Sunday, June 02, 2002

Musicians have the power in some ways

The Associated Press

        NEW YORK — Clint Black has a vision of the future that would strike fear into any record executive: He sees a day when fans will buy music directly from artists without waiting for a record label to release it.

        “I'll go to,” Mr. Black says, explaining how a fan would go about it. “I can have a 12-song CD for 12 bucks and guess what — I didn't have to leave the house for the CD.”

        Mr. Black, a member of the Recording Artists Coalition, which is seeking less restrictive record contracts, says labels may become irrelevant if enough artists decide to put out their music directly.

        “As the technology changes and the distribution channels evolve, artists are going to become free,” he says.

        In some ways, musicians already have that power. With the Internet, they can release music through their own Web sites and labels, and market themselves directly to music-buyers.

        But except for Prince and a smattering of others, few performers have gone that route.

        Even those who have had bad experiences with record labels and who have the name power and resources to release their own work, such as a Mariah Carey, have re-signed with record companies rather than do it on their own.

        Some artists say the labels are necessary to make sure the music gets heard.

        “You need an umbrella ... you have marketing, you have promo stuff, there's radio relationships, network relationships. It's so much thought and a lot of work that goes into just putting yourself out there,” says Ashanti, the R&B sensation who has sold more than 1 million copies of her self-titled debut this year.

        “And the money: millions and billions of dollars that go into the smallest things — the photo shoots, the promo materials, the CDs ... everything.”

        Josie Diels of the still-unsigned group Bouva knows about such struggles firsthand. Lead singer of the six-member band in New York City, she is looking for a label to promote Bouva.

        “I would do the independent route if I had my own treasure trove of money,” she says.

        Danny Goldberg, CEO of the independent Artemis Records — home to such performers as Steve Earle, the Baha Men and Rickie Lee Jones — says record companies will always be needed because they are “the investment bankers of the music business.”

        “It is a challenge to get artists exposed, and breaking new artists is really hard,” he says.

        In addition, Mr. Goldberg, the former chairman of Mercury Records and Warner Brothers Records, believes the proliferation of music Web sites will make record companies even more vital because artists need to make their music stand out in a sea of millions.

        “Marketing will become even more important,” he says.

        When music Web sites such as and others began to pop up, Ms. Diels was excited by the potential and put her band's music on several sites. But she soon found it was getting lost in the crush of music on the Web.

        “There are so many artist sites — who pays attention to them?” she asks. “On the Internet, you really get lost with all the other acts all over the world. ... I think there are so many artists like me. I would still have to find a way to set myself apart.”

        In addition, while a handful of acts have gotten signed from the Web — Transmatic, Brooke Allison and Fisher, for example — none has become a star.

        That's why Ms. Diels is still searching for that record-label deal. While she has misgivings about the industry — she worries that companies are not investing as much in artist development and are no longer willing to spend the time needed to break an act — it's still the best route in her eyes.


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