Apparently in the olden days musicians made a living by exchanging their product for money. But, as you may have heard, this is an outdated model rooted in pure evil, so the music business is looking to change the way money gets thrown around, and leading the way is Primary Wave Publishing, which aims to buy up artists’ catalogs in order to stick your favorite songs in every last filthy corner of commercial media it can find.
The past few years have been unkind to record labels, which have seen CD sales plunge by about a third since 1999. But many believe that music publishers–which control the rights to original songs–will thrive in the digital future. For example, even if fans illegally download Beatles tracks, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the publisher of those songs, can still make money by licensing them for use across the increasingly fragmented media landscape.
That’s why Primary Wave Music Publishing–a startup backed by the Credit Suisse Group and the Greenwich, Connecticut, hedge fund Plainfield Asset Management–has recently spent roughly $150 million, according to a source close to the company, to buy publishing rights from songwriters, including a reported $50 million for some rights to Nirvana songs. As a rights holder, Primary Wave collects money whenever one of its songs is played in public. But C.E.O. Larry Mestel, former chief operating officer of Virgin Records, is also aggressively marketing songs in Primary Wave’s portfolio for use in online media, videogames, movies, TV shows, and ads.
So, assuming you lost your copy of Nevermind and you just can’t bear to pay for another, you could either download it illegally, or participate in this new wave of the future and just wait to hear the songs in commercials or video games! Fun, right!?
Publishers also believe that there will be a growing demand for licensing music to other media, which can bring in between $10,000 and $300,000 for films and $5,000 and $40,000 for television. Primary Wave has licensed the Nirvana song “Breed” for use in an Austrian telecom ad, the videogame Major League Baseball 2K7, and the movie Shoot ‘Em Up. The new publisher has also placed a song by critics’ favorite Daniel Johnston in a MasterCard commercial and is trying to put together a Hall and Oates tribute album to generate exposure as well as revenue.
I hate to dredge up the illegal downloading debate–especially because I’m completely ambivalent about it and quite frankly sick of the argument–but if it has helped create this scary publishing robot hellbent on saving the industry and keeping musicians afloat with innocuous corporate marketing bullshit, then we’ve really gone to a sad place. Case in point: The MasterCard version of the Daniel Johnston song “To Go Home.”
And this is what Daniel Johnston actually sounds like:
Not that bad commercial covers are anything new, but should they really be the future of music?