Spotify must resist any pressure from its major label shareholders to prioritise them at the expense of independent labels, with Apple’s iTunes Store offering a model to follow, according to Because Music founder Emmanuel de Buretel.
The veteran music industry exec, who held senior positions within Virgin and EMI before setting up shop as an independent, delivered the warning during an on-stage interview at the By:Larm conference in Oslo today.
“I’d like Spotify to take more care of the independents. I think iTunes has been strong enough to resist the power of Universal and some of the majors. On Spotify, the problem is they are shareholders, so the influence is very strong. I really hope the Spotify people will understand that they need the independents, just like the majors do. We need each other,” he said.
“Spotify has to understand that the future is indie… Independence will come from people like me, from artists by themselves, and from the management companies. The market share of indie will grow. It’s why Spotify has to be careful. If they have a tendency like the radio to let the pay-for-play – or the power-for-play, for Spotify – they will lose at the end.”
Buretel was interviewed on-stage by industry journalist Emmanuel Legrand, who asked him if it’s still possible to survive as an indie. “I think it’s very difficult, but it’s possible. You have to be very concerned with digital,” he said, noting the challenge posed by major labels’ ability to sign big, worldwide deals in the US.
“We have done something extremely important with this structure called Merlin: we can group and make deals with the big platforms: the YouTubes, the iTunes – well, not yet iTunes – the Deezers, the Spotifys, who don’t really consider small indies,” he said.
“Merlin helps the indies to fight: the market share of Merlin is almost the market share of Warner. I like the idea of the Beggars Groups and PIAS and us helping small indies to have exactly the same deals. It’s good, it’s healthy.”
(That “not yet iTunes” is interesting: seemingly a sign that Merlin has yet to agree a deal with Apple for its upcoming relaunch of Beats Music under the iTunes brand.)
Buretel added that he sees growth ahead for physical music sales as well as streaming music services. “The future is streaming, definitely, but people will still buy. You don’t want to depend on rentals: sometimes you need to own. Vinyl is still very strong in my company,” he said.
“I believe in physical: even a product, a sculpture. You will put it on your table and it will broadcast to your Wi-Fi system. Instead of buying the next record of Daft Punk, you will buy a sculpture that will broadcast their music.”
Buretel said strong A&R remains the bedrock of any thriving independent label, but noted that the “very technical job” of collecting royalties is almost as important in 2015.
“Record companies used to think records: 10 tracks. Now you think songs. The most important revenue for me now is not even the songs, it’s the UGC: user-generated content on YouTube. You have your songs and your video, but also the music that’s used [in other people’s videos]. The internet has liberated the use of music: everybody is using my music without my authorisation, but I can claim it,” he said, referring to YouTube’s Content ID system.
“If a cat pees on a sofa [in a video] and my music is the soundtrack, I can’t stop it any more, which is a shame for some artists. But I can collect the money if I do my job well, and the independents with a small catalogue can do it much better.”
Buretel finished off with some blunt words about past failings within the music industry. “Sometimes people are too arrogant and too sure of themselves, and I think we are paying in a way. It became a caricature of itself, y’know, and sometimes it’s important to go back to the reality,” he said.
“The music business, perhaps with drugs and everything, became too much a caricature and we paid. Yes, technology and everything destroyed it, but we destroyed it ourselves. It became too political, too cynical, and it’s good to come back to reality and be humble.”