Message’s message calls for more transparency in the digital pie

March 2015


Recorded music, digital distribution, artistes


Radiohead manager and former Chair of the Music Managers Forum Brian Message has used the launch of the Entertainment Retailers Association’s new manifesto to single out the secret deals concluded between content owners – in particular the major record labels and new digital services – for criticism. Pointing out that artistes and their management have the potential to be increasingly closer to the fan he added: “that economic chain isn’t without it’s challenges, as you probably know just as well as us; in fact, many of my colleagues would go as far as to say that it’s pretty well broken and needs fixing. For us, central to this structural failure is the NDA [Non Disclosure Agreement] culture that is now ingrained in the licensing of creator catalogues to retailers and digital services”. “The lack of transparency and the very real erosion of trust felt by many creators and managers in how the economic value chain now operates is an issue that the MMF and ERA needs to focus on together so we can add real value to our members”. He added “Since taking on my new role within MMF and having now met with whistle-blowers, lawmakers, artists, managers, label personnel, digital service providers, lawyers and litigators on all sides and pretty much everyone else in the chain, I’m now reasonably sure that whilst it takes two parties to sign an NDA, it’s the corporates owning the major labels that today drive this particular agenda”. This, Message suggests, is because secrecy enables the major rights owners to structure deals to their advantage, and to the disadvantage of other stakeholders in the recorded music sector including artists. He continued: “I understand how corporate bosses and their lawyers get to a place where they feel the catalogues they have amassed on behalf of their corporation are assets to leverage as they so wish. I get how they can justify their actions at a time of huge economic change for their businesses, but it becomes a problem for you and us when deal terms remove significant value from the economic value chain” and “When the price of getting a license from a licensor is a non-attributable fee and those fees add up to tens of millions of pounds, then not only is this an issue for creators, but licensees cannot spend that money converting fans to paid-for subscription services. Overhead contributions, technology fees, advances that can’t be recouped, unattributable advances, equity positions at the expense of streaming rates, the dropping of litigation to receive shares that then get sold and other such clever tactics distort the market and ultimately don’t allow it’s development for the benefit of everyone”.

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