Sunday 15 September 2019

Pop stars of the world unite ... to claim more royalties

Taking a stand: Kate Nash is a member of the new coalition
Taking a stand: Kate Nash is a member of the new coalition

Musically, the likes of Iron Maiden, Klaxons, Kate Nash, DJ Paul Oakenfold, Craig David and Badly Drawn Boy live in separate universes, but last week it was announced that they and over 60 other stars of the pop firmament have come together to form the Featured Artists' Coalition.

This new organisation, which was inaugurated at the In The City music conference in Manchester last Sunday, has been set up to deal with the new financial realities brought about by the digital technology that has revolutionised the music industry and the way it does business.

In their eyes, their label bosses have been shortchanging them in the deals they've struck up with the internet content providers like Nokia's Comes With Music, MySpace Music and Apple's iTunes.

In short, they want a bigger piece of the pie. The concept of Robbie Williams, Dave Gilmour et al picketing the offices of EMI with banners exclaiming the rights of the poor working man may sound about as likely as George W Bush becoming a socialist and nationalising US banks . . . d'oh! . . . but it shows just how far the major labels have come in restructuring their business models to accommodate the post-digital world.

Only on Thursday, it was reported that EMI is preparing to launch its own online music service, making them the latest major to consider a direct-to-consumer digital proposition.

Universal Music are already advertising on-demand video streams on their website. And the grapevine says that Sony has plans to offer its own download, streaming or subscription services in addition to licensing their music to iTunes, YouTube and their ilk.

It's some turnaround. Ever since the advent of Napster 10 years ago -- which introduced the concept of free internet file-sharing -- the record labels have been in a tailspin, trying to figure out how best to make the new technology work for them, rather than against them.

Napster, the king of the pirates, was made to walk the plank when it was closed down by the courts -- it later returned, minus the eye-patch and wooden leg, as a legit service. But the file-sharing cat had been let out of the new media bag. Not knowing what to do next, the record companies were extremely slow in coming to terms with the implications of the new technology.

If they had spent half as much energy exploring the new online frontier as they did trying to round up every other average John, Rick and Larry for the crime of succumbing to peer-to-peer pressure, they could have saved themselves a lot of grief -- and money. Instead, they came across like an old washed-up King Canute throwing a hissy fit.

Things reached an almost surreal level of absurdity when heavy metal superstars Metallica sued their own fans for downloading their music from unofficial sites.

Fast forward to 2008, and the corporate penny has finally dropped. Flagship events along the way included the rise of Arctic Monkeys, who built up the fastest-grown fanbase in music history via the mouse-clicking community, and Radiohead asking their fans to pay as much as they like for their album In Rainbows, while making it available months before its physical high-street release.

Only last week, Oasis -- a band normally associated with ye olde traditional values of rock 'n' roll -- surprised everyone when they made their highly anticipated new album Dig Out Your Soul available as a stream from their MySpace page a week before releasing it as a CD.

So now the wheel has come full circle. One is reminded of the high-profile cases of George Michael, who sued his record company Sony in the 1990s, claiming he'd been given a bum deal, and Prince, who famously walked the streets with the word 'slave' etched on his forehead, and even went as far as changing his name to an unpronounceable squiggle, becoming the bane of every sub-editor's life in the process.

But this new coalition of aggrieved rock stars has a broader sweep, and even though the pampered multimillionaires are in the vanguard, it aims to help the struggling, up-and-coming new artists as well. The union will be headed by an independent chairman with six artists, three managers and representatives from the Musicians' Union and Equity.

It will have a six-point manifesto, including a "use it or lose it" approach to copyright so that recordings don't go unreleased. And it wants compensation for the deals that allow record companies to license an artist's songs for use as ringtones and other such new revenue streams in the ever-changing digital world.

As The Verve's manager, Jazz Summers, explained: "Every meeting I go to, there are 20 or 30 people, but no one representing the artist. This is not about bashing record labels. It's about recognising that the interests of the label and the artist are not always aligned."

Nor, indeed, the record label and the consumer.

nkelly@independent.ie

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