Radiohead Manager, Nettwerk Launch New Label: Artists Get To Keep Their Copyright

from the good-news dept

We’ve pointed out how incredibly ridiculous the old structure of the recording industry was, where artists would hand over pretty much all of their rights to the label. It’s amazing that this sort of indentured servitude model has survived as long as it has. After all, if you look at other parallels — such as venture capitalists and startups, the VCs don’t end up totally owning startups to the same extent as labels. Of course, this was really a function of the limitations inherent in the industry: the very limited ability to promote and distribute music in the past without a major record label behind you. With those barriers falling away, we’re seeing much more reasonable models pop up. I still believe there’s a big place for record labels, but it no longer needs to be a massive record label where you hand over all your rights.

And, in fact, we’re seeing newer, more nimble and smarter record labels who are willing to embrace these new models rather than spending all their money on lawyers and lobbyists to hold back customers. The latest example (sent in by Ruby) is that Radiohead’s manager, Brian Message, has teamed up with Nettwerk (who we’ve written about a bunch) to launch a new, much more artist-friendly record label called Polyphonic. One key point: artists on the label retain their copyright. To be honest, it’s amazing that any band has ever been willing to give up the copyrights on its music to a label, so it’s good to see alternatives showing up. The other plan is that the artists will get 50% of any profits, a significantly larger percentage than most other labels give.

Remember, also, that Brian Message is the guy who said file sharing is great for music and championed the band’s “pay what you want” experiment (which I still don’t think was nearly as creative as others’ business models). And Nettwerk’s Terry McBride has been an enthusiastic supporter of innovative business models that don’t focus on relying on copyright as a crutch (in fact, he’s discussed that copyright may be a totally pointless concept in the near future, and artists are better off to focus on other ways to build smart business models). It will be interesting to see who the new label signs up.

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Companies: nettwerk, polyphonic

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Comments on “Radiohead Manager, Nettwerk Launch New Label: Artists Get To Keep Their Copyright”

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Ima Fish (profile) says:

he’s discussed that copyright may be a totally pointless concept in the near future

He’s looking at copyright too narrowly. He’s looking at copyright from the consumer’s perspective. I wholeheartedly agree that consumers should not be concerned with copyright.

However, copyrights are still big business where big business is concerned. If some corporation wants to use your song in an advertisment, movie, TV show, etc., copyright ensures you get paid. That very important and still highly relevant aspect of copyright is not going away anytime soon.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Behind the scenes at a major label about now ....

Behind closed doors at a major label

“Oh my god a label is letting an artist keep his rights
to his music…. what in the hell are we going to do if
this catches on?”

“Lets invest in his company, Stifle his ability to gather artists, then sue him”

“Hey thats what we do with all the internet startup why should we treat him any different?”

Anonymous Howard, Cowering says:

Re: This can't possibly work....XOXOXO

“This can’t possibly work for small, unknown bands.”
– Of course not, EVERYONE knows that you need a big label fronting you the promotion money to get any following at all. And how would you pay the session musicians?

“This can’t possibly work for established bands.”
– Also, obviously, NO BAND can become well known or established without the big label throwing money at DJs and radio comglomerates to get airplay, and TV networks to get music behind the soul-searching scenes in ER and Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives and Matlock and all the other huge TV hits. And how would you pay the session musicians?

“Mike, spoon feed us business models so that we can complain to you if we fail!!!”
– Especially the business models that provide guaranteed lifetime income for the session musicians and their descendants!!! All the rest of us have jobs that provide guaranteed income for our families and descendants in the event we are unable to continue to get a paycheck. Right?


reboog711 (profile) says:

I wonder about other aspects of the contract...

On the surface this sounds good, but I feel I don’t have enough information to properly judge how good it is.

What if these label contracts have a lot of the same ‘bad’ terms used in traditional label contracts? What if the label uses the same smoke and mirrors to mask income and inflate expenses?

Is the band still obligated to reimburse the label for the recording of the album and the promotion of the band / record? Is each album cross-collateralized?

50% of the profits, when you have a loss is no better than 10%-15% of the profits when you have a loss.

SteveD (profile) says:

Re: I wonder about other aspects of the contract...

This has me suspicious too. People who just think labels are greedy and evil don’t appreciate the very real costs involved in recording and promoting music.

It is good that a band will be getting more influence (an artist who signs away their copyright for life really has no leg to stand on in future dissagreements), but there isn’t any such thing as a free lunch.

‘50% share of profits’ could mean any number of things; publishers are deviously clever with numbers when they need to be.

eclecticdave (profile) says:

Re: Re: I wonder about other aspects of the contract...

> People who just think labels are greedy and evil don’t appreciate the very real costs involved in recording and promoting music.

No, people think they are greedy and evil because they typically charge all of those costs against the artist’s advance/20% and run laughing to the bank with the other 80%

The fair and reasonable way to do it (IMO) is to take the costs out of the pot first, then share the *net* profits 50/50. I agree that we don’t know if this is what Polyphonic is planning, but I’ve heard good things about Nettwerk.

Anonymous Coward says:


I first heard about Nettwerk when I fell in love with Sarah McLachlan’s music back in 1993. They went something like a half million dollars in debt to finance a 2.5 year tour of her album “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy” because they view their artists as long-term investments rather than short-term money fountains. So I’m not at all surprised they’d attempt this sort of thing. I wish them the best of luck!

Seth says:

A very important point needs to be made. The artist signs away the copyright to the RECORDING only. If the artist is the author of the songs, they automatically keep the rights to the composition…no label can take that away. So when a song is liscensed in a commercial or movie, the production company has to make TWO liscensing deals, one with the label for the sound recording rights, and one with the publisher (or artist if they are self published) for the publishing or composition rights. Keeping the recording copyright is still a good deal for any artist, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not exactly a game changer either. Different payment structures with regards to recoupment and royalties should be the focus in any new deal.

JJ Cancel says:

Let's talk

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JJ Cancel says:


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