I had the opportunity to escape the digital microcosm that normally dominates my daily life to attend Billboard's Touring conference in New York, and for me it was a real eye opener. While the digital revolution has disrupted the traditional business models of the major labels, it's enhancing those of the touring industry.
There was a lot of talk about "360" deals, with record labels now trying to get a piece of their artists' touring and merch revenues. But that model works both ways, with promoters like Live Nation getting into the labels' knickers with artist development deals. Madonna is just the first of many more such deals expected over the course of next year.
Digital is the door that allows promoters to enter this space, and they're kicking it in with force. Whether it's label-led or promoter-led, here's why I think these 360 deals are ultimately a good thing: They provide a one-stop-shop for digital music services looking to add various elements of artists content to their site. If one entity oversees all the rights to an artist's recordings, performance and merch distribution, that makes it easier to add link these assets (and more) to a any given service. The music industry has always been a bit of a maze for the tech outfits out there. Straightening the lines a bit can only help.
While I applaud any new digital music model that goes live for the sheer audacity of trying something new in this chaotic time, I'm not sure the RCRD LBL initiative put forth by Downtown Records and blog entrepreneur Peter Rojas will successfully hit the mark.
On their own, various elements of the strategy make sense. But together in the configuration proposed -- not so much. It's like trying to mix you entrée and desert on the same plate.
As a music social network, it's not a bad idea. Ad-supported services are a tough business given the stiff licensing fees labels ask for. By purchasing those rights at the outset, RCRD LBL lowers those costs and can keep more of the ad revenue it gets. As a record label, the company rightfully relies heavily on online discovery and promotion, and offers a relatively decent deal to artists involved.
That said, the negatives are equally significant. We have a music service nobody's ever heard of that's stocked with content from bands nobody ever heard of -- it doesn't sound like a recipe for success to me. If a big-name act like Radiohead comes on board, maybe there will be some traction. But if it's all based on emerging/unknown music, then what's the point? It's just another music blog, and the world doesn't need another Pitchfork.
Perhaps if Pitchfork or another established music blog had taken on this approach it would have made more sense. But that leads to the other problem -- RCRD LBL has a vested stake in the content it posts, which pretty much eliminates the editorial credibility needed to be a trusted tastemaker.
That said, it's worth keeping an eye on this effort and see if there are any bigger-picture lessons to be learned from either its success or failure. It makes sense for labels to start transforming their Web sites from simple marketing tools to ad-supported entertainment destinations. Exactly how they do that is the big question mark.