New York Times editorial where he argues that music artists who uploaded material to social network Bebo were entitled to a cut of the site's $850 million sale price. Because bebo owes much of its success to becoming an indy music hub, that seems reasonable, right? Bragg says this is a case of artists rights. Certainly, artists deserve to be compensated for their work, but if you willfully put it online for free, can you really lay claim to revenue later that was never part of the argreement?There was a lot of chatter over the weekend about folk punk rocker Billy Bragg's
Much of the response to Bragg's editorial has actually come in the form of a respone to a response. Specifically, Michael Arrington's Saturday afternoon post in which he argues that social networking sites like Bebo provide free marketing for artists. Most controversially, Arrington wrote that, "recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist."
That sentence in specific drew a vitriolic response from Nick Carr who called it "the saddest, stupidest sentence [he's] ever read." You can't make money from awareness, says Carr, so thinking that awareness is all musicians want is stupid. He's partially right. Recorded music, even though its reproduction cost is zero, is still a product that can and should be sold, and professional musicians want to, need to, and deserve to make money from their craft. But Arrington is also right: there is value in awareness and musicians aren't owed any money from social networks.
It's interesting to note that this argument has been made before about MTV and iTunes, which some musicians feel were unfairly built on the back of their creative material. From a November 2007 editorial by music producer Jermaine Dupri, "If anything, WE made iTunes. It's like how we spent $300,000 to $500,000 each on our videos and MTV and BET went ahead and built an entire video television industry off of our backs. We can't let that happen again. These businesses exist solely because of our music."
Social Marketing Machine
The wonderful thing about social networks like Bebo is that they provide a ton of viral marketing for musicians and other artists. The other wonderful thing is that they're completely voluntary -- you don't have to upload your work if you don't want to. However, because of the massive amount of free marketing that they provide, most artists would be silly not to take part in the love-in.
Bebo's terms of service specifically state that don't "claim any ownership rights in any Content" uploaded to the site, but that by uploading the content artists grant them "a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable license to use, copy, modify, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, communicate to the public and distribute such Content in connection with the provision of the Service and the Bebo Site, including with regard to the promotion of the Service and the Bebo Site on any media whether now known or hereafter invented, whether or not within the contemplation of the parties."
That's a lot of text, but what it basically means is that you own your work, and if you put it on the Bebo site, they might use it to make money. In exchange, though, you get your work exposed to thousands or millions of users of the Bebo service. Or, in other words, you get awareness.
Knowing the terms by which you participate in the site -- and anyone who uploads anything to sites like Bebo should familiarize themselves with the TOS first -- means that you can't ask for compensation later when the site turns a buck. That'd be like going on the TV show "American Idol," then demanding compensation when you didn't win because your performance was part of the show's content for a few weeks.
It should also probably be noted that most social networks allow, and sometimes encourage, artists to install third party widgets allowing them to sell their work via their profile.
Value in Awareness
streamed for free on iLike starting today until April 1, prior to its official launch. Next, Pennywise, who announced that they will be putting their new album on MySpace free for two weeks starting tomorrow.Most artists know that there is immense value in awareness. Two large music acts demonstrated that this week. First, REM, whose new album will be
Why would REM and Pennywise, two acts who have each sold millions of records, give their music away for free before selling it to their fans? They answer is awareness. These marketing stunts will potentially boost concert ticket and merchandising sales, while probably not hurting album sales from die-hard fans (i.e., the fans who buy every album a band puts out). It will attract a "look-in" audience as well -- people who have never listened to REM or Pennywise in the past will give their music a listen because its being offered free. That added awareness and consumer mindshare might translate into a few more fans and in turn translate into dollars down the road.
The "pay-what-you-want" download schemes from Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails would not have worked as well as they did had those bands lacked awareness. If success for independent artists requires the cultivation of "true fans" then awareness is paramount. The service that social networks provide -- free awareness -- is a valuable one for artists. The relationship between artist and social site is symbiotic: artists upload music and gain a following, social networks distribute music and make money.
What do you think? Are artists owed something by social networks if they upload their music there, even after agreeing to a TOS that says they won't be compensated monetarily? Is "awareness" compensation enough or should artists fight for more from the sites hosting their music? Let us know in the comments below.