Here’s what’s a-rumblin’ in the music-tech-policy Thunderdome…
Arcade Fire No. 1!
The biggest news in the indiesphere this week: The Arcade Fire’s new album is No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. On Tuesday, The Suburbs (released August 2nd on Merge Records) debuted at #1 on the Billboard UK charts. Meanwhile, SoundScan figures released on Wednesday revealed that The Suburbs is also the current bestselling album in the U.S., with 156,000 copies sold.
Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal comments, tongue firmly in cheek, “Independent rock music is pretty popular now, apparently!” We’ll say! And we’ll say it again: The Suburbs is outselling every other new album in the U.S. and U.K. right now. Holy smokes! This is the first time the Arcade Fire, or the band’s label — the Carrborro, N.C. independent Merge Records, founded in 1989 by Superchunk members Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance – have had a No. 1 record on the pop charts. (They came close in 2007, when the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible reached No. 2 with 92,000 copies sold.)
The New York Times reports that sales tallies for The Suburbs may have been bolstered by a deep discount in the Amazon digital store. The L.A. Times’ Pop & Hiss offers the label’s take on the numbers (“The whole chart thing is kind of like sports,” comments Laura Balance.) Meanwhile, a new piece by New Yorker pop critic Sasha Frere-Jones offers a big-picture look at the Arcade Fire’s success, their relationship with their label, and the important role these factors play in the state of the music business at large.
If you’d like to meet the brains behind the label behind the new bestselling indie band, Merge label manager Spott Pilphott will be speaking at — you guessed it — the upcoming 10th Anniversary Future of Music Policy Summit (October 3-5! Washington, D.C.! Register today!)
The future of music is…merch?
More news from Indieland: in recent conversations with the Seattle Weekly, Sub Pop art director Jeff Kleinsmith and general manager Megan Jasper have revealed that the Seattle label is considering a new sales model: packaging digital download codes for music with merch items like concert posters, band T-shirts and “beer coozies.”
“We used to give many of these tchotchke items away for free in an effort to entice people to pay for the music, but we’re considering flipping our strategy so that people pay for the toy and receive the music for free,” says Jasper.
A few indie artists have experimented with a tchotchke-centric sales models in recent years. For instance, Of Montreal’s 2008 album Skeletal Lamping was released in a number of different incarnations, including conventional CD and vinyl formats, as well as t-shirts, a button set, wall decals, and a paper lantern packaged with a digital download code for the album. It’s intriguing to contemplate how this strategy might work on a label-wide basis.
For more thoughts on indie music (and indie merch), dig our indie programming at Summit 2010.
GRD WG FTW
We recently caught wind of the news that eight major players in the international music and tech spheres — Amazon, EMI Music Publishing, iTunes, Nokia, PRS for Music, SACEM, STIM and Universal Music Publishing — have teamed up to form the Global Repertoire Database Working Group (GRD WG). According to their website, the working group originally formed in the fall of 2009 for the purpose of drafting “a common framework for rights ownership information for musical works” — that is, a Global Repertoire Database.
On Friday, July 30, the GRD WG released a Request for Proposals seeking input from “CRMs, technology companies, software solution providers or others with demonstrated capabilities in large-scale data management and efficient, cost-effective and timely technology development and management.” Judging by the working group’s new focus on practical solutions to power the database, it sounds like the project is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Business-speak aside, what’s the significance of a Global Repertoire Database? Digital distribution has made the music business more global than ever, but there currently exists no centralized, authoritative source of information about who owns the rights to recordings or how they can be used under the law of various countries. A global database of copyright and licensing information would be a tremendous help to new online music ventures and, of course, the artists they support.
“The initiative aims to lower the administrative barriers to businesses seeking to distribute content online and ensure that creators of music are quickly and efficiently compensated for their work,” the working group explained in a recent statement to Digital Music News.
We’ll be watching this project closely as it develops.
National Association of Broadcasters and musicFIRST talk performance royalties
More exciting news in the artist compensation zone: On August 6, the National Association of Broadcasters and musicFIRST coalition met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the terms of a settlement regarding the creation of a U.S. public performance right for sound recordings.
The NAB, the trade organization representing commercial radio and television broadcasters, is on the record as opposing the performance royalty, calling it a “performance tax.” musicFIRST is the coalition of music industry and trade organizations (including SoundExchange, the RIAA, and A2IM) who support the creation of a public performance right for sound recordings.
The NAB lists some of the terms under discussion in a recent press release. Expect to hear more from us soon about these important developments.
Like musicFIRST, Future of Music supports the public performance right. For more information, see our Public Performance Right for Sound Recordings fact sheet and our past coverage of performance royalties news.
The Ultimate Chart: the most ultimate thing since Ultimate Frisbee?
If you follow music industry news (and we hope you do!) you’ve probably already heard about the July 20th launch of the Ultimate Chart, the 10+-years-in-the-making flagship project of media measurement firm BigChampagne. You can learn more about it from recent coverage by the New York Times, NPR Music, and more.
The Ultimate Chart is being touted by some as the 21st century answer to Billboard, the venerable music industry trade publication known for tracking music sales and airplay ranking in charts like the Billboard 200 and the Billboard Hot 100. For the better part of the 20th century, Billboard charts were pretty much the only game in town when it came to measuring what was quantifiably “popular” in the world of popular music.
What’s so ultimate about the Ultimate Chart? In a nutshell, it promises to sift through the teeming sea of digital data to create a more comprehensive picture of how people consume music today.
In addition to using traditional metrics like album sales and radio airplay to create its rankings, the Ultimate Chart also factors in information from a variety of online sources, including Amazon, iTunes, Youtube, VEVO, Pandora, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, last.fm, AOL, and Yahoo. “We collect more relevant information from more sources than anyone ever has, by our count,” boasts their website.
Because we can’t stress highly enough how awesome Summit 2010 is going to be, let us remind you that BigChampagne, too, will be straight reppin’: founder Eric Garland is among the confirmed panelists at the FMC Policy Summit!