Clearly the biggest music news of late, independent labels’ anger at the terms of YouTube’s proposed music subscription service remains a big issue today, over a month after the story initially broke. Perhaps most surprisingly, Google’s video platform made no efforts to deny that independents refusing to sign up for its music service would see their videos removed from YouTube. Whilst artists as big as the Arctic Monkeys (photo) or Adele remain visible on the platform for now, the issue is far from resolved.
As Reuters reported late June, European indies association Impala asked the EU’s competition watchdog to ensure no content is removed, and to intervene because “YouTube is insisting on extracting a package of rights that no other partner could get away with. The terms appear to seriously undervalue existing deals in the marketplace with other business partners,” said an Impala statement.
The uproar has more recently seen over 700 independent labels — including Domino, Because Music, Glassnote, Ninja Tune, Sub Pop, Tommy Boy, XL Recordings and the Beggars Group — sign the ‘Fair Digital Deals Declaration’, coordinated by the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN). As Billboard reported, one of the initiative’s five aims is to create a level playing field for indies and majors alike:
“Out of those five points, the promise to deliver a “good-faith pro-rata share of any revenues from digital services… not attributed to specific recordings” is particularly significant as it stands in direct opposition to the existing standard practice of large rights holders and some major labels receiving favorable deals with digital services, which include guaranteed payment amounts or an equity share in the company.”
Further evidence of the un-level playing field reserved for indies came when Rockol reported, via Bloomberg, that Soundcloud was looking to offer equity stakes to the three majors, of 3-5% each. Such a move would value the company at $5-600m; and, as Bloomberg indicated, would get Universal, Warner and Sony off Soundcloud’s back in case of copyright disputes. But news of a similar deal with indie labels, there was none… Yet as Music Ally pointed out, the majors deal at least establishes a precedent on which indies, via Merlin, could build.
Not all, however, is doom and gloom in the music streaming arena; Google‘s recent purchase of Songza may or may not see the startup’s human curation system enhance YouTube’s music subscription service, reported TechCrunch; Rdio secured a landmark deal with song-recognition app Shazam to become its default integrated music player, revealed Billboard; and Soundrop launched Show.co. Called an “About.me for digital music promotion” by Giga.Om, others referred to it as a more business-focused Soundcloud. Time will tell…
Streaming also continues to be a key growth driver for the industry, as Soundscan’s US mid-year figures confirmed: stream equivalent albums (SEA) almost doubled to 46.9m in 2013’s first half, reported Billboard. This was not, however, enough for digital growth to offset physical decline, notably because downloads saw a decline of 15.9m units, from H1 2013’s 129m. Vinyl sales, however, continued to bolster physical, rising 40% in 2014’s first half; a comparable growth rate with that of streaming (42%).
Vinyl is not the only blast from the past that’s on the up: Sony’s Walkman is also making a comeback, reported the Wall Street Journal; its high-end ($700) ZX1 model, designed to play high-resolution audio files, has just sold out in Japan. Although Sony refused to give sales figures, the WSJ gave two further indicators of high-resolution audio’s potential. Firstly, HDtracks’ David Chesky was cited as saying his high-res audio store’s sales have doubled every year since 2008; and secondly, one Japanese customer declared his high-res player of choice was not the ZX1, but an Iriver player… which costs more than double Sony’s.
Last but by no means least, we were blown away recently by CTRL, a new interactive music installation from Reactify, the company founded by Midem Hack Day 2014 winner Yuli Levtov. Holler if you want to see something like this at Midem 2015; we certainly do!
This is the first in a series of monthly digests of news curated by the Midem team. Check out our music biz news picks year-round, right here!