Music in the Age of Streaming

THE battle between artists and indie labels on one side and gigantic tech corporations on the other has taken on a sharp pitch. A New York Times story serves as a good summation of the terms of the fight, and gets at how it hits indie record labels in particular.

Executives and advocates for the indies say they are vulnerable to strong-arm tactics by Internet giants like YouTube, which has recently threatened to block some labels’ videos unless they sign new licensing deals. Like the standoff between Amazon and the book publisher Hachette, the dispute has crystallized a fear that access to the online marketplace 220px-Muy_divertidocontrolled by a few has become a privilege affordable only by the biggest and richest players.

“In the growth of the Internet, what was to be a utopian leveling of the playing field, a democratization for all, what is actually happening is a form of cultural apartheid,” said Alison Wenham, chief executive of the Worldwide Independent Network, an umbrella group for small labels.

Specifically, the current fight has a lot to do about music streaming and especially the new YouTube streaming service Google is launching.

The YouTube battle involves a long-delayed effort by the online video giant to develop a paid, advertising-free premium version to compete against subscription music services like Spotify, Rdio and Beats Music. YouTube, a division of Google, has made licensing deals with Universal, Sony and Warner, the three major labels, but it has stalled with the independents, which contend that YouTube has offered them inferior terms.

One of the groups that understands these issues the best is Content Creators Coalition; the CCC staged a protest in New York the other day,  and “picketed Google’s office in Chelsea, playing New Orleans-style marches on horns and carrying signs like “Economic justice in the digital domain” and “What YouTube pays? Nothing.”

The story quotes the great avant-guitarist Marc Ribot (pictured): “If we can’t make enough from digital media to pay for the record that we’ve just made, then we can’t make another one.”

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