I’m writing this from Tunis, where I’m speaking tomorrow as part of the World Music Forum of the International Music Council. As ever with these things, it’s the people you meet, rather than the quality of the presentations, that provides the incentive to attend. Nevertheless, there have been some really interesting presentations. This morning’s discussion was around the ongoing dismantling of the music industry, thanks to digitisation.
Manfred Lippe used to cajole the Elephant, as Managing Director of Warner Music in Germany and Austria. He came out of retirement to be a partner in Rebeat.com. In his talk, he described Rebeat as a one-stop shop service for the unsigned artist or band. By downloading their software – and signing a one-year, per track agreement – Rebeat will get the artist’s songs into over 300 online outlets, including iTunes, Napster and AOL, and handle the remuneration which the artists receive, taking 15% for themselves, with the remaining 85% going to the artist. It’s not that long ago that major artists like Paul McCartney were hailed for signing with companies on double figure royalty percentages. My own band, in the dark ages of the 1970’s received 8%! What’s amazing is that the software reduces the whole process of getting your music to market, which used to require a phalanx of lawyers and Artist and Repertoire staff, to filling out a few forms, and hitting the enter button.Rebeat seems to offer a DIY solution to bands that don’t want the hassle of setting up their direct sales websites with a convenient, and above all, equitable, solution. They’re growing fast too, with 100,000 tracks on their site. Of course, the majors would say that just getting your stuff out there is not going to create revenue; that their job is about promoting your music to the right audience. But with so many artists benefiting from social media marketing, and the more direct link with potential audiences it implies, that function too is becoming redundant for the many bands and artists who may not want to be the next Coldplay, but just want a fair and decent reward for their work. During one of the breaks I spoke with an Australian indie, who believed that the majors have been quietly buying up equity in on-line distribution services (like Spotify, apparently, and for a pittance). They know that they’re not going to be able to survive much longer by selling the product (there’s only so much downsizing you can do) but by owning the ‘pipes’down which it’s sent. They do say that Elephants are the only animals that can forsee their own death.