Merlin, the global body that represents independent labels in commercial negotiations, has turned five years old – and has released a timeline to remind us all of their achievements over theis half-decade.
Merlin opened for business in May 2008, and by September it was publicly criticising MySpace Music for launching with no license in place for music from the world’s leading independents.
Over the last five years licenses have been agreed with YouTube, Rdio, Deezer and Google Play among many others. Merlin has also achieved major copyright infringement settlements with Limewire, XM-Sirius Satellite Radio and Grooveshark, as well as being an active and vocal participant in the European Commission’s and other investigations of Universal’s acquisition of EMI. This ultimately saw Universal forced to divest a substantial set of assets in order to satisfy the EC’s competition concerns.
In March, Merlin CEO Charles Caldas said: “Being part of Merlin from the birth of the concept to its growth into a global organisation has truly been an honour. Seeing how strongly our members’ repertoire performs on the services that have shown the foresight to work with us, coupled with the millions of dollars in settlement revenues we have returned to our members, proves not only that any perception of independent repertoire being of inferior value is outmoded and regressive, but rather, that our members are central to the future of the digital market. And we look forward to continuing to be a part of that.”
Merlin Chairman Martin Mills of Beggars Group rhetorically questioned: “Was there life before Merlin?”
- October 2006 – The idea for Merlin is hatched, and start-up funding for a consultancy phase provided by a set of leading independents from around the globe.
- January 2007 – Official formation of Merlin, announced by world’s leading independent companies including Alison Wenham (WIN), Michel Lambot (PIAS), Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy) and Martin Mills (Beggars Group) at a Midem press conference
- April 2007 – Interim board appointed, chaired by Martin Mills
- August 2007 – Inaugural global board elected, chaired by Bob Frank (E1/Koch) and including representatives from all continents
- January 2008 – Merlin opens for membership
- May 2008 – over 200 independent companies join Merlin in first few months, including labels Epitaph, E1/Koch, PIAS, Dualtone, Saddle Creek, Domino, Beggars, Warp, Naïve, Wagram, !K7, Cooking Vinyl, Inertia and the world’s leading distributors such as Kontor New Media, Finetunes, Redeye, Thestate51consipracy and Kudos, estimates membership at around 8% of global market. With around 12,000 labels represented globally by its members,
- Merlin is open for business.
- September 2008 – Merlin publicly criticises MySpace for launching as a joint venture with the major labels, yet without participation of Merlin
- October 2008 – Merlin announces deal with Spotify in advance of its launch, alongside all of the major labels
- January 2009 – Merlin signs 300th member
- March 2009 – Merlin settles with Lphant peer-to-peer network via agreement with iMesh
- July 2009 – Merlin strikes global video deal with Muzu.TV
- September 2009 – Merlin elects second global board – adds representatives from companies such as Domino, YepRoc, Naïve and Inertia
- September 2009 – Spotify publicly announces that labels on the service under the Merlin agreement represent over 10% of usage on the service
- November 2009 – Merlin agrees terms with MySpace
- December 2009 – Membership grows to 390, collectively representing thousands of labels worldwide including companies such as Because, Armada Music, Dramatico, Victory Records and Ninja Tune
- May 2010 – Merlin signs deal with Simfy, Germany’s first streaming subscription service
- August 2010 – Merlin settles copyright infringement claim against Grooveshark
- December 2010 – Merlin membership hits 450, including Naxos, Bliss Corp, Merge Records, Made In etaly, World Circuit and Ditto
- January 2011 – Merlin strikes deal with Rdio, ending a long standoff over the launch of the service without a deal with Merlin and the labels it represents.
- January 2011 – Merlin agrees deal for launch of Sony’s Music Unlimited service
- April 2011 – Merlin leads class settlement of copyright infringement claim against XM Satellite Radio over Inno device
- May 2011 – Merlin releases results of market analysis showing members’ artists, including Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Bliss n Esso, Tom Dice, Motorpsycho, Yolanda Be Cool and Agnes Obel, achieving No.1 chart successes in territories across the globe, and highlighting the significantly better performance of its members in the digital market than in the physical market
- August 2011 – Merlin elects new board – adds members from companies including Epitaph, E1, Domino, Phonofile and Altafonte.
- October 2011 – Merlin strikes an agreement with YouTube, giving its members the opportunity to monetise their content on the platform.
- October 2011 – Merlin strikes deal with Cricket Communications for its Muve Music service, as well as with US streaming service, Slacker
- October 2011 – Merlin licenses Google Play store and appears alongside Universal and EMI at the Los Angeles press conference announcing the service
- December 2011 – Merlin membership grows to 518 independent labels and distributors, collectively representing over 2.5m tracks and 14,000 labels, including Harmonia Mundi, Playground, Wind-up, Altafonte and Sub Pop.
- February 2012 – Merlin announces landmark multi-million dollar settlement with LimeWire, the first time independents have participated in a settlement of copyright infringement claims against a global peer-to-peer service at this level
- May 2012 – Merlin and Deezer agree license terms for the global rollout of the service
- July 2012 – Merlin board votes unanimously to oppose UMG-EMI merger
- September 2012 – Merlin reacts publicly to the limited EC approval of UMG-EMI transaction
- February 2013 – Merlin, IMPALA and Warner announce deal to strengthen independent sector in a post-merger market
- February 2013 – Fast Company magazine names Merlin as fifth most innovative company in the global music industry
- March 2013 – IMPALA annual outstanding contribution award goes to Merlin CEO Charles Caldas
- May 2013 – Merlin publishes results of its global member survey, showing its members thriving in the digital market
- May 2013 – Merlin celebrates being in business for 5 years. Merlin now has over 580 label and distributor members, representing over 20,000 labels and well in excess of three million tracks. Borne out by the data it is seeing from its business partners, this is clearly the most commercially significant basket of recorded music rights outside of those held by the major labels
Alison Wenham Chairman and Chief Executive of AIM and Chairman of WIN commented: “Charles and his team at Merlin have brought the indies to a new level of competitiveness, and together, we have finally broken the pattern of leaving the indies out, or last in the queue for licensing. Congratulations to all and here’s to a bright future.”
Helen Smith, Executive Chair of IMPALA: “The groundbreaking agreement IMPALA reached with Merlin and Warner Music Group is credit to the impact Merlin has made in strengthening the independent sector, not just in the digital sphere, but across the whole market.”
Rich Bengloff, President of the American Association of Independent Music (“A2IM”): “Merlin has become a significant force for good for independents. Without a Merlin type of entity, many independents label may never have financially benefit from the significant settlements they have been achieved with infringing services. Merlin’s ongoing efforts in advocating the equal, and often greater, value of independent repertoire in the marketplace is essential!”
Commented Michel Lambot, Co-founder [PIAS] Music Group and Merlin Board Member: “Five years old – a little baby in fact – and he’s already put his name on the map – waouaw. I am really proud that [PIAS] has been part of Merlin from day one, extremely happy to see what the crowd and its chief in command Mr Caldas have achieved in such a short time and hope that respect towards indieland, its labels and its Artists will continue to grow in the tech world thanks to Merlin.”
Added Glenn Dicker, Co-owner, Redeye Distribution and Merlin Board Member: “As a true independent physical and digital distributor, Merlin has played a crucial role in our ability to remain aggressive in the marketplace and reach the ever expanding digital world as efficiently as possible. Merlin is helping us keep the digital market as a level playing field with the majors so we can compete fairly.”
Nina Tune Managing Director Peter Quicke stated: “Merlin has transformed our stature as a record company in the digital world – through them we can now have meaningful negotiations with the over-powerful tech titans – the future is bright, the future is Merlin!”
Horst Weidenmueller, founder and CEO of !K7, and Merlin Board Member said: “What Merlin has created for the sector is amazing. We can now focus on our main business without being concerned that we’ll miss the boat with any new services which come to market. Big respect to Martin Mills who had the idea to create Merlin and the working group at IMPALA who provided the funds in order to get it started.”
John Dyer, Director at Domino records said: “Five years, smiling and waving, looking so fine – Merlin unites us all.”Music Business Worldwide