UK musician and activist Billy Bragg questions the role of social networking sites in today’s MediaGuardian. He argues that in the old days, artists had to sign with labels to get into record shops and to get paid. They usually kept only 10-15 percent of takings, with record companies covering manufacturing, marketing and distribution from the rest.
In an age of much simpler distribution, Bragg says that artists still receive only 10-15 percent of the record company share of sales on platforms like iTunes. Even taking into account the cost of ‘breaking’ an artist, Bragg questions whether artists need to sign away rights to record companies when they can promote and sell their own work directly online and retain their own copyright.
Social networking sites have a big part to play in this because artists “no longer wait to be discovered”. Bragg says the vast majority have no contractual agreements with everybody and that is in the spirit of the internet.
But he is critical of some social net sites that are making claims of ownership on this content and singles out MTV Flux: he claims a close reading of its terms hand MTV rights to transmit material “in perpetuity and gratis”, as well as commercially exploit, distribute, edit… without payment. “Such terms are unprecedented in the music industry and could have serious long-term implications.” Will social net sites allow artists to circumvent the record labels, he asks, or will they become a new way for them to keep their monopoly on copyright and earnings?
Plus, coincidentally, more on MySpace jumpstarting music careers on Variety. TV director and gig venue owner Peter O’Fallon: “The great thing about the Web is that there are no gatekeepers – no lawyers, managers, A&R people.”
Related: Audio Interview: MTV’s New User-Gen TV Service Flux
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.