In a radical shake-up to the music industry, Sony And Universal have announced plans to change the way they release music. From February, artists' singles will be available on the same day they are released to radio for the first time. It is hoped the “on air, on sale” initiative will encourage music fans to buy singles rather than download an illegally copied version.
The policy follows months of campaigning from the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a group with over 1,500 artists, including Blur's Dave Rowntree and Ed O'Brien of Radiohead, who collectively campaign for the protection of UK performers' and musicians' rights.
Following the announcement, Gigwise editor Jason Gregory spoke to Rowntree about what the new policy will mean for established bands as well as those just starting out.
As a member of the FAC, how do you feel about Sony and Universal's decision?
“This is something that FAC has been pushing for for years. It’s an analogue-age solution trying to be applied in the digital age and failing dismally. When I was in my early days of being in a band it was a marketing tool to delay the release of a single before it’s been released to radio for a number of weeks, and it kind of worked in those days, it pumped up some demand and hopefully brought things to a fever pitch and then it would be released and go into the charts at number one. But all it does these days is encourage people to download it illegally, so we felt it was an untenable position for the record companies to be complaining about piracy but encourage it this way. We’ve been badgering them mercifully, I have to say, and hopefully it’s going to be Universal and Sony are going to make the announcement with the indies.”
It feels like something that has been inevitable, but the major labels have been the stumbling block.
“Everybody in the industry has been a stumbling block really. The labels up until now have seen this as a commercial advantage that they have, and I think we’d still be stuck in an analogue way of doing business and we’ve just been trying to persuade them that it really isn’t an advantage, it’s a disadvantage because when the record is released the number of people who would have bought it now already own it because they’ve copied it off their mates or downloaded it illegally.
“Also, radio’s been resistant to it as well because they see this pre-release period as their advantage over the digital world. You know, they saw it, they get the record early so they have exclusive use of the record before it gets released to the digital world. That again is nonsense. The minute it gets played on the radio somebody’s put it up on the internet so all those advantages to all practical intents and purposes have disappeared.”
Is this the role you envisaged for the FAC, to be able to picket for these kinds of changes?
“Yes, absolutely. Amongst lots of other things we do we’re a campaigning organisation. And its issues like this that really affect artists in quite a big way, you know they’re issues that we can use our collective voice to negotiate on.”
As a founding member of Blur you’ve been around and seen very different stages of the music industry do you think you’d have benefited from having something like this as an emerging band, because obviously the FAC is there to help bands who are just starting their careers.
“Yeah, absolutely. There’s a huge gap in the market really for industry organisations. The featured artists are the only people who haven’t had a representative body like this. There’s been the Musician’s Union, and they’ve done a great job in some areas, but they’re not specialist pop and rock musicians, they cover a number of areas, so there has been a huge gap in the market so I think it would have benefited us tremendously to have some people.
“What we are really is a peer group, more successful musicians by in larger that are putting their time aside to help up-and-coming musicians. In the 60s I think things used to work that way. Management used to be by more successful artists and the moment that became successful that disappeared. So I think ever since that there has been a need for what we’re doing.”
Ultimately, how do you think this decision will benefit new artists?
“Well it will make them more money – that’s how they will benefit. I don’t suppose I’ll make much more money, but it’s more the up and coming bands who have a problem with this because they’re the people that used to queue up at the record shops to buy their singles on Saturday mornings and they’re the people whose downloads – whose releases – are the most keenly anticipated, and they’re the people who are struggling the hardest to make a living in these times of music industry recession.”
This is the side of the music industry – the putting the music out there – that is the most insecure isn’t it? Because artists can make money performing live, but if a new act can’t make money releasing their music then they’ve got little hope for getting out on the road.
“No, you’re right that the live scene is generating more money, but it’s still not generating a living for up and coming bands – that’s absolutely true. So every penny counts really. It’s the difference between, can you do it professionally, give up your day job and do it for a living – which is really the only way to do it successfully – or not. And if you can’t, then we’re not going to have a music industry in this country, so it’s the up and coming bands that need all the support at the moment.”