The Internet continues to offer new opportunities for artists wanting to promote their music to a worldwide audience. Simon Trask looks at who is distributing music over the Internet and the attitudes towards this new distribution medium.
Whether you're looking for a way to bypass the established record industry altogether or a way to get yourself noticed by the industry and bag a recording or publishing deal, the Internet continues to offer new opportunities. The most radical option is to set up your own web site and take charge of every aspect of publicising and selling your music yourself. The debate about the pros and cons of this approach, both for new and established artists, continues to rage within the music business. Some see the Internet as the bringer of anarchy to the business as they know it, spelling doom for their livelihoods, while others see it as an opportunity to seize control back from the major labels. The popularity and notoriety of music file‑sharing software Napster has crystallised much of the pro and anti feeling, while the 'work‑for‑hire' legislation amendment in the US (which classifies sound recordings as works‑for‑hire owned by the record companies) is stoking anti‑industry feeling among artists. [For more on Napster see Dave Shapton's Cutting Edge article from SOS March 2000, and his subsequent Crosstalk correspondence on page 242 of the April 2000 issue or at https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." target="mainframe and https://web.archive.org/web/2015..." target="mainframe — Ed.]
One veteran champion of the on‑line music alternative, and latterly a prominent supporter of Napster, is Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. An unedited version of an article he wrote for the New York Times in support of Napster can be found at public‑enemy.com/terrordome/terrordome.html (or look under the date 1st May if the article has moved to the archives). "I'm in support of the sharing of music files," he writes. "I believe that truly another parallel music industry will be created alongside the one that presently exists, and that's the bottom‑line stake that traditionalists fear. With the music business trying to adapt and reluctantly adopting the facts of digital distribution, this is a prime opportunity for artists to understand that they can operate beyond the naive slave or limited employment positions of the old music business templates."
Down On MP3
Defenders of the traditional music industry have been equally eager to weigh in with their opinions. Fresh from testifying against Napster before a recent US Congress committee hearing on new market possibilities for small labels, Tom Silverman, founder of veteran hip‑hop label Tommy Boy Records, was scathing in an interview for ABCnews about MP3.com (www.mp3.com), the site most associated in popular consciousness with unsigned acts choosing to showcase their music on‑line. "MP3.com is meaningless in terms of new music. People don't go there to get new music. The only people who seem to be going there are developing bands that are hoping to be signed by labels... You need to be able to get radio play and video play. If you don't get mass‑media exposure then you don't have that much value. Music that no‑one cares about has no value. Music that people want has high value."
But such opinions have not prevented the proliferation of web sites designed to help you get your music a wider audience. And people clearly do go to MP3.com to search out new music. (See 'MP3.com — The Facts' box for details.) If the measure of success is signing a deal with a major, then Euge Groove show that using MP3.com as an on‑line showcase can work. After spending more than six weeks at the top of the MP3.com Jazz charts last Summer, Euge Groove signed a deal with a major label and recently released a debut album (see 'Euge Groove Inks Deal With Warner Bros Records' at www.bboard.mp3.com/mp3/ubb/Forum53/ HTML/000244.html). It's also worth checking out the article 'Making It Big with MP3' at www.wired.com/news/culture/0,128..., which looks at successful MP3.com act the Fire Ants among others.
The grandaddy of artist showcase sites is IUMA — the Internet Underground Music Archives — which dates back to the mid‑'90s (www.iuma.com). Again the formula is fairly standard: unsigned artists can put up their own web pages and music tracks for free on the site, with streaming and downloadable options for listening, and visitors to the site can search for music by genre and listen to featured and charting artists. IUMA artists can also sell their own CDs or tapes on‑line via the site, though currently the site has no mechanism for selling individual tracks. At the end of last year IUMA committed to giving 25 percent of artist site ad revenues to the artists themselves, payable quarterly; artists can get daily reports on not only the number of page views and downloads but also the ad revenue earned. IUMA's most recent venture is The A&R Files, an on‑line industry 'tip sheet' circulated to over 1500 A&R representatives, managers, publishers, radio stations and record labels, which highlights 6‑10 IUMA artists per month; the choice of artists is made by an in‑house IUMA A&R team based on IUMA chart status and music styles currently in demand by IUMA partner labels.
Garage Days Revisited
A much younger unsigned artist showcase site is garageband.com (www.garageband.com). Co‑founded by producer and ex‑Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison, it has an advisory board chaired by George Martin, with Brian Eno, Steve Lillywhite and George Massenburg among the board members. Garageband.com follows an explicit 'on‑line A&R' model, in that its goal is to identify, cultivate and sign the best of the acts that showcase themselves on the site. Drawing on the votes of visitors to the site to help determine the winners, it has awarded recording contracts worth $250,000. Essentially, then, this is a new way of doing A&R, in which decisions are made not by a small clique of record company execs behind closed doors but out in the open, on the basis of popular consensus.
Speaking of record company execs, Universal Music has its own on‑line A&R/showcase site for unsigned artists, the oddly named Jimmy And Doug's Farmclub.com (www.farmclub.com), where unsigned artists can upload tracks into a Digital Jukebox and visitors can search the Jukebox by genre, artist name or song title, or listen to featured artists. Given that it has the biggest record company in the world behind it, Farmclub.com can offer attractions that other sites can't. For a start there's the possibility of being signed to Farmclub Records, but also Farmclub.com artists have had coverage on MTV, and the weekly TV show Farmclub.com TV provides an additional showcase for selected unsigned artists. However, this is probably a good time to recommend that you read on‑line artist agreements very closely. For instance, look over the Artist Upload Agreement at www.upload.farmclub.com/ upload/artist_agreement.shtml. Of course this caution applies to any company that lets you put your music up on their site — they are, after all, businesses with their own priorities and agendas, even if those coincide to a fair extent with your own. Once you upload your music to the Farmclub.com site you can only terminate the upload agreement after 120 days; the agreement also includes this gem: " You hereby grant to us the right to distribute and use, on a non‑exclusive basis, anywhere and everywhere in the universe, in any media, any sound recordings, compositions, pictures, videos, song lyrics and/or other content (collectively, the 'Content') submitted by you to us."
While the sites already mentioned are all US‑based, peoplesound.com (www.peoplesound.com) is located in London. You can find an in‑depth interview with company co‑founder Ernesto Schmitt starting on page 80 of this issue, so I won't dwell on them here. However, it's worth mentioning that they are one of the most versatile companies operating in this area, and have in‑house licensing expertise, with a Head of Licensing who formerly worked at MCPS.
With space running short, I'll also just mention Vitaminic (www.vitaminic.co.uk) as another site which provides an on‑line showcase for unsigned artists. Other possibilities to consider are the new 'music locker' sites that offer people on‑line storage for their MP3 files — see, notably, Myplay.com (www.myplay.com). Some people see a future in which music is both bought and stored on‑line for anytime‑anywhere streaming access over wireless Internet devices. Sites like Myplay are at the forefront of this development, and not only allow people to store music on‑line but also to compile and share with other users playlists of their favourite music using streaming. One band which has already used Myplay.com's Target Music Marketing program to create a successful Internet marketing campaign is Kittie. Apparently, prior to the official release of Kittie's single 'Brackish' 8 percent of Myplay.com's user base had added it to their Myplay 'locker' as a result of on‑site targeted marketing. Even more radically (though perhaps not advisedly), one band recently 'spoofed' its way onto Napster users' computers by making one of its songs available under the guise of various popular download tracks. I've mentioned Napster (www.napster.com) a few times here, and although it's not an unsigned artist showcase site as such, Napster's champions think that its file‑sharing approach represents the future of music distribution and a way for unsigned bands to get exposure and build a fan base. Its detractors, meanwhile, see it as little short of a criminal enterprise.
Either way, Napster is something you need to educate yourself about. The days of getting publicity simply for being on the Internet are long gone. Indeed, one view is that the marketing muscle of the big labels will be even more necessary on the Internet for artists who want to rise above the on‑line clamour. On the other hand, with the spread of broadband Internet access facilitating fast downloads and better‑quality streaming, and on‑line music sales set to grow significantly,it could be that more artists will be able to make a reasonable, if not a rich, living with the help of showcase sites to build them a fan base.
MP3.com — The Facts
Key metrics (web site statistics) released by the company for March report 591,000 average daily unique visitors and 27.7 million listens for the whole of the month (rising to 32 million listens for April). Of course, all this music is available to listen to (via streaming and download options) for free. The only mechanism that MP3.com has for selling music is its DAM (Digital Automatic Music) CDs. These are CDs containing Red Book audio and MP3 tracks which the company will press up and sell at the request of MP3.com artists; revenue from the sale of the CDs is then split 50/50 between MP3.com and the artist concerned. Yet in the whole of last year only 141,700 DAM CDs were sold. Meanwhile, the latest (April) figure for the number of tracks posted on the site is 424,400, while the number of artists stands at 67,700. Clearly this is not the easy route to fame and fortune (but then is there ever an easy route?). MP3.com allows visitors to search for music by genre, and even adds geographical region as an option; it also provides total and genre charts based on actual listens. The company's latest venture is a Retail Music Division which will license tracks from MP3.com artists to retail stores for in‑house programming, opening up a possibly valuable new revenue stream. It's important to mention that no‑one has to pay to put their music up on MP3.com, nor are MP3.com acts tied into exclusive contracts; artists can promote elsewhere and can terminate their agreement with MP3.com at any time.