Ten years ago, serious artists with serious sales were afraid to piss off their labels.
Now, those same artists are far more afraid of pissing off their fans.
When Napster was being sued, Lars Ulrich was the one trumpeting the cause against free file-sharing. Dr. Dre and Madonna were also hardliners. But those were the exceptions – most of the other big-label artists just stayed put, even if their opinions ran contrary to the company line.
On the flip side, Chuck D and a number of independent artists supported file-sharing, and embraced the direct-to-fan and promotional possibilities. But, for the most part, these were not artists in need of serious support from their labels – cash for videos, tour support, studio time, distribution, and proper accounting. They were on the outside, with more to gain from liberated distribution and promotion.
And remember – in 2001, major labels were enjoying their strongest sales levels ever. They also largely viewed Napster as a one-off problem, an annoyance that could be crushed with decisiveness. Plenty of artists felt the same way.
The rest of the story is well known. But in 2009, the power of major labels has eroded so much that artists are more focused on the opinions of their fans. In the current British imbroglio over ISP disconnections, the BPI and legislators are the ones stumping for cut-offs. But the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) and the Music Producers Guild (MPG) are pushing against the punitive approach. “We vehemently oppose the proposals being made and suggest that the stick is now in danger of being way out of proportion to the carrot,” the consortium stated.
Those groups are speaking for some of the largest artists alive, including Paul McCartney, Elton John, Radiohead, Robbie Williams, and Damon Albarn. Sure, these artists aren’t marching on the streets, but their participation would never have happened in the earlier part of this decade.
So why the shift? In an environment where the consumer is truly king, the priorities of the music fan are paramount. Direct-to-consumer is more than just a neat new trick – fan relationships are now critical, and require constant nurturing. Plenty of mega-artists have ditched their labels in favor of direct-to-fan models – but even those remaining within the system must develop close ties with their followers or suffer long-term consequences.
And, turns out that internet connectivity is now just as important as any other utility. A growing number feel that the internet is far more important than television and radio, and many feel that snipping the net is like cutting off a necessity. That was a core consideration in France; what about the UK?
For the artist, the answer is simple – pissing off the fan by cutting the line is a bad solution. In ten years, the major label could be gone, and will almost certainly be a transformed entity. The fan – and more importantly, the direct-to-fan connection – is the only constant left.
Paul Resnikoff, Publisher.