Why Jewish Music Albums Aren’t Making Their Producers Rich

jewish_cdsIf you thought those Jewish singers putting out records are really ‘making it big’ out there, think again. TLS spoke to several singers in the Jewish music industry – some locally – and what we found was shocking. “He’s basically not putting out much anymore, because of the copying today”, an agent for a popular singer tells TLS. “It just doesn’t pay”. “Kids and adults alike  just rip it, and put it on their ipods today, and nobody is buying CD’s anymore”, he says. “So he sticks more to weddings and concerts”.

It was the similar reaction of one Lakewood singer we spoke to. He says the cost of putting out a CD today can be upwards of $100,000, and that money doesn’t come ‘rolling in’ as fast as people think. “You think even a ‘hot’ Jewish album is selling a half million copies? This isn’t the secular music world”. “it’s a limited market”, he said.

In a recent ‘I report’ interview with the ‘King of Jewish Music’, MBD discusses the issue of copying music, and references a letter signed by Gedolim, including Reb Elyashiv Shlita. “In reference to copying CD’s, in an instance where the owner is ‘Makpid’, even to copy one for your own personal use, is prohibited”, he says.

MBD continues to say, that it’s no different than walking over to someone and taking a $20 dollar bill out of his pocket.

“Do you know how hard we work on a CD”? he asks. “Two years of work, hundreds upon hundreds of hours and probably $100,000 on the production.  It’s blood, sweat and tears”, MBD says.

But like one particular singer put it, “A CD is just like a business card, a live business card”, saying he doesn’t expect to make much – if anything – off of his CD, but says it’s merely a business card for potential customers looking to hire a wedding singer etc.

Dovid Gabay tells TLS, “I have people come over to me and say, “Being that weddings and concerts are your main thing, and you don’t expect to make money off CD’s anyway, can I copy them?”, Dovid tells TLS in chuckling way.

“I am Makpid about it”, Dovid says.

“With technology today, it’s a matter of minutes from when a CD is ‘ripped’ out of it’s plastic, and put onto an ipod”, another singer tells TLS. “We’re not oblivious to what’s going on, but there isn’t really a way to stop it today” he says.

So if you were wondering why the producers are not ‘making millions’, and why some singers are not looking to ‘pop out’ CD’s as fast as they used to, now you know. TLS.

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    I argue with people about the ethics of downloaded music files from the Internet. I say that downloading songs or copying your own songs to give to someone else, without a copyright owner’s permission, or not compensating the owner, is stealing. What do you say about this?


    Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztl said that it’s not permitted to copy any item that is being sold by the creator of that item. Every time you copy it, you’re taking away sales from him. Anybody who downloads it, copies it, or does something else is really just turning someone else’s money into ashes. And that’s really the bottom line. It’s taking something from someone else.

    This is one of the areas where people say, “Everyone does it, and it really should be mutar (permitted)”. People copy tapes and download from the Internet. Everything becomes “public domain”. There’s nothing private. People just download it and copy it and they’ll wipe the owner out.

    But even if everyone does it, it’s wrong. You’re taking away something from someone and you’re harming him.

    Sometimes people object to this argument and say, “Well, in that case, I’m probably not even allowed to copy down a shtikel (piece of) Torah that I heard.” But that’s not true – the Shach says “Ein gezel b’divrei Torah (there’s no stealing when it comes to Torah)”, that is, if you copy it down for yourself.

    The guideline here involves whether or not what you’re doing is taking away a sale from the owner. One might say, if asked this question, “Oh, I would never have bought that anyway.” But in fact you shouldn’t say that. You do like it … and you would have bought it.

    However, if you buy one and make a copy for yourself so that you can have, say, one in the car and one at home – that kind of copying is permitted. No one buys two of something for such a purpose, so copying the merchandise in this case doesn’t take the place of a sale. If you told a person who wanted one copy for the house and one for the car that he had to buy two, then he wouldn’t buy two. He would figure a way to carry it back and forth each time.

    Since buying two copies for such a purpose is never done, then making a copy for yourself for two locations is not taking away a sale.


    Is copying music a different type of stealing than any other type of stealing? Or is it just like any kind of stealing? Is there a principal that stealing is stealing and there are no distinctions? Is it just like walking over to someone with a gun? In this case we’re talking about intellectual property. So is that a lesser degree of stealing?


    The concept of ‘stealing’ intellectual property has limitations because in certain cases it is permitted to copy an idea. For example, if someone comes up with some idea about how to sell something, that idea is probably not subject to being copyrighted or patented. But a song is copyrighted, and people do business by selling records or tapes with songs. This is an item that brings a livelihood to people. Therefore, if you’re taking it, you’re taking away the livelihood of a person.

    That’s very important to remember. Someone sweated nights and invested money and time in order to create a certain item that the public is interested in, and then he’s ready to sell it. And then it turns out that some Napster type of enterprise gets its hands on it, and people end up paying zero for it.

  2. Its time for them to face the music and just like the no jewish world u can buy an album online cuitting al dealer fees for half the price $15-$20 a cd is just to expensive I haven’t bought a cd in years and I don’t burn often but 5-10 I would be downloading much more often.
    I heard on the radio a few years ago a major non jewish singer put out his cd online free (prior to release in stores) with a donation link he said he made more money of the small donation then he would have in selling cds.

  3. to number 2:

    Almost every major Aderet or Sameach CD is available for instant download (with the PDF Booklet) for $11.99.

    You are welcome to your reasoning but it’s outdated. If you dont want to buy a CD for $20 in a store you can download all major CD’s (Shwekey, Gabay, Baruch Levine, MBD, Lipa, Benny Friedman, Shua Kessin, HASC) all for $12 instantly.

  4. Anon
    not that i dont agree that it is stealing but how come a tape costs $9.99 and that involves material, (the cassette cover and case) shipping marketing in storaes and storage as opposed to a download that requires none of these and still costs $11.99? is it just because they figure that they could charge that?
    In addition, I dont know if this is an option with other markets but it would be nice if people could buy and download only the individual song that they want.

  5. I don’t think the illegal copying is as bad as they make it out to be (and I do NOT copy CD’s). I think a very large part of the problem the singers are facing is due to the radio stations and online radio stations which are playing Jewish music all day (think: 107.9, Nachum Segal, Mostly Music/Jewishbroadcast.com, 5 towns jewish radio etc etc etc). Who needs to buy CD’s when you can get great songs for free on the radio.
    Perhaps the radio stations should be paying a small royalty to the singers/music company for each time they play a song. I believe this is how it goes with non-jewish radio stations.

  6. to lakewood scopper . everyone knows that tape quality and cd / download quality are not the same . actually worlds apart why shouldnt they charge more for that quality.. would you pay the same money for a volkswagon as you would for a volvo?

  7. the legal loophole of older stuff is to buy the tape for at most $9 and many for even $2 and then copy (it) [the cd from someone else] to your mp3/ipod/ etc. [halacha berura]

  8. how come a tape is $9.99 but a cd costs $15. does a blank cd cost $5 more than a blank cassette? if anything its cheaper.
    I think we are being ripped off

  9. the real reason sales down cause the oilem aint got no money, I don’t rip, but I don’t buy cause I aint got 25 bbucks to blow on a cd unless it was really good. book sales are also down the oilem is broke , its a new era and we must restucture evrything to stay in business

  10. I found the following Teshuva on halachafortoday.com

    123) Q: I want to know if its against the halacha to copy music from other people. Some people claim its not, since you’re not actually stealing something.

    A: Firstly, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein Zatzal and other Poskim (including Rav Shmuel Wosner Shlita, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg Shlita and Rav Yisroel Belsky Shlita) , you are prohibited from copying any item that has been created by someone else, if that person is selling it. This would apply to jewelry, art, Sefarim…and copying Torah or music tapes as well. The reason is that doing so will cause the creator of the item to lose sales, and thus lose money due to your action and is Gezeilah (See Igros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. 4 Siman 40:19)

    Therefore, many of today’s Poskim pasken that if you bought the tape, CD or music download and you want to make an additional copy for yourself (let’s say to keep one at home and one in the car) it would be permitted, as most people don’t, and wouldn’t, buy two copies, and making the second copy for yourself is not causing the creator to lose a sale. But to copy someone else’s CD for your own use is prohibited.

    The fact that a song is an “intellectual creation” makes no difference, and one who steals it is guilty of the sin of stealing. This is especially true if the music CD in question is specifically sold on this condition (as most are today) which in most cases can withhold certain “rights” from the buyer, thus one cannot claim that “I bought it, and it is now mine to with as I please, including copying etc.)

    Furthermore when there are copyright laws in effect which prohibit the copying of the music, it would also be prohibited Halachically based on the concept of “Dina D’Malchusa Dina- that a Jew must obey the civil laws of the host country he/she resides in” (See Shach Yoreh Deah 165:8)

    Although certain Rabbanim have ruled that even for personal use (as a second copy) is prohibited, one may rely on the above Poskim and indeed make a copy for personal use. However, one who relies on “Heterim” to initially copy a music CD or download is probably transgressing a “D’Oraisa” of Geneiva. (Is it really worth becoming a thief to save $14.99?)

  11. To # 12

    See # 1;

    “However, if you buy one and make a copy for yourself so that you can have, say, one in the car and one at home – that kind of copying is permitted. No one buys two of something for such a purpose, so copying the merchandise in this case doesn’t take the place of a sale. If you told a person who wanted one copy for the house and one for the car that he had to buy two, then he wouldn’t buy two. He would figure a way to carry it back and forth each time.

    Since buying two copies for such a purpose is never done, then making a copy for yourself for two locations is not taking away a sale.”

  12. I spoke to a producer, a CD is cheaper to make than a tape. So y is it $15 ? But, the truth is, just ‘vuz we’re. Getting RIPped off doesn’t mean we can steal. But, I make copies of all cd’s I buy, just to have because CD’s, by me, break or scratch in a month or 2 ! This, of course, doesn’t change my firm opinion, which is – Dovod Gabay Rocks !!

  13. Explain how in the world is someone supposed to afford to buy every CD?? Remember the singers want pepole to hear their cds so they ill get hired for chasuna, concerts etc…..

  14. Yossi Green told my friend that the real culprit is not the Ipod, its the cell phone, because people used to listen to music in the car & now they just talk on the phone.

    Singers want to blame the “velt” for their bad investments, try putting out a tape that’s not full of filler, & everyonr WILL buy it!

  15. The latest cd’s are not good at all. That’s why the olam us not buying it.
    I the producers would put out good tapes many people would buy it. and the radio stations help boost sales many times tou hear a song online or on the radio you end up liking it and go buy the tape.

  16. my husband, who is a massive talmid chacham- told me that it is mutter gamur as long as noone chops that you copied it. we have hundreds of copied cd’s in our house. and we are still very frum.

  17. I understand why the singers are upset I really do. But fabricating halachos plus being completely unrealistic doesn’t help the situation. he’s saying I’m not aloud to rip to my own ipod? first of all why why would he be makpid on that? the demographic that spends money on music will probably own an ipod, and will certainly copy it to ipod. so basically he is out of touch with his own customers.
    as far as “halacha” you can’t be makpid and just create your own isorim like that. It doesn’t work that way. There is no copy-right law in halacha. The only reason why you can’t do it for seforim is because of cheirim. music has no such cherim. if your teinning mekoch tois, thats also not a teinah. let the orriginal owner take it back, give the customer back his money though.

  18. Genius
    The opposite is true. In the non Jewish world often the producers of song material themselves will PAY to have the songs played, and will definitely not charge the stations to play them.
    The advertisement is worth it, trust me. We all know that if you hear a gorgeous song you’re going o go out and buy the CD.

  19. …what about all the Jewish singers and composers who steal other people’s compositions and use them for their songs? Are you allowed to copy those? Ask any Jewish musician – they can tell you many more… Little hypocritical, don’t you think?
    (Not saying two wrongs make a right, or that people should copy anyone’s music. But it’s important to know the truth, and also to know what you’re dancing to at your next wedding.)

  20. People are confused. If I buy a CD can I copy it for use in my car, my stereo, my ipod, etc? In the old days I would take the cassette and use it in each location of mine.

    Or if you have KNH a large family and the mommy buys a CD for her family, does that mean she could make copies for IN HOUSE USE ONLY?

  21. The single protection that the producers of Jewish music have is hasagus g’vul. The producers of non Jewish music obviously do not have this protection. Hence, the assertions that it’s a free-for-all because the Jewish composers were insipired by non-Jewish music are unfounded.

  22. At the end off the day I think all singers and producers should be Mochel those that have done it. Am not saying it’s rite or that I do it but why would u all WANt to meet up in the same gehenom for stealing It well be embarrassing An wouldn’t be worth coming back to this world that’s for sure.

  23. The single reason why producers of Jewish music albums aren’t getting rich of them is the same reason why I’m not getting rich selling lemonade in front of my house although Minute Maid is earning billions.

    That reason is market size. If the market were large enough to get them rich, the copying, while eating into their profits, would not be the deciding factor.

    In Lakewood alone, it’s unlikely that even a popular CD, in a perfect no-copying world, would sell more than 2000 copies. At $15 a pop, with the retail outlet taking a couple of bucks off the top, less manufacturing, packaging and shipping, the producers are probably netting less than $10. And that’s before production costs. 2000 copies is $20,000. Assume that they sell 20,000 in the NYC metro area. Assume 30,000 total. That’s $300,000, and they’ve got to pay musicians, engineers, studio time, arrangers, composers, etc. If those costs are actually $100,000, and the other $200,000 is split 4 ways between what are likely several principals, well, sorry. Nobody’s getting rich off that. Double your sales to 60,000 and they’ll just be a bit less poor. Double it again and they’re still poor.

    The scale just isn’t there.

  24. As someone involved in the JM scene for a long while, I can tell you this. Very few people have EVER made money off Jewish albums. MBD and Fried MIGHT HAVE made some money off it, but the market size just isn’t big enough to justify the investment just for the album. However, the reason you put out an album is for event bookings, i.e. weddings, concerts etc. It’s your biggest advertisement. People get to hear you at your top form (assuming your producer has some kind of talent). That justifies the investment. It’s like any other business investing in advertising.

  25. his is especially true if the music CD in question is specifically sold on this condition (as most are today) which in most cases can withhold certain “rights” from the buyer, thus one cannot claim that “I bought it, and it is now mine to with as I please, including copying etc.)

    I heard from a certain chashuv rosh hayeshiva, that these conditions are a joke. He said someone should go over to the producer or record company, tell them you broke the tnaii and made a copy. Now you want your money back (they can have the cd back) because the mechirah b’tnaii is now battul. See if they give it back to you.

  26. how about the producers & singers create a site where ppl can do teshuva & can ‘pay’ for the songs that were not purchased. A fee/rate per song. I’m sure during elul through erev yk revenue will be high.

  27. I agree with what someone said before; the reason why they’re not making money is because the music isn’t great. When a CD is worth the price, people buy it. Yerachmiel Begun had an ad in the paper after “Revach” came out saying that it was the best selling Jewish CD ever. That was long after Ipods and after MBD was complaining that digital copies were ruining the business. Lipa Baderech (leaving controversy out of this) appealed to many people and many people bought it. Stores couldn’t keep AKA Pella in stock, although the people who listen to it are probably more likely to have Ipods than your standard Yossele fan.

    Also, there is much more competition. in the eighties, there were two singers, Avraham Fried and MBD. Now, there are thirty singers with different styles, so naturally, the market is split many more different ways.

    Furthermore, the price of making a CD seems to be three times as high as it was a few years ago. If revenues are really so far down, why are they spending so much money producing the CDs? If computers are so detrimental, why not utilize those same computers to put out music for cheaper, and be profitable that way?

  28. who cares if ur getting ripped off? its the singers property- he can sell it for as much as he wants. u can choose whether to buy it or not, but u cant STEAL it?!

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