The decision to blacklist Digital Music News comes at a ‘moment of impotence’ for indie label consortium Merlin. So let’s shoot the messenger, shall we?
Last week, Digital Music News confirmed that not only was Apple mailing pre-determined, non-negotiable iTunes Radio contracts to indie labels, but that Merlin wasn’t even at the negotiation table. Which means your indie-strong ‘fourth major’ was exercising zero collective power, and essentially accepting far-inferior licensing terms than majors Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Universal Music Group.
It gets worse: while indies were clarifying and confirming the details on those ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ contracts Digital Music News, Merlin’s chief Charles Caldas declined to offer any information. One step further, Merlin press representative Sam Shemtob left little hope of any communication moving forward (in that polite, ‘f-you’ way).
“I have to, regretfully, point one thing out. Charles’ refusal not to speak to you regarding iTunes Radio is not as a result of his refusal to speak on that subject, but rather, unfortunately, he has become unwilling to engage with DMN. I believe this is rooted in past frustrations Charles has encountered.”
The earlier ‘frustrations’ are easy to list, though the question is whether Digital Music News is really the problem here. Ahead of massive litigation by the major labels against Grooveshark, we abruptly published a list of over 850 labels still licensing the platform (supplied by Grooveshark itself). Caldas immediately demanded a tear-down of the article based on complaints from members, though Merlin still appears to be tacitly endorsing the company at present.
Other sore spots aren’t hard to identify. Politically, Caldas has firmly aligned himself with Spotify and streaming services, despite considerable issues tied to inferior indie payouts and cozy major label relationships. Indeed, we’ve heard that indies are routinely getting diminished payments from the likes of Spotify, while majors enjoy stronger percentages, big advances and sweet perks like ownership shares.
And what about Caldas’ routine blow-ups against launching platforms, like the rebirthed MySpace Music? On that note, the question is whether all that indignation is actually proving effective: according to one label head with a rather lukewarm relationship with Merlin, the end results are typically only adequate. “Our label joined to get the collective bargaining power [of Merlin], which is great because it gave us two deal terms to consider,” the source relayed. “In the end, with [Merlin] dues and the rest, [the result] ends up being about the same.”
And now for a response from your friends at Billboard…
Image by Mark Anderson, adapted under a generic Creative Commons 2.0 license. Written while listening to Benga.