"Are record labels dead?"

From CNN:
Prince freed himself from record labels years ago. Paul McCartney, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have followed. Now the Material Girl appears to be kissing her big-name record company goodbye for a cool $120 million.

Madonna is expected to sign a recording deal with entertainment producer Live Nation.

Could U2 be next? Justin Timberlake? Coldplay? Do superstars even need traditional multiyear album contracts when CD sales are plummeting and fans are swiping tons of music for free online, or tuning in to their favorite bands via YouTube, MySpace and other Internet portals?

"There's a prevailing wisdom that many established acts don't need a record label anymore," said Bruce Flohr, an executive at Red Light Management, which represents artists such as Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morrissette, and ATO Records, home to David Grey, Gomez and Crowded House, among others.

"This is the new frontier. This is the beginning of a new era for the music business," Flohr said.

Executives at the four major record labels would not comment on the record for this story. But several noted privately that their companies are still the best at artist development, promotion and physical distribution of their product -- something even big acts can't entirely do without.

The four majors are Warner Music Group Corp., Vivendi's Universal Music Group, EMI Group PLC, and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, a joint venture of Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG. They accounted for more than 88 percent of all U.S. music album sales this year.

"The game used to be really simple," Flohr said. "You get your record played on radio, you get your face on Rolling Stone (magazine), and you get on 'Saturday Night Live.'

"Now, it's you put your video on YouTube, you get your MySpace page happening, you do your deal with Facebook, you tour ... all these things add up, hopefully, to a successful record."

Some established major acts are using the same tactics as their new albums post lackluster sales but their concert tours keep selling out.

The strategy doesn't help record companies. The industry has seen a 14 percent drop in the number of CDs sold in the U.S. compared with the same time last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating. The music industry has only itself to blame for the steady decline in CD sales. Greed motivated them to collude on pricing and keep CDs priced at $15+ even though 20 years had passed since the technology's introduction. Piracy was on the rise, yet still the labels didn't lower prices. But not every artist bought into that. I recall that the Flaming Lips released "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots" priced at $9.99, which I thought was a smart move. And then there is Radiohead's digital-only release of "In Rainbows."

Clearly, high CD prices have created an incentive to steal. But with the exception of college students who have broadband and endless storage at their disposal, I think most consumers are willing to pay $5-10 for a new CD. It's worth paying some amount to know that a recording is legit, high quality and includes liner notes, art, lyrics, etc.

Why the record companies haven't yet figured that they could sell and gross more by asking for less is beyond me.

Marisa Miller: Rolling Stones Fan?

I'm a fan -- of Marisa Miller, but not the Rolling Stones, at least not since 1981's "Tattoo You," or more accurately 1980's "Emotional Rescue." Ok, make that 1978's "Some Girls."

What have the Stones given us in the last 26 years? Not much, except a sample for The Verve's biggest hit, the royalties for which went to former Stones manager Allen Klein. And a song about George W Bush, "Sweet Neo Con."

I wonder what Marisa Miller thinks of the Stones later work? You'll find some hot photos of Marisa "wearing" a Stones shirt in the 2007 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

The Verve - The Thaw Sessions

After listening to 14 minutes and 9 seconds of what is essentially an excerpt of a jam session by The Verve - the band's first new music in ten years -- I'm excited and a bit leary of hearing what the band will do now that they're back together.
Rather than kicking off their reformation with a band meeting, the Wigan legends met in a studio in Richmond and jammed out some musical ideas together.

The first fruits from that session can now be heard today in the form of the 'The Thaw Session' - the title a reference to 'Deep Freeze', an experimental bonus track on the band's last album 'Urban Hymns' - a 14-minute track you can get for free.
I'm excited because The Verve were one of the great rock bands of the 90s, managing to produce four extraordinary works -- three albums and an EP -- in just five years. I'm leary because part of what makes The Verve's catalog so great is that it had a beginning and an end.

Depending on your perspective, "Urban Hymns" was either a sign of more greatness to come from The Verve or a sign that the band might give up artistic freedom for increased marketability.

The Verve's "The Thaw Sessions" are no longer on NME.com, but a big shout out goes to Ramon Drummond for posting the audio to YouTube.

Amazon Free Download

Alison KraussIn case you haven't heard, Amazon is now competing with iTunes. And just like iTunes, Amazon will be giving away free music each week.

Amazon has two notable advantages: files are MP3s, not DRM files, and entire albums are priced competitively at less than $4.99. Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" for $4.45!

You can download this track by Alison Krauss through November 12th.

Alison Krauss - "Simple Love"

New Pornographers Latest Now on eMusic

Starting today, you'll find The New Pornographers' latest, "Challengers," on eMusic.

I'm a big fan of eMusic, not only because it's cheap (about $.25 a track) and tracks are MP3s, not DRM files, but also because of the great indie artists it features. And when I say "indie," I mean independent. The big four -- Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, EMI and Warner Music Group -- are unwilling to do business with eMusic. Greedy bastards.

Click one of the links above and you can get a 50-track trial membership. It's FREE, so you've got nothing to lose.

Paste Magazine Subscription:
Name Your Own Price

Ryan Adams Paste Magazine Cover Issue 37It looks like Paste Magazine may have taken some inspiration from Radiohead.
For two weeks only, Paste invites you to pay what you want for your one-year subscription! That's 11 magazines and 11 CDs (approximately 220 songs), normally priced at $65.45 on the newsstand.
Never read Paste before? It's a lot like Rolling Stone, in that its main focus is music, but also covers movies, books, culture. Some of the bands featured in past issues include: The Decemberists, The Hold Steady, The Shins, The Flaming Lips, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco and Pete Yorn, to name a few.

How much would you pay for 11 magazines and 11 CDs delivered to your door? (Let me know by leaving a comment.)

This is a great idea. I'm betting that Paste will bask in the same "warm glow" that Radiohead received for "In Rainbows."