Thursday, July 23

The NY Times on The Future of The Music Business

Artists Find Backers as Labels Wane

July 22, 2009, 3:36 am There was a time when most aspiring musicians had the same dream: to sign a deal with a major record label.

Now, with the structure of the music business shifting radically, some industry iconoclasts are sidestepping the music giants and inventing new ways for artists to make and market their music — without ever signing a traditional recording contract, The New York Times’s Brad Stone writes.

The latest effort comes from Brian Message, manager of the alternative band Radiohead, which gave away its last album, “In Rainbows,” on the Internet. His venture, called Polyphonic, which was announced this month, will look to invest a few hundred thousand dollars in new and rising artists who are not signed to record deals and then help them create their own direct links to audiences over the Internet.

“Artists are at the point where they realize going back to the old model doesn’t make any sense,” Mr. Message told The Times. “There is a hunger for a new way of doing things.”

Polyphonic and similar new ventures are symptomatic of deep shifts in the music business. The major labels — Sony Music, Warner Music, EMI and Universal Music — no longer have such a firm grip on creating and selling professional music and minting hits with prime placement on the radio.

Much of that has to do with the rise of the Internet as a means of promoting and distributing music. Physical album sales fell 20 percent, to 362.6 million last year, according to Nielsen, while sales of individual digital tracks rose 27 percent, to 1.07 billion, failing to compensate for the drop. Mindful of these changes, in the last few years marquee musicians like Trent Reznor, the Beastie Boys and Barenaked Ladies have created their own artist-run labels and reaped significant rewards by keeping a larger share of their revenue.

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