By Cassandra Williams postgraduate student at the College of Law
No one can have missed the constant criticism levelled at record companies and their approach to selling music in the digital age and there is a suggestion that recorded music is now vaguely irrelevant to artists – and should no longer be the main product. Some commentators see recorded music as a marketing tool – for example to promote ticket sales and live concerts, to sell other merchandise, or even to sell drinks, newspapers or burgers According to Bob Stanley from St Etienne the answer is to give downloads away, or to make them cost no more than sending a text. Radiohead famously allowed fans to self price ‘In Ranibows’ but clearly will garner huge revenues from their touring activitoes.. Matador, once home to Cat Power, provides a free download when you buy vinyl copies of its records. With technology allowing music to be produced and distributed cheaply artists no longer need a major label. It is now possible for DIY labels, run out of bedrooms and shacks, to finally challenge the majors.
A recent example of the DIY system is the new self-released album from McFly who have followed in the footsteps of Prince and offered their new album as a covermount for the Mail On Sunday. This decision to ‘go it alone’ according to McFlyster Tom, in an interview with the Daily Star, was made after their former label, Island Records, advised McFly to take their music in a less ‘rocky’ direction. Tom told The Daily Star: “We always wanted to be bigger and better and we never felt that we had achieved our true potential so we felt that we could get closer to achieving that on our own.’ They havecertainly done just that – McFly’s album giveway boosted The Mail On Sunday’s sales by 300,000 – no doubt bringing a younger audience to the Mail On Sunday whilst ensuring that McFly reach a more diverse audience. This really does seem like a win won situation for both band and newspaper – and MoS cief Stephen Miron says he is “very pleased” with the performance of the McFly promotion. And McFly have a second bite at the cherry when they release the ‘deluxe’ version of the album later in the year as a paid for CD / download with bonus tracks and DVDs.
Even Dragons Den’s mogul Peter Jones is grabbing a piece of the action, a £75,000 piece to be exact, after Cambridge based indie band Hamfatter appeared on ‘Dragon’s Den’ late in July and persuaded the Dragon to invest the sum in the band in return for a 30% stake in their future earnings. The band’s manager Jamie Turner said he was seeking a venture capital style investor rather than a traditional record label deal to launch his band because it “doesn’t make sense for artists to sign away their rights to a label”. This way, he says, the band will make £3.50 per album, rather than a projected 30p an album via a label deal. Hamfatter’s chart history has so far been limited to the lower reaches of the charts and a surprisingly good run in the Austrian charts – not band since its self financed. Whether a £75,000 investment from a Dragon is enough to push them up to the level remains to be seen – as does the conundrum of whether a Dragon knows more about marketing music than a recognised record label – although the publicity Hamfatter received in the week following the show was fairly sensational. Which brings us round in a full circle about whether or not the music industry is all about ‘selling’ albums and singles now – or is it something else? The answer is neither yes or no. There are now many many ways to market and artists, labels and publishers need to have open minds in the current environment to maximise the monestisation of their sound recordings, songs and other copyrights.