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.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.]
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.
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?:) peaceIf 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?
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?!