How you got screwed when I was trying to legally blog a song

Hold on to your hats folks… you’re in for quite a ride. This post is a case study in how to create a killer record label and an unlimited advertising budget:

I wanted to blog a great cover of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by a rockabilly group called ‘The Fargone Beauties’… we’re talking hillbilly heaven here folks, a ‘Deliverance’ style intro of banjo and guitar and the famous guitar solo with licks traded between guitar and banjo… we’re going to make you squeal, boy… yeeehaaaw!.

Of course, I wanted you to hear this gem… but you – and I – got screwed…

Like Nina Gordon’s version of Straight out of Compton, and Johnothan Coulton’s version of Baby Got Back I could see this song becoming an internet phenomenom. (my post about Life Art was picked up by Seth Godin and sent traffic to their site that was off the charts -they contacted me to find out what I had said about them to generate the traffic).

So, I’m thinking I better get some licensing permission from the copyright owner so I can post the song as an mp3 file and blog about it. I should also point out that I couldn’t find a single site or shop that sold the album nor could I find a website for The Fargone Beauties… so I thought I should kill two birds with one stone:

  • Get licensing permission
  • Get a url where readers could buy the album

So we were all going to win here – you get to hear the song and they get to sell albums.

Because I had complied and helped with the licensing of the Spirit House CD I know how to go about this process and what to ask for.

I called ABC Music and told them what I was going to do, the licensing manager was delighted but told me the CD was no longer in print but said she’d get back to me with the license for me to stream the song. I also contacted the band’s management to find out about where people could buy their music or get a website for my readers to visit… turns out there is no website and the CDs are no longer in production.

Here’s where it all starts to fall apart. ABC music get back to me and tell me they can’t license the song for me to stream on the web. Frustrated I ask her if I can license the song for a compilation CD… and she tells me for legal reasons she can’t do that either. It seems that ABC Music only own 50% of the copyright, the other copyright holder was the production company who comissioned the band to do the song and this company couldn’t be found .

This is getting way too hard. The Fargone Beauties miss out on an opportunity to expose their music to millions of listeners around the world simply because the legal department have lost touch with the whole spirit of owning a music label, which is to let music be heard… and make some money along the way.

How hard would it have been for a lawyer with talent and love for music to write in a clause that says… ‘If the album is no longer available and the song is no longer released then streaming rights can be granted as long as the music label and artist are given credit’. After all, no-one is going to buy a song or an album from an artist they can’t hear!

Do I hear anyone say creative commons license?

But ABC Music won’t change for the very reasons I point out in this post: most record labels copy each other, so their licensing agreements are the same, they target the same markets and spend a fortune promoting music that sounds the same. Hell, if I spent a few million dollars promoting Britney Spears’ latest album, the last thing I want is pimply faced teenagers downloading my hard-earned investment for free.

The reason I can’t get the Fargone Beauties’ track is because ABC Music didn’t have the balls to create a record company unlike anything the industry had ever seen. I’m willing to be that the licensing lawyer was hired because he had 10 years experience at EMI and could do all the contracts etc. But really he had one year experience and had done it 10 times which is why I can’t get the track I want and the band is missing out on potential royalties… and seriously, do you think ABC Music is going to spend any money promoting an artist whose albums aren’t available anymore and have slipped into obscurity?

There has to be a better way. If you and I were going to start a record label we’d do things differently. We’d ignore what the big guys do, their legal agreements would be our toilet paper. Sure, we wouldn’t have the money to promote our artists in the same way as the big guys, but we do have an… (this idea is so big it has to be in caps)… UNLIMITED ADVERTISING BUDGET!

Because if we were going to create a record label, it would look like this:

Have a listen to these two great songs from this amazing record label:

Subterranean by Artemis
The canoe and the waterfall by Falling You.

Unfortunately I discovered these two tracks too late for them to make it onto the Spirit House CD. Now here’s the thing: you’re listening to an mp3 file streaming from my server *gasp*. What did it cost Magnatune to do this? Nothing. What would it cost Magnatune if other websites gave away sample tracks of its artists? Nothing… can you see that Magnatune have created an unlimited advertising budget simply by allowing people to share their music?

Sony BMG, EMI, ABC Music laywers take your heart pills because… you can even download these songs from Magnatune for your own use! And guess what… if you want to pay for the music because you like it… YOU CAN… and people do…. *joy*.

I’m allowed to stream these songs because the music is covered by a Creative Commons License and you can read an online license for each artis that gives you the conditions and fees for commercial use, blogs, personal use, videos and film… the works.

Now you’ve just heard music from two artists that are probably unknown to you… simply because Magnatune knows that to promote an artist you either spend a million dollars marketing the artist and greasing up radio stations, or, you allow the music to be heard in other ways that don’t cost you a fortune- like blogs for example.

So here’s the bad news for Sony BMG, EMI et al. … their next big threat isn’t going to come from people downloading pirated versions of their copyrighted and DRM’d music… and it won’t really come from compnies like Magnatune for a while… but right now, their biggest threat is actually coming from within. Could Sony BMG or ABC Music create easy to use licenses like Magnatune? Of course they could, but they won’t because they are too busy trying to defend and sustain their current business model and that’s using up resources that could allow more music to be heard and shared and bought.

Published in: on November 24, 2005 at 3:37 pm Comments (49)

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