‘5 cast iron commitments artists should demand from digital distributors’

The following MBW blog comes from Simon Wills (pictured), Director of UK-based Absolute Label Services, which has worked with a diverse list of artists over the years including Alice Cooper, Jack Savoretti, Steps, Deep Purple and Westlife’s Shane Filan, as well as labels such as BMG and earMusic. Here, Wills talks about the standards that all artists should demand from their digital distributor in the modern music biz.

At the end of September, via Music Business Worldwide, AIM CEO Paul Pacifico talked about the ‘invisible handcuffs’ that many artists may now find themselves shackled by should they want to move their digital distribution from one services company to another in order to find a better deal.

The potential for such a situation has steadily increased over recent years as more and more independent services providers have been engulfed by major music companies. Suddenly, many artists who had originally opted for an independent route to market have found themselves part of the corporate conglomerate heap.

The implications of this are far more than ideological. Paul pointed to a future Spotify IPO as an example. While independents have a long-standing commitment to share any proceeds from the DSP’s floatation on the stock market with their artists, those under the ‘self-release’ banner at major labels and their services divisions have no such guarantee.

“We’d like to see all companies involved in digital distribution and aggregation sign up to a formal code of conduct that will protect their clients in the evolving modern music industry.”

With that in mind, as Paul said, any artist that has found themselves swept up in the major spending spree should be able to switch companies and take their distribution back to the independent ecosystem with ease – but this can prove difficult if a company is unable to provide easy access to well managed data that can be quickly transferred to a new operator.

At Absolute, we welcome AIM highlighting this incredibly important point. But we believe there’s an opportunity to go further.

With a growing number of artists and indie labels turning to the services sector to power their businesses, and the increasing domination of streaming platforms as music retailers, we believe that artists deserve cast-iron commitments to five key principles that are only going to become more important.

We’d like to see all companies involved in digital distribution and aggregation sign up to a formal code of conduct that will protect their clients in the evolving modern music industry. At the very least, artists and labels should be asking questions of their service provider and demanding they uphold these basic standards.

  1. Assets belong to the client

From artwork to audio to metadata, the assets required for digital distribution always belong to the client. Any distributor should be able and willing to provide a full, affordable and expedient export service for those assets, meaning artists can take them in a DDEX industry standard format to another company quickly and easily, should they choose to.

  1. Data transparency

Digital distributors should guarantee full data transparency across all services where possible. Clients should be able to view and understand their full earnings from one platform to the next as close to real time as possible – and due payment should be distributed quickly.

  1. Breakage from DSPs will be distributed to the client

Breakage from digital service providers – where platforms pay out a lump sum of money that cannot be allocated specifically – should not be held by the distributor or aggregator but rather be passed on to and divided fairly amongst clients.

  1. Payouts from DSP IPOs will also be distributed to the client

Any monies gained from distributors and aggregators as a result of a DSP IPO should be shared fairly amongst artist and label clients. In the case of independents, this will be done via Merlin.

  1. DSP terms will be negotiated with the client at the forefront

The terms of agreement between DSPs and distributor or aggregator should always be negotiated with the artist and label clients’ best interests in mind. As always, they are the CEO of their business, not an employee of ours, and we are here to serve them.Music Business Worldwide

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