when you were 18-23 years old–an age when most people are not exactly prone to making wise decisions–you didn’t spend your money. You didn’t buy your parents a house. You didn’t discover cocaine. You didn’t say, “I’m worth it.” You didn’t indulge at all.

No one is like this, and it shows. The minimum rookie salary in the National Basketball Association is $525,000. The average salary is $5 million.

Do you know how many NBA players file for bankruptcy within five years of retirement?

SIXTY PERCENT.

I am a wonky wonkus; or, Who, exactly, doesn’t make money from music?

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I’m back now from my trip up and down Middle America (including, I kid you not, some possible K-Pop cruising in Norman, Oklahoma–I was wearing a non-K-Pop themed Feggy Min shirt, and a young man wearing a pink donut T-shirt kept hanging around me and my mom while we were having lunch at Braum’s. Either he was an eagle-eyed fan of Korean hip-hop, or he was angling for my mom’s purse). And I was delighted to discover upon my return that Kpopalypse had done another post about the business of K-Pop! I love these meaty posts, because they always bring up enough unexplored avenues so that I can do my own post without having to think up something entirely new.

The main thrust of his article is that traditional K-Pop labels are extremely interested in having their idols get endorsements, and that the music is basically kind of a loss leader to attract endorsements, because endorsements are more lucrative. And I will say that I agree 100% with this–indeed, you will notice in this post a general theme that K-Pop labels are extremely interested in maximizing revenue, so a focus on endorsements makes sense.

The funny bit is what traditional K-Pop labels do to their talent to make them extremely interested in obtaining endorsements–something that also makes them extremely interested in obtaining acting or variety show gigs, willing to perform at event after event after event, and just generally focused on treating their musical career as a springboard to something else. Something that actually pays money.

What is it that they do? (Long-time readers of this blog are already chanting the answer, which rhymes with “Chipping at golf!”)

Let’s look at Kpopalypse’s seat-of-the-pants estimate of what individual members of Exo make from that group’s 2015 digital sales. (Why am I focusing on digital? Because with physical sales, you absolutely have to cut in a bevy of other people. Digital is much simpler.)

First, though, let’s look at Kpopalypse’s very important disclaimer: He is applying what he knows (what’s fairly typical to the Western music market) to what he does not know (SM Entertainment’s contract details)–this is a guesstimate, nothing more.

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So, for the 700,000+ digital sales Exo made in 2015, each member made a paltry $4,000. Sucks, yeah?

Buuuuut…you’ll notice that SM made $209,000. Add that back in and cut it nine ways and it’s still a relatively sucky $27,000. Buuuuut…that’s just Korean sales. In 2013 at least Block B probably made more than half their album sales outside of Korea.

You know, this is already Rhetorical Exo, so let’s say that Rhetorical Exo sells a 50/50 split between the Korean market and the international market. So the rhetorical members of Rhetorical Exo would, under our rhetorical contract, make $54,000 a year off those digital sales…if they got Rhetorical SM’s share as well as their own. They do not, so the digital market is still being written off as completely worthless by these rhetorical members, since they only got a crummy $8,000 out of it.

Hey! I’ve got an idea! Let’s make Rhetorical Exo even more rhetorical and cut out eight of the members…that makes them…oh, fuck, that makes them Park Kyung, doesn’t it? “Ordinary Love” has sold 800,000 copies. Zico–shit, Zico. Fucking Digital Godzilla. Since “Tough Cookie” in late 2014? We have to be really careful here because there are big sellers (“Fear”) that he produced for Show Me the Money and probably got paid less for, so I’m going to try to prorate instead of doing a straight count, but about 6 million digital copies? More or less?

Let’s make things easy for me and say that Rhetorical Zico has made enough digital sales since November 2014 that $2 million went directly to him and his label.

This is where the label’s cut gets really, ah, significant. Because if he has the traditional Western label contract with Seven Seasons (gonna guess that’s not actually the case, but we’re in the land of rhetoric), then he’s gonna see $300,000 of that. Stick him in the nine-member Rhetorical Exo, and it become $33,000–or an annual salary of $25,000.

From $2 million in 16 months to $25,000 a year. This is why contracts matter, kiddies–and why we no longer have hip-hop crews.

What musician had a contract that gave them a large cut of sales? Kpopalypse’s post covered that as well, and in an irony worthy of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, Rebecca Black did because her dodgy label, Ark Music Factory, offered her a 68% share.

Quoth Kpopalypse:

68% profit share to the artist is an unheard of sum in a real music industry contract – but the Ark Music Factory contract was designed this way on purpose so as many people as possible would feel better about forking out the initial few thousand dollars of “production fee”, the company didn’t actually except a song to succeed, the paperwork was designed assuming the song’s inevitable failure – like a music industry version of the Nigerian advance fee fraud scams that promise big reward later if you give a little now.

Gee! Wouldn’t it be terrible if a company–indeed, an entire industry–not only routinely gave its artists a shit cut but also routinely expected artists to pay huge up-front costs, or even go into debt, just to get signed?

I can’t think of an industry that does that!

Glamour! Excitement! Park Kyung!

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They arrive in the limo!

I love the expressions–Jaehyo is doing his best, Park Kyung honestly 100% loves this, and U-Kwon still doesn’t understand why he has to be here.

And later U-Kwon and Jaehyo are like, Welp, there’s food….

Nice, nice

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I’m on the road again, but I wanted to point out a couple of nice things that I noticed.

Thing #1: Some extremely determined individual managed to jam a Park Kyung article into Wikipedia.

It’s about time, right? “Ordinary Love” is STILL on Gaon, Problematic Men is doing really well in the ratings–I think even a non-fan would agree that Kyung should be on Wikipedia. But given my experience trying to get an article on there, I never even tried it. So thank you to the person who did–you are made of sterner stuff than I!

Thing#2: So, people know that Block B has scheduled two concerts in Seoul, right?

The exciting bit is the venue: 14,700 seats! Holy crap! The original Blockbuster concert was in a 2,500 seat venue, Blockbuster Remastering was in a 5,000-seat venue, and now we’re up to an actual stadium. Very cool! I mean, yeah, as a spectator of course I prefer a smaller venue, but it’s nice that Block B is in a place now where they can expect to fill a stadium–they can always switch down to smaller venues if they decide they prefer something more intimate.

What the Korean fans are, and what they are not

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With the excitement from Block B’s upcoming comeback, apparently some of the Korean fans have been getting pressure from international fans.

(Via Block B United.)

Even I’ve gotten a recent query or two about how to get in touch with the group or its staff through non-public channels. That’s really hilarious, considering that I’ve never managed to have a conversation with them myself. Throw in the fact that Korean fans are (OH MY GOD) in the same country!!! as Block B and have this veneer of exotic foreign-ness, and suddenly they are these omniscient beings.

Except they’re not. They are hard-working volunteers who benefit other fans and provide valuable marketing services to Block B.

Here’s what else they’re not.

STALKERS: It’s no secret that Block B hates stalkers.

What does that mean if you are one? You get kicked out of the Korean Block B Club and are no longer an official BBC.

Do you honestly think that the fan cammers who the various members recognize and wave to at events, and then hassle on Twitter later, are stalkers? They get that kind of friendly recognition specifically because they follow the rules.

Do they know secret ways to contact the members? How would they learn these secret ways? By stalking! So, they would be taking the chance of losing the friendly recognition they have in order to gain access to secret ways of contacting the members–secret ways that they can’t actually use, of course, because then the members would know that they were stalkers, and everything would come crashing down.

FRIENDS OF THE MEMBERS OR THEIR STAFF: Is there a chance that maybe one or two of these people actually has some kind of friendly personal relationship with Block B or their staff? Sure–anything is possible.

But that’s the bitch of being actual friends with someone famous–no one can know, especially not fans. If you try to parlay that relationship into status in a fanbase, you will quickly discover that the relationship is no more.

In other words, if they are friends (and they’re probably not), it’s never going to do you any good.

(And, yes, I do realize that in other K-Pop fandoms higher-profile fans do believe themselves to have a super-special relationship with a particular idol. It always turns out so well, doesn’t it?)

TRANSLATORS: Dear God, nothing triggers the rage more than seeing “friendly” Tweets to the Korean fans “helpfully” suggesting that they use English.

This by people who are clearly too fucking lazy to click on the auto-translate button that appears in every Tweet.

Why don’t you write in Korean? Or Farsi? Or Ukrainian? I mean, it’s so fucking easy! And it would be so much more convenient for people. Just a suggestion! Thanx!

PAID TO PUT UP WITH YOUR SHIT: Again, these people are volunteers. They can (and do!) shut down because their lives get too busy or they’re just tired of this particular hobby. Keep being dicks to them, and they will reach that point that much more quickly,

Try to remember who you’re dealing with

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So, there’s been a lot of excitement/angst out there because Soompi said Block B was coming back in March (but that Seven Seasons hadn’t confirmed the date), and then Koreaboo said that Seven Seasons hadn’t confirmed anything, and nobody knows what to think. (ETA: And now you know!)

If you delve into the fan stuff, it’s not any less confusing, because there are fan organization that are acting like it’s full speed ahead, and other fans who are saying, hey, calm down, much of what’s going around is unconfirmed.

And guess what? They’re both right!

Nothing’s been confirmed, but a non-confirmation isn’t always the same thing as a denial–remember what the non-confirmation of Zico’s latest release looked like. And remember that Seven Seasons is the company that released the first teaser for “Conduct Zero” on April Fools’ Day.

This is how they entertain themselves.

Anyway–is anything confirmed? Nope!

Is it my personal opinion that we’re going to see something very soon? Uh, well, let me check:

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That would be a yes. Even if you include the February 24 release of the Japanese version of “Jackpot,” they don’t actually have many activities scheduled, and jeez, that leaves a great big old hole in March there….

You know what it reminds me of? Last October! Yes, back then I was pretty sure Block B was planning a comeback because of the way the schedule looked, and then it was scrapped for totally mysterious reasons no intelligent person could possibly suss out.

Funny thing: Since October the group’s activities have been pretty much limited to 1. Zico’s releases, 2. Park Kyung’s regular appearances on Problematic Men, and 3. things that have to be planned out months in advance, like the Japan tour in January, P.O’s theater show (which he helped write and produce–he wasn’t just cast in someone else’s show, so the time frame is longer), and the Japanese release of “Jackpot.”

What there hasn’t been is this bustle of new activities–it’s been very quiet for anyone who isn’t Zico. It’s almost like they’ve been waiting for something! Something that requires everyone’s cooperation. What could that be…?

Of course, I could be wrong! It’s just a theory! We don’t have official confirmation! But you know, if you don’t usually tune into the Block B news, you might want to start….