MSN Music has pledged to "level the playing field" for indies when it comes to paying the labels for digital downloads. That was the good news that American Assn. of Independent Music acting president

MSN Music has pledged to "level the playing field" for indies when it comes to paying the labels for digital downloads.

That was the good news that American Assn. of Independent Music acting president Don Rose delivered to roughly 40 labels attending the Founders Conclave II at Los Angeles' Knitting Factory yesterday (July 25).

"We've been working with MSN on coming up with a contract we could endorse for the independent community," Rose told Billboard.biz following the meeting, adding that in June he met with Microsoft founder Bill Gates about the situation. Independent labels have been fighting many of the online download services, including MSN, Apple and Yahoo, to pay them the same rate per download as they pay the major labels.

Rose read a statement from MSN Music GM Mike Conte that said, in part, "MSN Music provides content from over 3,000 indie imprints and we're working with A2IM to resolve delivery and administrative issues in order to level the playing field for indies in relation to the larger music companies."

Rose said that MSN Music, which plans to launch a subscription service shortly in addition to its existing a la carte download service, has agreed to up the download payment rate to $0.70 to indie labels who additionally provide content to the subscription service. That rate would put the indies on par with major labels. Now, indies generally receive $0.65 per download.

Rose said A2IM also intends to hold meetings with Apple, Napster and Yahoo!, adding that some meetings have already been set. He said that Apple is already talking to A2IM to increase the indie rate to $0.70.

Digital distribution was one of the first issues Rose promised to tackle at A2IM's inaugural Founders Conclave, held June 6 in New York.

Four of A2IM's interim board members attended the Los Angeles meeting: Roadrunner Records senior VP/GM Doug Keogh, Lookout Records co-owner Molly Neuman, Tommy Boy Records owner Tom Silverman and TVT Records president Steve Gottlieb. Elections will be held in September to finalize the board positions and presidency.

Gottlieb says he could see the momentum growing for the nascent organization. "There's an understanding of the power of the independent community when it comes together." While he applauds the "tangible results with Apple and MSN and the notion of there being an indie price being put to rest," he stressed that A2IM has much more to offer its members. "When you put together the individual entrepreneurs, they see they don't have to reinvent the wheel. The sharing of ideas and working together will create new business opportunities we never imagined."

Label attendees interviewed by Billboard.biz were impressed with the solidarity and services A2IM can provide. "It's a great opportunity for indie labels who don't know the complexities of how subscription deals are calculated to work together. It's wonderful to have someone represent you," said Ralph Cavallaro, co-owner of Los Angeles-based Organic Music.

John Loken, co-owner of Los Angeles-based Fearless Records agreed. "It's almost like a help group for a group of companies who have been misrepresented and underserved," he says. "The rulebooks are being rewritten with Apple and Yahoo! And it's important for indies to have a voice in that."

Among the other labels attending the meeting were Concord, Six Degrees, WAR Records and Cleopatra.

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