Indies celebrate Independence Day
Finding the sharing button
Interview Did anyone, I wonder, ever buy just one Motown single? Or just one 2-Tone single? And while you're pondering... can you even remember what major label your favourite artist is on? Unigram, perhaps. Or Polycorpse.
The received wisdom today is that the record label is doomed. Not surprisingly, since the Big Five (now Four) labels have done everything they can to persuade us that the label is doomed, too, over the past ten years.
But the indies would like to disagree. Today marks the culmination of a series of fundraising events by the independent music companies around the world to remind us there's a lot of life outside the Big Four. Independence Day 08 today is organized by WIN, the World Independent Network, to promote the indie cause and, er... network together.
Certainly they've contributed most of the positive thinking in the music business in recent years - the indies licensed Napster, preferring to do business with it rather than close it down. They've created Merlin, a one stop licensing outfit, which majors should have done but didn't. So they deserve to give themselves a pat on the back.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that 2-Tone, after the first few minutes of its life, was a major label operation. But these days, Sir Macca and Radiohead have deals with indie labels.
There's no doubting the contribution, financially and artistically. Indies make up 27.5 per cent of recorded music sales and over 80 per cent of the new music that's released. (They don't have huge vaults of back catalog to release and re-release. Not even the many indies dedicated to reissuing old music have this luxury.)
Independents are defined by a very different business model to the majors. Instead of splashing large cash advances at a number of acts, hoping one will generate enough income to pay it back in royalties, indies will offer a 50:50 deal, although there are as many variations as there are indies.
So to mark indies day, we dived into our archives and pulled out an interview with WIN president Alison Wenham, from a few months ago.
On file sharing:
"We need to find the 'sharing button' to our mutual benefit. Consumers can get on and enjoy copying and sharing at their own will. When you take that away people feel strange – they're not being 'bad' anymore.
"The behaviour of people is defined by the denial of access. It's going to be a soft outcome – we remove the motivation to do it.
"It's interesting that despite being an industry that's had its obituary written countless times by people who have achieved celebrity status themselves by becoming the witty antichrists of the record industry, we're still putting out great music. This rather 'pointless' industry of ours has acquitted itself rather well in another year where there's enormous pressure on revenues. It's turning the Titanic around."
"Fragmentation in the media is a mesmerizing prospect. With push-marketing you control the time and place and position. With the exception of the X-Factor, the ability to push market is disappearing. You'll see an explosion of little things becoming large."
On licensing music:
"I don't agree with Pete Jenner's view for a blanket license. It has to be voluntary and that's where the alignment of interests is so interesting. I don't agree the bundle approach – you can't tax people for something they don't use, when it's a leisure activity. You can't tax it.
"You should want to pay for it; there's much more good to be had from a voluntary approach. And where will it stop – TV, film? Everybody would want some. So either that two Euros becomes horribly diluted, or it becomes 10 Euros and you've taxed everybody for stuff they don't use, and you've negated the purpose of the exercise. It has to be a consensual opt-in.
"There will be ISPs who want to have the conversation, and ISPs who don't, and it will help to isolate the unwilling."
And what will the new world look like?
"I don't think anything is designed to be the answer. It's a way to liberate the consumer from certain restrictions – because our copyright today only allows us to certain things. A simple example is having the CD of the gig five minutes after leaving. All the secondary revenue opportunities have yet to be explored."
On the majors:
"I have full sympathy for the majors. I don't get off being indy schmindy. I want this industry to survive and there's room for everybody. But my constituents are much better placed, and that's why they're doing well."