Shock horror, but nowadays it’s just not as fashionable simply to blame the labels for not “getting the internet”. So, as part of a series of regular features Music Ally will over the next few issues spotlight some leading North American managers to get their views on how the labels are learning to deal with the challenges of digital.This week we spoke to Bertis Downs, manager of REM; Scott Welch, who has represented Alanis Morrissette, LeAnn Rimes, and Collective Soul among others; Terry McBride, ubiquitous manager of Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLachlan.Bertis Downs is very positive about his longstanding relationship with Warner. “They have a great team led by Ethan Kaplan. He’s very young – under 30 – and very much a techie. Warner realize their entire company – not just the new media department – but the whole company now has to embrace this.”In July 2007 REM played a five night residency in Dublin as part of its working rehearsal for the 2008 album Accelerate. The residency formed the hub of most of the pre-release digital activity for the band. “I’d been reading an article in the New Yorker, and it gave us the idea to do a Wikipedia for the show,” says Downs. “We allowed people to post messages, meeting places, maps of the city … then they started posting their own blogs and trading MP3s and posting YouTube videos. …the record company was totally cool with it. Two years ago they would have freaked out.”The resulting site, subsequently formed the hub of the band’s online activity and Downs claims that through the fan activity REM had seven of the top 100 videos on YouTube that week, in spite of the fact that often it comprised ‘unfinished material’.Ubercool French video producer Vincent Moon was brought in to develop official videos around the shows, which took in the form of ninety different vignettes which were uploaded to “That got the attention of the hardcore fans,” says Downs.Moon was then hired to create the first video. “He and Michael [Stipe] said it would be cool to see all the different camera angles – so we threw everything up and let people mix their own.” Moon has, according to Downs, been so impressed with the results, that one remixer in Brooklyn has already been invited to work with Moon on future projectsThe net result has been that fans felt involved, the band created a wealth of peripheral content, and the label has been fully involved, driving the project in some areas. “The key is trying to figure out the balance between promotional activity and what you can monetise.”Talking of monetisation (and YouTube), Nettwerk boss Terry McBride agrees that the video sharing site is a key focus of attention when it comes to digital but innovation is being hampered in his view by the majors’ lack of transparency. “Nobody knows what the deal is with the artists from YouTube. The majors have done deals with YouTube but we just haven’t seen the implementation of those deals with the artists. If none of the artists know what the deal is, there’s no real incentive to do innovative stuff with YouTube.”YouTube is part of a bigger problem, according to McBride. “So much of this is just not transparent. It’s really still the Wild West out there. Advances are being handed out; in some cases the labels are taking equity stakes, but how is this going to be shared with the artists?” As for the positive, the most significant sign of a change in attitudes, according to McBride, is the success of Amazonmp3. “I think the most impressive thing they’ve done is to allow Amazon to go from nothing to about 8-10% of the digital market. But the best thing about this is that this has taken place without taking sales off iTunes. Our iTunes sales are just as high as they were before Amazon’s launch.”Alanis Morrisette manager, Scott Welch, confirms that attitudes have been changing. “The majors are starting to really embrace digital. I think they’re more open-minded now. You can go to them with ideas and concepts and they’re more receptive these days. The old business was “we’re the label and digital is not going to be that successful and let’s sue them.” The digital business is the best marketing machine ever invented for music. Now you can niche market, target market and the CPU (Cost Per Unit) for marketing goes down. The labels have finally figured out that nobody buys a record because of a label. They’ve realised that the future of the business is the relationship between the artist and their fanbase and that’s where all marketing and strategy needs to go.”This article was published in Music Ally

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