Much has been written over the years about bargaining power issues within the music business. Record labels have consistently been portrayed as exercising an unhealthy level of control over the livelihood of their signed artists. The rock pantheon is littered with tales of bands and songwriters ripped off by the greedy “man behind the desk with the cuban cigars” (as Tim Rogers would put it).
With the big labels’ declining control of recorded music (due to filesharing etc), emerging artists have deemed them less relevant. Artists have some scope to got it alone using myspace and direct contracting with distributors.
It looks like the emergence of the various successful video games built around playing along to your favourite tunes – i.e. Guitar Hero, Rock Band (and their various sequels) – have pushed the power balance further away from the big record labels and towards the musicians themselves.
As this article discusses, the game producers are most interested in dealing with the artists, and the record labels appear to be holding little sway in getting their artists’ tracks on the games. Also, it would appear that most of the bigger royalty streams here (use of image, bandname, and the publishing of what is, in effect, a cover rather than the original recording) reside outside of most artists’ contracts with their record label (i.e. it is the artists and their publishers who are getting much of the cash from this).
So, record labels can only sit around and hope that a band’s presence within the Rock Band playlist might significantly boost record sales. The labels have very little bargaining power with the games companies. As an analyst says in the article:
“There are literally probably 2 million songs out there, and fewer than a 1,000 were used in these two games combined in these last two years…If Warner wants to say we’ll take our 20 percent of the market and go away, a lot of bands are going to leave the label if they think they can get better exposure by being on these games.”
This is another instance where a whole link in the Value Chain has been disrupted by technology and shifting consumer behaviours. The record labels underestimated the impact of digital download technology on their sales. And now they look to have missed the boat on potent promotional tool which they should have had in their arsenal. Watch this space for artists taking back even more control in the future…