Sunday, February 24, 2013

A look at indie distribution

            Independent record labels are being credited with helping the music industry. For only two weeks of the last three months of 2012, a non-independent label album topped the Billboard 200. The two records were Unapologetic by Rihanna on Def Jam and Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys on RCA. This is important because it was what sold the most during the ever-important holiday season. The albums leading the charge included Babel by Mumford and Sons on Glassnote, Night Train by Jason Aldean on Broken Bow Records, and Red by Taylor Swift on Big Machine Label Group. Also fitting the trend, the last 5 Grammy Album of the Year winners, Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Fearless by Taylor Swift, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire, 21 by Adele, and Babel, have all been independent label releases.

            But how independent are these releases? How do a small band like Mumford & Sons and an indie label like Glassnote get so big they are industry darlings? The truth is they get there with the support network major label releases get. Most independent labels have a distribution deal with one of three distribution companies owned by a major label. The most prominent one is RED Distribution, owned by Sony Music. The company began its start in 1979 distributing hard rock records as Important Record Distributors. IRD then formed a label called Relativity that became one of heavy metal’s biggest labels. In 1990, new management arrived and skewed the label toward hip-hop. Sony also acquired 50% of the company at this point, laying the groundwork for it’s current position. The company was renamed Relativity Entertainment Distribution as well. The company then began to acquire more labels for distribution in the 1990s. Sony took over full control in 2007. Following the success of RED, Warner Music Group founded its own distribution in 1993, called Alternative Distribution Alliance. Universal Music also has a distribution arm but it is not as large or successful as the previous two.

            Now, some might say that the majors having a hand in independent music be a bad idea but so far, it was worked perfectly. The independent labels and the artists they work with continue to do the work they desire. They in turn take their product to these distribution arms that do the hard work of promoting and marketing he album. They also take out a lot of legwork of manufacturing and getting physical copies to stores. This is why Taylor Swift may be an independent artist but can have her record be a Target exclusive and have billboard everywhere. I think it’s a fabulous idea in an era where the bottom line has become too important a force in how records are made and artists are selected. It allows indie labels to take a chance because less overhead is needed to launch their career. Without, I think many of the current trends in music, such as New Folk, crooner Frank Ocean and the Odd Future collective, and indie bands such as Arcade Fire and The Black Keys wouldn’t have the outreach to breakthrough.

The Grammys Sales Boost is still in effect

           Last week, some of the best records of 2011 and 2012 competed for music biggest awards, the Grammys. Whether you believe the show is an old irrelevant milestone of the industry or has started to push mainstream music, you can’t deny the awards still have pull among music buyers. In an article from the New York Daily News, Grammy winning albums, except for a few exceptions, again experienced a sales boost. The award ceremony was interesting because it presented a situation where there was no clear winner for many of the major categories, unlike the previous where Adele dominated for her album 21. The pre-telecast ceremony seemed to clear some of the mystery as the Black Keys picked up Best Rock Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song and Mumford & Sons losing their album’s category, Best Americana Album to Bonnie Raitt. It is unusual that an album that loses its genre category and wins larger awards. However, Grammy voters turned out to spread the awards around. Record of the Year went to Gotye for “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Song of the Year went to fun. with Janelle Monae for “We Are Young,” and bucking award trends, Mumford and Sons won Album of the Year for “Babel.”

            “Babel” rode the win to boost sales 242% and put the record back atop the Billboard 200. The album’s sales went from 54,000 a week before to 185,000 the week after. The band fun.’s album “Some Nights” went up 188% to go from 14 to 7. Gotye’s “Making Mirrors” rose to number 75 boosting 100%. The Black Keys’ “El Camino,” which was released in December of 2011, rose to number 14, representing a 135% boost in sales. Even those who didn’t win any awards managed to get a boost as well, Jack White and the Alabama Shakes managed to have huge boots for their records, “Blunderbuss” and “Boys and Girls.” These numbers don’t lie and prove that while some see the Grammy awards being irrelevant, the awards clearly still have a huge impact on mainstream music buyers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Copyright and Trademarks Podcast Lessons

            Copyright and Trademarks are two very important aspects of any business agreement. It is very important to protect those items that make a business unique so that the business continues to stand off and fight off copycats. The following podcasts took a look at these aspects and passed on some good ideas and warnings on these aspects. ARC Law Group’s Business, Entertainment, Sports, and Technology Law Blog podcast sets up the basics of a trademark. According to attorney Mark A. Pearson, a trademark could be word, design, or sound that give a person the origin of goods or services and not the goods or services alone. This gives the consumer of where the item is coming from. A totally made up word is a great trademark because it’d be hard for anyone else could be close. You can register a trademark with the US Patent and Trademark Office. Basic common law protection but really needs to be registered. The mark "™" is for common law usage of term. The mark “®” means that the trademark has gone through the application process with USPTO. This is important because it is important to research what marks are registered so that and realted trademarks cannot be used. It also means that our merchandise would not be trademarked just the fact that it’s coming from the Phishsonian.

            Entertainment Law Update’s podcast from July 5, 2012 had two interesting cases relating to trademarks. The first was that Lady Gaga wants the US Patent and Trademark office to cancel the “Gaga Pure Platinum” mark so that she can register “Lady Gaga” and “Haus of Gaga” but the cosmetic company continues to say it is in use.  This would relate to my business plan because see if there are related marks that would make it hard to trademark the name “Phishsonian”. The second case is that the University of Alabama is in a lawsuit with artist Daniel Moore over his paintings that portray moments in the school’s football team’s history. The school claims that the portrayal of the uniforms is a violation of trademark. The lawsuit found that the trademark was not infringed. This could be important in that that artwork of the museum or band may not infringe our trademarks and there would be no legal precedent to go after these items.

            The Nicholas Talks at Duke University had an interesting conversation with Kevin Smith, the director of the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication at Duke. He stated that short amounts of text such as quotes cannot be copyrighted but tweets can be copyrighted if unique enough.  This can be important to the business plan because social media may be used both in museum content and for marketing so it’s important copyright what is possible. January 1st is Public Domain day. Any expired copyrights from the previous year enter the public domain. This is important to follow as it opens up what can be displayed. A big question that Smith also proposed is should our website have a Creative Commons license? Can we let people use our materials? This is a great question about how our museum is presented on the Internet. Register all copyrights as soon as required so if litigation is necessary, it will be viewed in a better light. You can register a copyright later but it weakens the case presented.