Beats Music Courting Indies, Signs Up Merlin (Exclusive)

Beats Music is courting independent artists and labels.

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The streaming music service on Thursday publicly announced a multi-year licensing deal with Merlin, an Amsterdam-based organization that negotiates global digital licensing deals on behalf of its 20,000 members, including Kobalt, Epitaph Records, Beggars Group, Merge and other independent labels.

"Beats recognizes that independents will be core to the success of their business," said Merlin's Chief Executive Charles Caldas.

Though terms of the agreement were not disclosed, both companies said Merlin will receive the same royalty rate as those granted to major labels, underlining the growing importance of independent music catalogs to digital streaming services such as Beats.

"While other services may try to get away with paying independent labels and artists less, we’re paying all repertoire-owners equally because it’s the right thing to do,” Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers said in a statement.

Merlin, whose members represent major artists such as Nick Cave, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Prodigy and Arcade Fire, has spurned licensing deals that it felt were not in line with those received by major record labels. The company initially balked at signing with Rdio, holding out for nearly six months after the service's launch in 2010 before it wrangled better deal terms. Merlin continues to refuse to license its members' catalog to Myspace.

Beats, which launched its highly anticipated subscription music streaming service on Jan. 21, is cultivating a softer approach in the hopes that it can win the trust of independent artists and labels, some of whom have voiced dismay over the relatively small amounts of money they receive from having their tracks on streaming services. Toward that end, the Santa Monica, Calif., service said it's offering to pay out the same royalty rates to all labels, regardless of size.

"Beats Music is committed to treating all artists and labels fairly and equally,” Rogers said.