Like Willie Randolph being fired by the Mets, MySpace Music launched somewhat unexpectedly late last night. With the launch and the revenue sharing deal that has been put in place with the 4 major labels, independent labels are found in an interesting predicament. Without a doubt, indie bands and labels embraced the digital download culture well before the majors were willing to give up their catalog, so it is increasingly frustrating that the most prolific music sharing site on the internet would block out independent labels from their initial launch.
Rest assured the independents will eventually be phased in. Orchard Music - the world's largest digital distribution company recently signed what they consider an "aggressively negotiated share of ad revenue that our clients will get paid for doing what they are doing already: maintaining a MySpace page, and using it to engage with and grow their audience." But whereas indies will receive some sort of watered-down, ad-based revenue stream, the major labels actually get equity in MySpace Music. Meaning, they own a portion of the site and they will make money regardless of whose music is being streamed, downloaded or otherwise. This is where it gets scary.
Orchard CEO Greg Scholl goes onto explain in an open letter to their roster that while "the major labels received equity in MySpace Music, despite our best and ongoing efforts, MySpace Music executives have indicated that independents as a sector will not receive equity. If equity is ever given to independents, The Orchard has assurances that our clients will be included. We will continue to press the issue with MySpace management on behalf of all independents, not just our clients, as we disagree with the decision of MySpace and do not feel it is an enlightened perspective towards the independent sector."
Yet repeated requests to clarify the "assurances" made and the specifics of the deal or how the revenue would be paid out to bands and labels were not immediately returned. We were, however, offered up a quote from Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen to help ease our tensions. "I think more people see our MySpace page than our own band website," said Hamilton, "I guess the place is on fire. My money's with Rupert Murdoch on this one."
To be fair, The Orchard wants indies to make money - at least the ones on their roster, but what about the money of people who are not selling records at the clip of an "indie" like The Walkmen? What about all of the musicians who don't have a label, or self release their music? What if a situation arises like when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah exploded? Their success story was due in part to the viral exposure of sites like MySpace - they didn't have a label when that happened, therefore they wouldn't get paid in this model. Or take a situation like Vampire Weekend. They might be on a big label now, but the reason they were able to blow up at such a fast pace is because their music was on an even playing field with everyone else's. It remains to be seen how this will affect the impact of MySpace's "place" for un-signed artists, but if it sucks for those with labels, one has to imagine it's even worse for those without.
Ever see that movie Running Man? Or Total Recall? Or pretty much any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie set in the future? The enemy is usually a big brother entity (government, corporation, Danny DeVito) that controls every aspect of our lives through a series of smaller events. Well, the future of music is upon us, and it is this model of paying artists through ad revenue that seems to be the corporate answer to music sharing and the loss of profits through sales. While not a new concept, it seems to be working and catching on more through websites like RCRD LBL who also pay out a publishing royalty to the bands made from ad revenues in exchange for offering music for free to the consumer. On the surface this seems great - advertising paying for our listening pleasure. But by MySpace not allowing independent bands and labels into the game, this will not only dictate the music market, it will slowly start to dictate all markets.
The four major labels are part of huge companies that also own stake in movie production companies, clothing lines, airlines, car companies... you get the picture. So when they give you a song for free that is being paid for by advertisers, it will inevitably shrink the pool of what is made available, promoted and advertised. MySpace Music is currently running campaigns from McDonald's, Sony Pictures (part of the Sony/BMG family), State Farm and Toyota. The new music player includes a persistent 300 x 250 pixels banner ad and MySpace is also adding custom integration. Toyota, for instance, signed on to hold "Toyota Tuesdays" with an offer of free downloads. McDonald's is skinning the MySpace Music Player. In essence, the major labels have found a way to pay themselves: Advertise on the website they own a part of, you will be paying them for their music. And that's not even broaching the subject of how many of the records available they own completely (ie - don't even have to pay the artist).
Most people in the industry agree this business model is the way of the future, but it is one that needs to be watched and guarded against carefully. Its easy for us to bitch and complain about the sketchy details, but the scary reality does not lie with us, it lies with the generations to come who will only know these channels as a source of culture. MySpace Music claims it wants to be the MTV of the internet - well, I'm old enough to remember when MTV was actually good. Now look what they give us: New music is aired on Subterranean one night a week at 1am. The rest of the time they shill their own shows, their own products and the bands they have vested interest in. So I only have one question for all of you real music fans.
If MySpace becomes the MTV of the internet, can someone show me where to find the MySpace of the internet?