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MP3: Exposure for Indies; Access for the Consumer
By Diane Rapaport - 06/04/2007 - 07:46 PM EDT

First published in Indie Music World, August 2000/Vol. 2. No. 6.
2000, Diane Rapaport. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.

People buy music because they hear it. At a performance. At a friend's house. On the radio. At a music store. On the World Wide Web.

Before the Internet, the major holdback to the success of many wonderful independent label recordings was that the public couldn't hear them through traditional media outlets. Major AM and FM radio and television stations virtually "locked out" playing music and featuring performers from nonmajor label record companies. After all, the same six conglomerates that own the major label record companies own the major print, radio and television resources. They can virtually ensure a record's success by getting virtually simultaneous airplay at stations they own all over the country, get coverage to support a band's live concerts in the major print media, and estimate, with remarkable accuracy, what sales will be generated. The major labels can also afford the extremely high prices to 'air' selections from new releases at listening booths stationed in major music super stores, and the indies, for the most part, cannot. What music the public hears has been traditionally controlled by the very wide marketing arms of the record labels. No more.

Paying for Play: A New Twist

Many stores provide listening posts, private listening booths or headphones near record displays, where potential buyers can hear selections from featured titles. These selections are usually not chosen by the retailer, but by the record company or distributor that pays the store for the privilege. The fees can range from $500 for three months to many thousands of dollars. Some stores have sound systems that play music continuously throughout the day. With few exceptions, the selections are the same as those available at listening booths, and are paid for by recording labels. Retailers often charge for space to stack recordings on the floor or in some prominent location near the entrance and for all space to display posters. (From How to Make and Sell Your Own Recording). (For more information on this and other music business books, go to www.indiespace.com/jhp)

Today, the use of artist and recording label web sites, MP3 sites such as Napster, Internet record storefronts such as Indiespace, CD Now and Amazon, and the mushrooming of Internet radio sites (over 10,000 at last count) has skyrocketed. For the first time, the consumer can listen to, download and buy music of their choice. The number of visitors to these sites exceeds tens of millions, making it abundantly clear that they want to exercise that choice. It is as though the Berlin Wall that divided the major from the independent label industry has come down and the public is rushing across.

To get derailed into a dialogue about whether these activities will lead to one giant step for free music and that the composer and performers will not get sales and performance royalties is to miss the point. These web sites provide bands with exposure to their music. And, most importantly, they provide the public with a means to hear a tremendous variety of music they have been effectively prevented from hearing on major media radio and television. They provide the means for independent labels to effectively compete with major labels. On these sites, the major labels can no longer control with the public hears and ultimately buys.

My advice to indies. Use the web to your advantage. Take one or two of your best songs and post them on every web store front that sells music (CD NOW, Amazon, Indiespace.com, IUMA.com) and every Internet radio station that will take them. (For a list of over 9000 Internet stations go to (http://wmbr.mit.edu/stations/list.html and click on "radio stations on the internet"). Make sure that sites playing your music contain a link to your web site. That's what promotion and sales are all about. Exposure. Repetition. Contacting people on your mailing list, web site list. Etc.

Think of every web site that can offer some of your songs as a traditional radio station that is playing the music. Or think of it as a giant word-of-mouth connection. Being afraid that someone is going to download your music for free is like not jumping at the chance to have some major AM or FM station choose to play your record many times a day to millions of listeners because you don't want people to tape the broadcast. Use web exposure the way you would have used radio airplay: to drive people to your web site or to record stores where consumers can buy your music. Or hire you for gigs. Or get information.

Exposure will open up the market for all indie artists, not shut it down. Six to seven years ago when video tape was easily available, the movie industry went bonkers. Fear that film studios would go broke because the public could copy movies easily and freely was rampant. Today, film attendance is at a record high, and, because films are convenient and cheap to rent, so is the video rental business. The same will happen to music. More music will be sold. Not less.

In the long run, a new business model will be found to "monetize" MP3 downloads and make them legal. The sites will likely be traditionally licensed by the performance rights societies A major indie site, www.Takeoutmusic.com just completed a licensing deal with BMI)). And, because there will be a way to know exactly what downloads were requested, to more equitably share performance monies with composers. (Today, the majority of the money disbursed to composers by these societies goes to top 100 charted artists, not indie artists, because the majority of performance exposure is controlled by the major record labels.) Further downstream it is also likely that the public will be charged some nominal amount for downloads, and the money gathered will be also shared with composers and/or their record companies.

Right now, indies should do what they can to ensure that they use this tremendous opportunity afforded by the Internet to gain exposure for their music and drive people to their web sites. People have to be able to listen to the music before they buy and providing people with easy listening access has, and always will be, the key to sales.




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