Whenever I suspect someone doesn’t know how incompetant, corrupt and venal the music industry can be — and what an awful place it has been for investors — I tell them the story of John Fogerty.
Fogerty was the signer/songwriter/guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR). Creedence was one of the biggest bands in the late 1960s and early ’70s — over the course of less than 4 years, they racked up 8 Gold albums and 10 Top Ten singles.
Somehow, Fogerty lost the rights to his own music — the details are abit murky, but they ended up in the hands of CCR’s label, Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz.
How bizarre is this: When Fogerty left Creedence and started recording solo, Zaentz sued him, claiming the songwriter had plagiarized himself. The entire tale is sordid and ugly and makes the labels look even worse than they really are (which is kinda hard to do).
I remind you of this as a counterweight to major Label claims that P2P hurts artists. As it turns out, that’s not true for 98% of all bands. The WSJ recent story about the band Harvey Danger (I mentioned them last month) demonstrates why:
"CD sales aren’t a great money-maker for most bands: Absent a huge hit album, a band’s best chance to make money is through a combination of publishing royalties, concert-ticket sales and merchandising — all driven by the hard work of creating and keeping a dedicated fan base that will buy not just a current CD, but back-catalog albums and future releases as well. The problem is that takes time and patience labels increasingly don’t have.
"The time frame for success is a lot longer than what a label will give you," Mr. Lin says.
The takeaway from all this is the anti-P2P litigation does nothing for most artists. Instead, it attacks an alternative (e.g. Non-label) distribution mechanism that is potentially of enormous assistance to the majority of unknown, alternative and non-radio bands.
At first, the labels resisted digital distribution — to keep their brick & mortar retailers happy. Eventually, they came to realize that the bigger threat was disintermediation — the internet rendered labels (at least in their present form) unneccessary.
Now, I suspect the motivation against P2P is little more than a naked attempt to thwart a competitor to the (legal) monopoly distribution system the labels have developed over the decades.
At the same time, the PR fallout has been horrific — bad for business, and terrible for investors. The EFF has noted how little impact all RIAA litigation has had after 2 years. Most recently, the MPAA has decided to enter the bad PR competition, suing a 71-year old grandfather whose 12-year old grandson downloaded a movie.
But my point is to look beyond all the posturing. The industry should be considering newer distribution networks that will eventually replace the present dying methods.
Ask yourself which model makes more sense, and is potentially more lucrative to the companies?
-The older physical version involves pressing a polycarbonate disc, packing and shipping them to warehouses, sending them onto to retail stores, which consumers drive to and buy them and drive back home. They can also order them online, and then have them shipped via UPS/USPS home.
-Or, consumers download the data over the internet, and burn their own discs if they choose.
I prefer the second business model — it seems a lot more profitible.
BTW, Fogerty is back in the news because Fantasy records was recently
purchased by Concord Music Group, which is owned in part by TV
producer Norman Lear. The new owners and Fogerty buried the hatchet,
and he released "The Long Road Home: The Ultimate John Fogerty-Creedence Collection."
It’s no fantasy; John Fogerty reunites with old record company
Associated Press, 11/02/05
What If We Give It Away?
A Digital Experiment by Harvey Danger Could Be a Useful Strategy for Cult Bands
WSJ, November 7, 2005
John Fogerty Is Closer To Peace With a Label
NYT, November 1, 2005