More Emusic Data — What Lies Ahead

Today the company that bought Emusic, Dimensional Associates, put out a press release clarifying somewhat their intentions for the on-line music service. Here’s the meat of it, but please excuse the marketing hyperbole:

“EMusic is
partnering with the most renowned live music venues across the US to launch
its new program, EMusic Live. The program, set to launch in the coming weeks,
will bring together an existing network of venues, previously known as the
Digital Club Network (DCN), to make electrifying live performances available
to consumers from far-flung clubs across the country, including: the 9:30 Club
in Washington, DC; The Casbah in San Diego, CA; the 40 Watt Club in Athens,
GA; The Metro in Chicago, IL, Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT and Arlene Grocery
in New York, NY, to name just a few.”

It’s an interesting move, since the rights to live recordings are different than recorded music. Specifically, when an artist performs her songs live, her record label does not necessarily own that performance, and she can be free to sell those rights or sell recordings of it herself — depending on her contract.

Typically the record company owns the physical recording that makes up the CD, known as the “mechanicals,” and the specific performance that is on the CD. These days the songwriter, which is often the artist, retains ownership of the song itself, meaning that she can perform it all she wants without getting other permissions and without having to pay to do so.

So, in many cases the new Emusic Live could sell live recordings for popular artists simply by paying royalties to use the songs, which goes to the songwriter, and the live performance itself, which probably goes to the artist.

However, modern contracts can get much more complex than that, so there could be more pieces to the pie. Given that Emusic Live will be working with a small number of venues, my guess is that individual artists and promoters will be contracting to have their music released as a part of agreeing to perform at that venue.

It’s not unlike Clear Channel Entertainment’s new initiative to sell “instant bootlegs” of concerts it promotes, where you can buy a legal CD-R of the concert you just saw only minutes after it ends.

Of course, it still remains to be seen if any major labels or labels that aren’t already selling music through Emusic will participate.

It also remains to be seen how much of the live music will be available through Emusic, and if the recordings will be sold on a similar basis–40-60 downloads a month for a monthly fee–or on a per-song or per-performance basis. I could see how adding otherwise unavailable live concert recordings to Emusic could make it much more attractive, especially given the recent change in terms from a virtually unlimited download service to a pretty limited one.

I might be more willing to accept the new terms if it includes live performances that I can’t otherwise get from Amazon or the CD store. But as of this weekend I’ve cancelled my Emusic subscription and I’m not particuarly inclined to sign up again. Of course, I’ll keep an eye out and if the new Emusic Live has enough artists that I like and the terms are reasonable, I might change my mind, but as of right now it’s a big question mark.

Simply offering some new content is not enough to undo the damage of alienating most of Emusic’s customer base, though I guess Dimensional Associates is betting they can greatly expand that customer base with the new offerings. But given the relative difficulty of getting live performances from the big name artists on major labels — so far Clear Channel can’t even get that — I find it unlikely that a whole bunch of new people would be attracted to Emusic Live who weren’t otherwise interested in the original Emusic service, which focused on smaller and independent label artists.







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