For anyone who has any doubts about the relationship between music artists and music companies I would advise you to watch the very interesting 30 Seconds to Mars film “Artefact”.
It started as a film about the making of their new album and ended up being a documentary about how Virgin EMI tried to break them and sue them for US$30 million (apparently that number had nothing to do with their name).
Some of the stats from the 30 Seconds to Mars record contract (which is apparently standard) are amazing. Despite the fact that 95% of sales are now on digital bands still have to pay for 1) breakages 2) 10% of copies that are given away to radio stations/retailers etc. 3) packaging and 4) distribution/transportation. You couldn’t make it up. Literally money for nothing.
The lengths that Virgin EMI went to and the stress that they inflicted on the band members and lead singer and now Oscar winner Jered Leto were staggering. They even tried to ban the documentary and despite 30 Seconds funding the making of their new album themselves they tried to prevent them from releasing it.
Not surprisingly the album was partly inspired by all the anger and stress that were caused and the band named the album ”This is War”. The anger that is shown towards the record company clearly manifests itself in the album’s content.
The last slide of the film says it all. 30 Seconds to Mars, (the creators and ultimately the moral content owners, if not the legal ones) sold almost 10 million copies of their first three albums for Virgin EMI and didn’t earn a single cent from any of them.
Now that everything is digital record companies are looking at 360 degree contracts. This is where record companies own a % of everything. Touring, sponsorships and merchandise included. As music is now effectively all pirated this is the only place that a band can make any money and record labels want this too. For what is a mystery as they are not involved in any of them to a large degree and they actually benefit from all through extra exposure that leads to any legal sales of the product.
The counter argument is that a band is marketed and distributed by the record company globally. The argument to that is that the days of record companies actually distributing anything other than token CD’s is long gone. And marketing? A few adverts in a few music magazines is very pre-digital. So what do record companies do now?
What has this got to do with Linin Park? Well in 2005 Linkin Park tried to break their contract with Warner Bros for similar reasons as 30 Seconds to Mars, not to mention Metallica, Madonna, Smashing Pumpkins and many other artists. The relationship, they believed, was all one-sided. They worried that the Warner Bros IPO would reduce the level of marketing support globally which is effectively the only reason to have a record company.
Linkin Park are one of the hardest working bands in the world. They produce an album every two years, they tour relentlessly every year and they engage with fans at every event and through every social-media platform. This gives them amazing reach and customer engagement and they work tirelessly at this. What the record company does for them is beyond me.
Linkin Park create the content, create the look and feel of the design, the packaging, the product packaging and put the effort into engaging fans through facebook (63 million followers), Twitter (the band have over 4.3 million followers and lead singer Chester Bennington alone has 500,000 followers as does band leader Mike Shinoda). Along with the website Linkin Park effectively control all the direct to fan digital communications channels.
So why not do it themselves? The marketing answer is an easy one. Employ a global marketing agency or better still a series or local marketing agencies (probably a lot cheaper) who know the local landscape.
So what’s the objection? Well there would be no upfront monies, apparently worth $3m per album for a 5 album deal for Linkin Park. They would though control all royalties not just the 20% that Linkin Park from the music that is sold legally.
The band would also control everything else from single selection (as many bands are told what to release) and their sound. Although Linkin Park are powerful enough to control their own sound there are many artists who are told who to work with and what to sound like. This is why much contemporary music sounds very similar as it’s following a successfully formula of sticky poppy non-offensive blandness.
There are literally a handful of successful artists like the Smashing Pumpkins and many smaller ones like Boyce Avenue who have no record label and do everything themselves and control everything and therefore reap the benefits as a result. However they are the exception to the rule. Every other act who has sued their record label to break the contract has gone back to the fold, advance monies clearly do a lot more talking than independence.
Even 30 Seconds To Mars ultimately went back to Virgin EMI to ironically release the “This is War” album with the documentary “Artefact” coming after they left to move to Universal. The question remains why didn’t they go it alone?
With digital you have global distribution through iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and the like. With social you have global marketing and with YouTube you have your video platform. So what do record companies actually do these days and why don’t more bands have the balls to go out alone?