Because you can’t have music without bureaucracy!
The dramatic shifts that have taken place in the music industry over the last decade have shaken up and set to crumbling some of the old institutions that built and shaped music as we know it. The big labels are going down. The big records stores are all but gone. Healthier, happier, and more numerous than ever before, on the other hand, are the music industry organizations, particularly those catering to the independent artists labels.
Organizations like the RIAA and the NMPA are nothing new. They’ve been protecting the rights of – well, not artists, per se – but certainly music publishers and distributors in the U.S. for the better part of a century. And in countries with smaller music industries, like Canada and Australia, national organizations have long worked to promote and protect artists on the world stage.
Of course, if you’re a musician from one of the less chart-topping countries, you know just how useful these organizations are.
The Indie Org
Over the course of the last ten five years, we’ve seen the rise of a new type of organization – the independent musicians’ organization – various groups dedicated to protecting the rights of independent artists from the evil strangleholds of corporations, and defending music from the greedy clutches of digital technology users.
A couple of examples of these new organizations include the Merlin Network and The American Association of Independent Music.
Merlin bills itself as a kind of not-for-profit super-label, made up of a bunch of small labels. It’s mission:
“representing independent music companies in enhancing the commercial exploitation of their copyrights on a global basis.”
Merlin’s in the news this week for failing to make a deal with new online music streaming service Rdio before their launch. While Merlin likes to call themselves the “5th major,” Rdio seemed happy to make deals with other small labels, while leaving the “leading” indie rights organization out in the cold.
Then there’s The American Association of Independent Music. Their mission sounds a lot like Merlin’s:
“a unified voice representing a broad coalition of music labels…promoting sector opportunity and improving the business conditions for its combined membership.”
The A2IM got called out last week by Digital Music News for being basically the same entity as the RIAA. DMN pointed out that the organization is anti-piracy and is still fighting for an improved royalty situation in terrestrial radio play (check out A2IM’s response here).
Protecting The Rights Of Whoooom, Exactly?
The upshot of the article in Digital Music News was the question: is this what we’re calling indie these days? After all, the largest indie rights organizations that have started popping up don’t seem to represent artists so much as labels. Labels which are so large, and so embedded within other corporations, that the only thing making them indie is that they’re not affiliated with UMG. But wait! Some of them, like A2IM board member Concord Music Group, depend on UMG for their distribution!
So, what, exactly, are these organizations up to? Their members are independent labels – some small, some…rather larger, and often affiliated with the majors – who, in turn, protect the rights of the artists they represent, artists who are only indie in the sense that they are signed to indie labels. They call themselves non-profit, but if they were really doing this out of the good of their hearts, why aren’t they representing any truly independent musicians?
But I’m not going to conclude by telling you that these organizations are potentially sinister and just as fueled by profit-centric agendas as anything that’s come before. I’d rather hear from you. What do you, the independent artist, think of these new organizations? Are they helping the little guy, or even the middle-class guy? Are they an integral part of the new music industry, or just another layer of pointless bureaucracy? Bring me your personal experiences! I want to hear from you!