Throwing Rocks Through Your Windows: Cover Artists Beating Original Artists To Market

from the marooned-maroon-maroons dept

Most artists dream of seeing their new single debut near the top (if not the very top) of the singles charts. For some bands this dream has become one of those nightmares where you’re in high school and you’ve arrived at class sans finished essay and most of your clothing, except replace “arrived in class” with “saw their single climb the charts” and “sans clothing” with “attached to someone else’s name.”

Pity the poor members of Maroon 5 (if you can), whose anticipated chart success with their latest single appears to alreay have been enjoyed by cover artists operating under the name Precision Tunes, weeks before the official release date:

Some of the world’s biggest pop stars have fallen victim to the practice, which sees near perfect copies of their latest songs enter the charts before they have even released their own version. A fortnight ago, for the first time, one of these copies – a cover version of a song by the band Maroon 5 – made it into the top ten of the British charts before the real track was released.

On June 17, a track called “Payphone (Maroon 5 Feat Wiz Khalifa Tribute)” by an unknown group calling itself Precision Tunes made it to number nine in the official charts, purely on the basis of online downloads. This was a week before the US band Maroon 5 and the rapper Wiz Khalifa released the official version of their song Payphone. In the week it reached the top ten, the Precision Tunes version reportedly sold 34,492 downloads – a figure which music industry insiders said was surprisingly high.

A variety of pop tunes covers have made it onto the iTunes charts before, but only very recently have these covers beat their namesakes to sales success. While not technically illegal, these covers are definitely operating in a gray area. Mechanical royalties (in the US) allow for covers once the original artist has recorded the song (not “recorded and published” or “recorded and made available for purchase”). [This pertains to US mechanical royalties only. PRS, who collects the royalties in the UK, refers to allowing the original song to debut first as a “courtesy,” as any song receiving radio airplay is being used “commercially” and is technically fair game.]

Precision Tunes’ cover process involved “pulling” the track from radio airplay and swiftly cranking out a credible facsimile. If the song is on the radio, it can be assumed the track has been “recorded” and covers are now fair play. Basically, Precision Tunes is operating in violation of an unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement,” much to the chagrin of Maroon 5, among others:

In April ‘Carly Rae Jepsen Tribute Team’ got to number 49 with a cover of Call Me Maybe a week before the Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen released the original version of her song. Earlier this month the success of a cover group named Can You Blow My in reaching number 38 prompted the rush release of the US artist Flo Rida’s song Whistle, two weeks earlier than planned.

But the larger issue at play is one that has a long history in the UK: ultra-extended windows:

It is possible because of the unique situation in the UK where, unlike in other countries, songs by big acts get weeks of radio airplay before the official single is released. Traditionally, this has allowed bands to build demand to ensure big first week sales. The internet, however, means cover bands can now get in first, quickly making an online copy of the song available for fans who cannot wait for the real thing, or who do not realise they are buying an imitation.

True, the internet does make this process much, much faster, but this problem that The Telegraph seems to believe is new was actually commonplace during the 50s and 60s. Many artists rushed out covers to capitalize on the hits of others and in Britain, where American music was rarely licensed, British artists covered tracks to fill in the gap. So, it’s not really an issue of copycat artists taking advantage of the bandwagon as much as it is an availability issue. People want to purchase new music while it’s still new, not days or weeks or months down the road, after it’s been played to death by radio DJs.

As Helienne Lindvall pointed out back in 2009 while declaring that cover artists were “robbing” original artists of income, it does no one any good to discuss the morality of cover artists when the real problem is licensing and staggered windows:

Last year, I wrote about the problem of holding back the release date for songs in the digital age, as it drives people towards illegal filesharing sites. I mentioned the example of Leona Lewis’s cover of Snow Patrol’s Run. Someone called Ameritz managed to get into the charts with a similar sounding cover of the same song at the time. And last August Nicki Bliss was at No 50 with I Kissed a Girl the same week Katy Perry entered the charts at No 4.

When you’ve got even Helienne Lindvall pointing out a failure of the legacy system, you know you’ve got a real problem. Holding back tracks to generate demand via radio airplay just creates a market you’re not serving. And that market will buy from whoever’s selling, whether it’s iTunes or something, um, more cost effective.

Steve Angello (one-third of the now disbanded Swedish House Mafia) learned this the hard way. In a vituperative rant delivered on his personal blog, Angello ripped into file sharers for pirating his tracks. Not incredibly unusual, but it did little to endear him to his fans, who pointed out that they’d gladly give him some money if he’d just make his tracks available for purchase earlier:

I totally agree the prices on iTunes / Beatport are very cheap – so I think most people are tempted to download off these blogs simply because they can’t wait to get the tracks… sometimes you have to wait like 4 months after hearing something before it gets released!
I’m not defending it, but I think that is what motivates people.

youre completely right! (btw i also buy records) i dont wanna say anything bad about your statement but please just keep this point in mind: in a record shop you cant steal a track that is gonna be released in a year!!! if the people hear your killer tracks like “bodycrash” or “be” or whatever in a radio station they want to buy it immediately or at least in an acceptable time. cus they go crazy for it! but they cant, they can only find it on illegal blogs and on p2p so thats the choice a lot of people are gonna take. am I wrong?:) peace
– Julian

If record companies (and producers) didn’t hold out so long on releasing tracks from the time of the first promo pressings/copies people wouldn’t feel the need to “steal” your music.
People wait months and months for official releases and by the time they arrive people are sick of hearing the fucking track, no matter how good it is. Holding back the release has one purpose, to build up hype in order to sell units. However in this day an age when everyone has access to the internet on high speed lines this no longer holds true.
If you’re trying to make it as a DJ you MUST to have upfront tracks, not tracks that have been cained by the likes of Pete Tong day in, day out for the last 3 months, and unless you’re “connected” what chance do you stand. Sure, you may say create your own tracks, but where is the recognition factor there?!
– Go

If you don’t want your fans helping themselves to your latest single, make it available for sale as soon as they start hearing it elsewhere. No one wants to wait for the “opportunity” to purchase lukewarm hits at some arbitrary point in the future. If their only options are “someone other than you,” then that money will walk right on by. Your fans want to give you money now. Why keep them waiting?


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Comments on “Throwing Rocks Through Your Windows: Cover Artists Beating Original Artists To Market”

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fogbugzd (profile) says:

This is just another example of why old business models must die. They are already on life support. The would already be gone, but governments around the world have been pouring resources into keeping their brain-dead bodies breathing. ACTA’s defeat in Europe may be the first sign that governments are finally facing the reality of the situation and are willing to shut off the artificial ventilators.

SujaOfJauhnral (profile) says:

Your fans want to give you money now. Why keep them waiting?

They don’t want money,they want “BIG” money.

They would rather have a million dollars on a whim than a gold laying duck (Even though she can lay many more than million dollars worth in gold) because it’s easy and it’s “BIG”.

They’d sooner slaughter her so no one else can have her.

Point being: They are incapable of thinking ahead/long term solutions, instead settling for the easy momentary route because it nets what appears to be the bigger number than just being patient/caring and getting ten times the value.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it says a whole lot to see Techdirt cheering on the knock off artists. It says so much about the level of respect for those artists who actually make new music and try hard.

Kids, don’t bother to be original, just be quick with a knock off and you too can be rich.

A truly sad state of affairs.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t see anything in this post cheering on knockoff artists for being knockoff artists. The point of the post, which you seem to be unable or unwilling to comprehend, is that windowing your releases is only going to hurt the original artist.

Apparently you missed the entire section about how not having music licensed in Britain back in the 50s and 60s led to British artists recording their own versions of American hits to fill the void, along with the section detailing why putting your music in listeners’ ears without giving them anything to purchase leads to other people or services filling the void.

Your high horse seems to have a bum leg. I’d put him down if I were you.

Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style says:

Re: Re:

I think it says a whole lot more about you and what you saw in the article. Because I’m pretty sure, after carefully reading the entire thing (something I won’t suspect you of having done), nowhere in it does Techdirt cheer on knocking off artists. In fact, I’m pretty sure he says, it’s not cool but it’s going to happen if you refuse to put your product out there.

He points out how the song is available for listening, but not for purchase. So other people cover it, not a crime in and of itself, and then proceed to make a profit off their covers. Meanwhile, the original artists, whose work is being covered, still has nothing for the customers who want to purchase it, for whatever reason. By the time they do have a product out there for purchase, people have been overexposed and no longer want it.

The point being, STOP WINDOWING RELEASES. If you do so you’re only shooting yourself in the foot. People want to give you their money, in this day and age there’s no logical reason for a delay in giving them a product to purchase. If it’s out they’ll get it. If you aren’t selling it to them, they’ll get it elsewhere.

And sorry to say, but if you think just knocking off something can make you rich… then you’re an idiot. If that were the case all those iPhone KIRFs (keeping it real fake) would be all the rage. Ditto everything else that is readily and easily knocked off. However, that’s not the case. A truly fortunate state of affairs.

I won’t even bother to link to all the articles where TD blast labels/studios for ripping off artists, because that would just completely decimate your opening sentence and make you look like a bigger idiot. But maybe someone else won’t be as nice as me. Here’s hoping.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:



Why does it matter? Does the world end when a company doesn’t release a new tablet until they get to a major trade show, or Apple only released new products after one of their super secret everyone knows about it announcement presentation things?

If an artist chooses to PRE-RELEASE a song to radio 2 or 3 weeks before it goes on sale, what’s the big deal? If you want the song, buy it when it comes on sale. If you don’t want to wait, then don’t buy it, plain and simple. Enjoy some other artists music if they release it faster, if that is your need.

Bitching about windowing is the ultimate freetard excuse for being a freetard. It appears most of you have the patience of a 2 year old denied his milk and cookies.

Stop trying to tell other people how to do business. Do business with people who do it your way, and those who don’t will change if your business is worth it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Does the world end when a company doesn’t release a new tablet until they get to a major trade show, or Apple only released new products after one of their super secret everyone knows about it announcement presentation things?”

No. But if Apple has the stock to supply the demand right now, but waits a year instead, they only have themselves to blame if a knock-off steals their thunder.

“If an artist chooses to PRE-RELEASE a song to radio 2 or 3 weeks before it goes on sale, what’s the big deal?”

The artist is then whining that other are profiting (legally) from the song before they bother to sell it to their customers. They can’t have it both ways – either accept the money that your damn customers are trying to give you, or stop whining when someone else provides the supply you refuse to.


Yes, that always helps your argument, moron.

“Stop trying to tell other people how to do business. Do business with people who do it your way, and those who don’t will change if your business is worth it.”

That’s what I do, yet you idiots still accuse everyone who does so of being a pirate. Excuse me for trying to tell you how you can actually access my money.

Anonymous Coward With A Unique Writing Style says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It very much does matter, in regards to digital goods (like music or movies) which are available ASAP, yet aren’t being released for whatever reason.

Comparing that to a physical good, like a tablet, is just an attempt to grasp at straws. As a matter of fact though, while the world won’t end if a company doesn’t release a new tablet until a big trade show, it does semi-end for said company. There have been in fact a number of tablets (I’m a big tech fan and work in IT so I keep up on this kind of thing) that have been revealed at tech shows and only thereafter started to be sold that have flopped because the time between the reveal and the actual release was too long, and something better came along between then. Heck, perhaps the best example is the HP Touchpad. The hype around it was huge. The technology in it was great. It had the branding to make it. It took months to come out. When it did, shocker! It was being priced so horribly in comparison with various competitors that it literally died and was the final WebOS product released.

Also, comparing Apple super secret everyone already knows events is completely different. And even then, those events manage to reveal big things. I’m not a big Apple fan, but even I am amazed by said events. The rumors up until then, which is what you mean by everyone knows (because no one knows but they have their suspicions), are insane and vary and no one is sure til the actual reveal.

As for the artists example. Okay, so Artist A decides to put their song out today. The world loves it. The world wants to buy it. It’s essentially a hit. Oh wait, the world can’t. However, Small Band B hears the song and decides to do their own cover of it, which they release the same day (so let’s say for example purposes they release it 2 days from now). People see that Small Band B has released this “hit song” and start buying it. It’s pretty much the same thing, so it goes on to sell at an insane rate. Eventually, 2 months from that day, Artist A decides to release their single for sale. Oh, sorry. We’ve all already purchased a copy of the cover and in addition have already gotten tired of the song.

See what happens there? Artist A has shot themselves in the foot for a stupid reason.

Bitching about people complaining about bad business practices is the ultimate moron excuse of a moron. (Hint: I’m calling YOU a moron.) And don’t make assumptions about me, I’ve got nothing in this. I’m as patient as they come, but the only thing I care for honestly is tech and literature. Everything else I can, and often do, without. But again, in this day and age, there is literally no logical reason to delay releases of infinitely and easily reproduced digital content. None. Whatsoever. So no, it’s not people acting like 2 year olds, that would be more in line with your behavior (he says, referring back to your great, that’s sarcasm fyi, response where you mentioned freetards and freetard excuse).

And here’s the part where you reveal yourself for an idiot. The people have shown they’ll do business with people who do it their way. Per the example in the article. The cover song is selling and on the charts. Maroon 5’s version… nope, neither.

As for the rest of that last paragraph, pure stupidity. They’ll change if it’s worth it? HAHAHAHA! Whew. The scary thing is I’m sure you believe that. Let’s look at history, shall we Vanna. Mhm. I see, we seem to have nothing but some of those people with failing business models lobbying for protection and demanding the government make everyone else change to suit their wants/needs. No actual change.

And sorry, but at the moment, IT IS NOT A CRIME TO TELL OTHERS HOW TO DO BUSINESS. In fact, as a member and customer of the free market, I can very much tell others how to do business. Along with others. They DO NOT have to listen to us, but we can still tell them what we’d like them to do, what they should do, and so on and so forth. In fact, as long as we aren’t actually forcing others to change, we are very much well within our rights. That you have a problem with this is that, your problem. Don’t like it, maybe you should stop trying to tell others how to conduct their business. Go elsewhere and talk to people who do it your way, and those who don’t will change if your way is worth it. (See what I did there, Sunshine?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

For fuck’s sake, we keep telling you that we don’t. I don’t get music from artists I don’t listen to, legitimately or otherwise. Yet you idiots keep bitching to us about how a lucrative money-making industry is dying on its knees (and has been dying on its knees for a decade, apparently) and insist that this justifies laws that would give everyone else the burden of proof in order to prove we’re all not filthy pirates.

Oh, and bitching about bitching about windows? That’s the ultimate elitist, copytard excuse. “I refuse to sell my product in your country, because you’re all losers! You aren’t allowed to have it, and if you somehow get your hands on it, you’re a filthy pirate and I’m going to throw the book at you!”

When you come here and call everyone a freetard regardless of our music tastes, spending habits and international conditions it’s very hard to take you seriously.

RadialSkid (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Freetard?” Did you just switch topics mid-argument? Who the flying fuck said anything about piracy? Or “free” anything, for that matter?

Enjoy some other artists music if they release it faster, if that is your need.

This is exactly the topic at hand. Other bands are releasing legal covers of songs while the original groups are sitting on their thumbs for no reason, and the cover bands are beating them to the market. So it doesn’t sound you have an argument, then.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s not a moral or legal argument, it’s pointing out that you’re stupid for generating demand for a product people can’t buy. No, the world won’t end because a song is on the radio for a few weeks before I can buy it. You know what does happen? That many fewer people buy it, because by the time it’s available, they no longer care or already acquired it through other channels. This is a very legitimate criticism to level against artists and labels.

Anonymous Coward says:

Self-Inflicted Injury

The whole idea of windowed releases is yet another management error by the record labels. It is taught in Basic Business 101 that you never advertise something that you do not have for sale. The name of Adam Osborne is often invoked as a ghastly example of what not to do. With music, the product is the advertisement. Releasing a song to radio stations constitutes starting an advertising campaign. Failing to have the music available for sale at that time is business foolishness.

If the record labels want to survive and prosper, then they had best stop committing well-known business mistakes. Their injuries are self inflicted, so they deserve no sympathy.

PaulT (profile) says:

“songs by big acts get weeks of radio airplay before the official single is released. Traditionally, this has allowed bands to build demand to ensure big first week sales.”

Traditionally? Perhaps, but it’s a “tradition” that only stretches back to the mid-90s or so. I remember during the 80s, it wasn’t unusual for a song to have its first national radio play during the top 40 chart show (airplay being irrelevant to the UK charts). By the mid 90s, you heard the songs repeatedly before they were released, and this completely changed the way the charts operated – instead of singles entering the lower reaches of the top 40 then slowly climbing as they gained momentum, they now entered in the top 10 and dropped like stones a week or 2 later.

On a personal level, this is the point where I stopped buying singles at all. I’d hear the song, want to buy it, but the release date wasn’t for a month. By the time that release date came, I’d lost all interest in buying because I’d already heard the song 20 times a day when it was played on the radio… Add that to the lower level of interest in what the new chart songs would be (as I’d heard them all already), and the high prices of CD singles, and they destroyed my singles purchases with their marketing!

This attitude is part of the outdated wrongheaded rubbish that’s killing the music industry. If you’re promoting a song *now* then people want to buy it *now*. In previous eras it made sense to window to allow for manufacturing lead times, etc., but it makes no sense in the modern digital world. In fact, in this case, all the windowing is doing is marketing the cover version as that’s the only one people are allowed to buy! You want people to buy your product? You have to ALLOW them to buy it!

I’d just also like to say I’m disappointed in Angello. Given the nature of club culture and house music in general, you’d have thought he’d understand the value of hearing music for free before purchasing… I guess he’s been working too long with Universal. Pity.

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