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Record Label Sings New Tune

A small independent label in Great Britain, Loca Records, is reversing the traditional record industry business model. It is giving the rights to the artists – and anyone else who wants to use the music, too.

The idea is to foster experimentation and freedom in music by building a stable of free music which can be shared, remixed and manipulated by anyone. Songs are not locked by digital rights management technology.

Artists earn a percentage of any record sales; Loca Records makes its money through record sales, gigs it promotes and merchandise. David Berry, managing director of Loca Records and an artist himself, known as Meme says:

You’re free to copy it, give it to your friends and you can play it. If you’re really interested, you can sample it and then re-release it. Because at the end of the day, if you sample the work and create a fantastic remix, we think you’re entitled to try and make some money from it.

Loca Records licenses its music using Creative Commons and offers free copyright licenses to anyone who wants to share his work with the public while reserving some rights. Using these licenses, Loca Records permits anyone to copy and distribute the content, make derivative works and sell it, as long as they attribute the work to the original creator and distribute it under the same “share alike” license.

I do worry that copyright is getting out of control. This gives us an opportunity to create a new culture and a new sound. If we are greedy and we lock down our culture now, there will be nothing for the next generation.

Apparently, some artists at first do not know what to make of the new type of contract, but once they understand how it works, their response turns to positive.

There are others that are experimenting with new forms of music distribution and collaboration. Magnatune, an independent label in Berkeley, California, also offers music for download and sharing, and Opsound invites any musician to submit songs to its website, where others can listen, share and remix them. Both labels license the music using Creative Commons.

As David Kusek of the Berklee College of Music points out, historically, building upon one another’s music was common. Jazz, in particular, was based on improvisation, theme and variation and “who could outdo each other” with each interpretation of a piece.

It was the differences that were more interesting. We lost a lot of the spontaneity that was inherent in music when it became a package that could be stamped a million times and resold. The existing labels of the last 50 or 60 years have been all about controlling the expression, the packaging, the distribution and the scarcity of the music in order to turn a profit. That forced music to be defined as a product. It can be a product, but in its pure form it’s entertainment.

I am all in favour of new business model for the record industry. The reason for the falling profits is not just by-passing of copyright and licenses by their customers but ridiculous pricing and distribution of their product. Let’s hope artists take notice.

7 comments to Record Label Sings New Tune

  • Excellent! I’ve been saying for years that the problem isn’t copyright, but the licensing practices and contracts of the music business. It’s indeed heartening to see people starting to realize that it’s not some binary choice between the ‘evil record company model’ and just giving it away into the public domain.

    This sounds a lot like the Sleepycat software license, which is basically “free if you give it away, give us a slice if you charge for the derivative product” (I’m simplifying a bit 🙂

    And it’s very smart of them to let the artists (and listeners) retain more rights under their recording contracts in exchange for a piece of the take from live gigs, which is where almost all musicians make most of their money; and which record companies have been lusting after a bigger share of for many years.

  • It is noteworthy that when microcomputer software was a new business, the typical pirate was an individual computer owner who felt he needed but couldn’t afford the price of the product, whereas today, after more than twenty years of dramatic price-cutting, the typical pirate is a Fortune 1000 corporation that’s accidentally run afoul of some technicality in a product’s licensure rules.

    Perhaps the recording industry is ready to take serious note.

  • And to put it in practice, all you have to do is load up your (free) copy of winamp (Forget version 3, it’s a resources hog, bloated with useless features. Go for Winamp 2 or the 5.0 beta) or your (free) QCD and catch one of Magnatune’s internet radio feed:

    Renaissance & Baroque

    New Age

    World Music




    Tell you what, that Cargo Cult guy from Slovakia has talent.

    Now where’s the “Buy” button I wonder.

  • jk

    Hmmm. I am less sanguine than my friends.

    I agree a new model is required for the record industry is required but I am skeptical of this one. I cannot see property rights being protected for a successful artist.

    The “industry” made a big mistake when it fought-off the Schumpeterian gales it should have ridden with MP3s and Napster. But I have more hope for the Apple/eMusic model than Loca’s.

  • The real long-term problem for the record industry is that it is based on what is now a falsehood: that music is scarce. Everything the industry does is about reinforcing that sense of scarcity.

    And yet all over the Internet, many thousands of musicians are giving their music away, one way or another. This is a field where there are at least 100 talented amateurs for every professional, and with the changes in technology and tastes, this ratio is getting further out of hand.

    I hang out with guitarists. The vast majority are amateurs, even those who have “paying gigs”. They spend thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars just to do this. Heck, some of them spend that sort of money just for the gear to make home recordings – which they then give away.

    Faced with the incredible worldwide groundswell of music-making, I have a hard time believing that a business model based on enforcing scarcity has any long-term viability.

  • toolkien

    customers but ridiculous pricing and distribution of their product

    $14-$17 for 50-60 minutes (many times) of music with a lifetime license and the right to sell the single copy unfettered now qualifies as ridiculous? It seems exceedingly cheap to me, a product of technological advances our time. A reasonable dinner out for two costs $20-$30 and it comes and goes in a day. McD’s costs costs $8 for two. Two low quality dining experiences for about the cost of a CD. How about the cost of housing (I live in an 1800 square foot tri-level made of dry wall and pressed wood that costs $155,000)? The cost of transportation or every other consumable? What about the cost of education (decent school costs $10,000 a year, some $10,000 per semester – many people come out of school owing $50,000+)? I think the cost of the average CD is a bargain comparatively. And also considering that music exists entirely in the category of want versus need I’m not too concerned about the mass’s perceived right to it.

    Loca records has every right to contract in the manner they see fit. Other companies can contract as they see fit as well.

  • jk


    I agree with you on the pricing. The flaw is the distribution model. Many flocked to Napster when it first opened just to steal music but many (myself included) were attracted to the selection and convenience.

    The industry has to capture that in a model that protects property rights.