More Business Models

Even-though my business model has been decided there were a few more mentioned by Byrnes:

1. At one end of the scale is the 360, or equity, deal, where every aspect of the artist’s career is handled by producers, promoters, marketing people, and managers. The idea is that you can achieve wide saturation and sales, boosted by a hardworking machine that stands to benefit from everything you do. The artist becomes a brand, owned and operated by the label, and in theory this gives the company a long-term perspective and interest in nurturing that artist’s career.

Pussycat Dolls, Korn, and Robbie Williams have made arrangements like this, selling equity in everything they touch. The T-shirts, the records, the concerts, the videos, the BBQ sauce. The artist often gets a lot of money up front. But I doubt that creative decisions will be left in the artist’s hands. As a general rule, as the cash comes in, creative control goes out. The equity partner simply has too much at stake.

This is the kind of deal Madonna just made with Live Nation. For a reported $120 million, the company — which until now has mainly produced and promoted concerts — will get a piece of both her concert revenue and her music sales. I, for one, would not want to be beholden to Live Nation — a spinoff of Clear Channel, the radio conglomerate that turned the US airwaves into pabulum. But Madge is a smart cookie; she’s always been adept at controlling her own stuff, so we’ll see.

2. Next is what I’ll call the standard distribution deal. This is more or less what I lived with for many years as a member of the Talking Heads. The record company bankrolls the recording and handles the manufacturing, distribution, press, and promotion. The artist gets a royalty percentage after all those other costs are repaid. The label, in this scenario, owns the copyright to the recording. Forever.
There’s another catch with this kind of arrangement: The typical pop star often lives in debt to their record company and a host of other entities, and if they hit a dry spell they can go broke. Michael Jackson, MC Hammer, TLC — the danger of debt and overextension is an old story.
Obviously, the cost of these services, along with the record company’s overhead, accounts for a big part of CD prices. You, the buyer, are paying for all those trucks, those CD plants, those warehouses, and all that plastic. Theoretically, as many of these costs go away, they should no longer be charged to the consumer — or the artist.

Sure, many of the services traditionally provided by record labels under the standard deal are now being farmed out. Press and publicity, digital marketing, graphic design — all are often handled by smaller, independent firms. But he who pays the piper calls the tune. If the record company pays the subcontractors, then the record company ultimately decides who or what has priority. If they “don’t hear a single,” they can tell you your record isn’t coming outSo what happens when online sales eliminate many of these expenses? Look at iTunes: $10 for a “CD” download reflects the cost savings of digital distribution, which seems fair — at first. It’s certainly better for consumers. But after Apple takes its 30 percent, the royalty percentage is applied and the artist — surprise! — is no better off.Not coincidentally, the issues here are similar to those in the recent Hollywood writers’ strike. Will recording artists band together and go on strike?

3. The license deal is similar to the standard deal, except in this case the artist retains the copyrights and ownership of the master recording. The right to exploit that property is granted to a label for a limited period of time — usually seven years. After that, the rights to license to TV shows, commercials, and the like revert to the artist. If the members of the Talking Heads held the master rights to our catalog today, we’d earn twice as much in licensing as we do now — and that’s where artists like me derive much of our income. If a band has made a record itself and doesn’t need creative or financial help, this model is worth looking at. It allows for a little more creative freedom, since you get less interference from the guys in the big suits. The flip side is that because the label doesn’t own the master, it may invest less in making the release a success.But with the right label, the license deal can be a great way to go. This is the relationship Arcade Fire has with Merge Records, an indie label that’s done great for its band by avoiding the big-spending, big-label approach. “Part of it is just being realistic and not putting yourself in the hole,” Merge cofounder Mac McCaughan says. “The bands we work with, we never recommend that they make videos. I like videos, but they don’t sell a lot of records. What really sells records is touring — and artists can actually make money on the tour itself if they keep their budgets down.”

4. Then there’s the profit-sharing deal. I did something like this with my album Lead Us Not Into Temptation in 2003. I got a minimal advance from the label, Thrill Jockey, since the recording costs were covered by a movie soundtrack budget, and we shared the profits from day one. I retained ownership of the master. Thrill Jockey does some marketing and press. I may or may not have sold as many records as I would have with a larger company, but in the end I took home a greater share of each unit sold.
This article is a really good one on the future for musicians. He also goes on to talk about how music sales are becoming increasingly digital distributed. Byrne also makes a good point about people not needing to spend thousands of pounds hiring out a recording studio because those same quality recordings can be made at home on your laptop.

The article can be found here.

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