Law in the Internet Society

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BradleyMullinsFirstPaper 17 - 24 Jan 2010 - Main.EbenMoglen
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 Yet the move to 360 contracts may present a significant risk to artists. Signing a record deal always requires an artist to balance important considerations – an artist must decide whether the advances, financial backing, and marketing support are worth relinquishing control over his or her artistic product. Before 360 contracts, touring, merchandising and licensing were areas left largely in the artist’s control. Not only did this mean a greater share of profits, but also a greater ability to manage an artist’s own brand. Under a 360 contract, however, artists are required to forsake even this limited control. And control over one’s career should be a concern of every artist, a concern heightened by the potential nuptials between Live Nation, which helped spur the move to 360 contracts through its deal with Madonna, and Ticketmaster, the dominant (if not monopolistic) seller of concert tickets. While there is certainly an appeal to being aligned with the king, any artist should be frightened by a single entity that would largely control concert venues, tour promotion, merchandise production, ticket sales, and, through Live Nation’s parent Clear Channel, radio access.
  • Madonna does the deal in order to partially annuitize her business, and get the money out upfront. She is, to say the least, a knowledgeable party. That the companies think they can get young people to make the same sorts of deal with them only shows: (1) their arrogance, even now; (2) their assumptions about the desperation and business stupidity of musicians; (3) why no remorse about killing off the companies would be justified.

Artists Without Record Labels

Labels may survive free distribution of music, but that does not mean that they are a necessary component of new artist development as Lily Allen contends. The story of Allen’s own success runs counter to her argument -- her initial popularity was due in large part to her posting of demos on her Myspace account. Perhaps more importantly, new business models continue to provide opportunities for new artists to develop without resorting to the support of record labels, and suffering the resultant relinquishment of control. One such label alternative is the venture capital model represented by Polyphonic. Polyphonic treats new artists like a start-up company, providing an initial investment, typically $300,000, in return for a share of profits. Unlike a record deal, however, artists maintain control over their careers, recording their own music and handling decisions about publicity and touring. Additionally, Polyphonic artists retain ownership of their copyrights and master recordings.

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 It is likely that, in the foreseeable future, labels will remain an available option for developing artists. As new alternatives mature, however, artists should become more cautious about forsaking control of their career, and focus on utilizing free distribution to support alternate revenue streams. As artists are able to retain control over their creations, a greater diversity of new artist may be the actual result.
  • This is "balanced" advice, appropriate for an interview quote in some venue where you hope to connect with clients in your role as hip post-sleaze music industry contracts specialist representing young talent. As actual long-term prediction, it seems irrelevant to me. The issue isn't whether these companies are going to "survive": they're part of large ownership businesses that are going to continue to evolve to control as much culture as they can. What's happening around them is the story, as the alternate forms of cultural distribution made possible by the Net, all of which are better for both artists and listeners than they are, erode the idea of their necessity completely. More people want to make and listen to music in other ways than they can possibly prevent. They can own and merchandise mass market music, in a global setting where more people will come to music through other mechanisms over the next generation than they can reach despite the immense throwing power of the American cultural empire. But they can't stop merchandised music from competing poorly against artisanal, affiliational, and other unmerchandised music in a world where all music is weightless and goes everywhere instantaneously.

Revision 17r17 - 24 Jan 2010 - 20:24:30 - EbenMoglen
Revision 16r16 - 06 Dec 2009 - 23:42:30 - BradleyMullins
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