Rock Historian Ritchie Yorke Interviews New Indie Label, Cowbell Digital Music
Shayne Locke on whether Australia's latest distribution player can exist amongst the big boys of the music industry
By Ritchie Yorke [01-16-2010]
Following the announced launch of Cowbell China, we decided to publish Ritchie Yorke's interview with Cowbell Digital Music CEO, Shayne Locke on whether Australia's latest distribution player can exist amongst the big boys of the Music industry.
[RY]: Shayne, your company has been making quite an impression within local music circles lately. With esteemed Rock Historian, Glenn A Baker & others, including myself, lending our support to your venture, can you tell what Cowbell Digital Music is all about?
[Shayne]: Cowbell Digital Music is first and foremost an electronic music distribution platform for both independent labels & artists. It also comprises of a film division and a label division that handles a number of direct artists. Cowbell's main objective is to help bridge the huge gap between fans and artists that has been constructed there, rightly or wrongly, by the music industry in the past. A perfect example of that is record labels suing fans for downloading music.
[RY]: So Cowbell Digital Music embraces peer-to-peer downloading?
[Shayne]: Obviously our peer-to-peer beliefs can only extend to our own artists and those who have licensed their music through Cowbell via certain agreements....but in principle, yes.
[RY]: Coming from a marketing background, is your reason for embracing peer to peer solely based on it's promotional value?
[Shayne]: No, not just on the promo value. That is only part of the whole reason. Artists like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have paved the way for independent artists by connecting with fans. Once you connect with a fan they become a fan for life. Give them something for their trouble and most fans will respect that. There will always be P2P networks so use it to make the connection.
[RY]: So, give the music to the punters to establish a fresh relationship?
[Shayne]: Yes, especially for young artists, anonymity is much worse than piracy. Let them connect and give them a reason to buy. And this is not only restricted to music but visual product & artist merchandise as well. Our new platform is a multi-purpose gateway that gives fans direct access to their favourite artist via an artists own web page. If we can give a fan some music and bring them back to buy a hat or a T-shirt then we have succeeded in establishing the fan base.
[RY]: So you are talking the fan club syndrome like the ones that were around in the 90's?
[Shayne]: I think they are due for a big come-back. They tried to bring back loyalty through Street Teams but essentially it is the same thing. Connect With Fans. It has become a must especially with the huge increase in independent artists on social networking sites.
[RY]: I'd imagine you'd hope that fans exposed to the "free" samples would then be inclined to purchase premium versions of your artist's recordings.
[Shayne]: Exactly...and if they didn't the artist would still be in the fan's mind when it came to live performances and merchandise.
[RY]: In relation to your direct artists, how do you expect to make money without holding copyright?
[Shayne]: We believe that by placing artist control back in the hands of those that know it best, this will foster trust and understanding between both Artist and Label. So to answer your question, yes we still believe that we can generate income via various marketing means as long as it is not at the expense of any of our artists. At the end of the day, we believe in karma! So many artists are leaving their labels because of the lack of artistic control that they have.
[RY]: Does Cowbell take a percentage on each sale?
[Shayne]: Absolutely, and we set it at a standard rate of 25%. We believe that the percentage is reasonable considering the artist retains the copyright on their material.
[RY]: Obviously, your contractual set-up with your direct artist/s would be unique in the sense that it would differ in content as opposed to most artist contracts. Without copyright control, is the music licensed to Cowbell for the stated term and if so, does that mean that an artist could conceivably move to another label albeit leaving you guys with a debt?
[Shayne]: We would hope that all costs could be recouped over the term, but if a residue remained and the artist decided to move on, we would work out an arrangement that wouldn't infringe with the artist's new venture. In reality, we would hope our past relationship would provide an optimism to remain at Cowbell. Saying that...if St. Paul (a Cowbell Direct Artist) was offered 10 Million bucks and it was the sweetest deal on earth...yes, he should move on with our sincerest blessing. That's what Cowbell Digital Music is all about...providing an artist with a launching base.
[RY]: Looking at your response, I gather that the Cowbell philosophy has incorporated many Eastern concepts, or put in western terms: " What comes around goes around"?
[Shayne]: Definitely. We do believe in Karma...(laughs). Circle of Life and all that. I think the core belief is in everyone. We all want to do the right thing. Sometimes it is hard, you know. But at the end of the day, we believe that if we treat an artist the way we want to be treated then at the very least we will know that we have done the right thing.
[RY]: Is the Cowbell Direct Artist program capped at a certain number?
[Shayne]: Sure, the exact number depends on what we as a company can comfortably handle. At present that number is 12 but in the future who knows? With greater investment and a larger infrastructure, I could envision an increase in numbers.
[RY]: Let's talk about publishing because song placement can provide an alternative income stream on so many levels. Have you presently had any success in this area and if so, is the overseas market your focus due to your company's universal scope?
[Shayne]: We have just signed an agreement with a very active US-based publishing company situated in Nashville. While they are in country music heartland, they deal in all styles of musical works. Through their affiliates, we have just placed two tracks from one of our artists on a major high profile cable television program and have interest from major movies.
[RY]: As it is, Cowbell Digital Music operates as a digital distribution platform for your direct artists in conjunction with various independent recording labels. Can you please explain how this works?
[Shayne]: The platform not only exposes our own artists, but also other independent labels and their artists. This approach takes us back to the original community approach to music, which placed various artists and performers on the same bill to maximise profiles via a greater exposure. There is no use developing a digital platform for a select few due to its ineffectiveness cost-wise. This way the platform can be utilised by various artists, which contribute via sales to further developmental upgrades.
[RY]: Is their any truth in the rumour that you guys plan to offer a stripped-down version to cater for the unsigned artist?
[Shayne]: When we first commissioned our programme designer to create our original artist platform, it soon became apparent we needed to incorporate a ``lite'' version catering specifically for the unsigned independent artist. This will be phase 2 of our digital programme and will contain 70% of the benefits of a full Cowbell storefront.
[RY]: How will your digital platform work & what are the benefits compared to other platforms?
[Shayne]: Firstly, it costs the artist nothing to set up while providing a secure payment gateway for their fans due to the fact that they never have to leave the artists web page. If they want to go to the Cowbell Home page they just click on the icon, otherwise they can stay put. The other major benefit is that any artist that is on the Cowbell Digital Music platform will be exposed to new music regions once deemed unlikely.
[RY]: By exposing new music in "music regions once deemed unlikely" do you mean markets such as China?
[Shayne]: Exactly. We have been working hard on introducing our platform to China for a while now and are very pleased to announce a joint project with the third largest label in China, Taihe Rye Music. This will give us the ability to deliver music in various shapes and forms to the masses. In addition, we are also involved with a charity organization that helps causes such as orphans in China, which utilises our artists for fundraising while creating awareness via live performances.
[RY]: I suppose, that brings us to touring? What are the opportunities in China and in what capacity?
[Shayne]: The opportunities are definitely there but like any new market, the infrastructure needs to be developed. A couple of our artists are presently performing mini tours on the back of some charity work as we speak. Obviously, this will evolve over time and in conjunction with musical forecasts slated for China in 2010, the touring frequency will definitely increase.
[RY]: Cowbell Digital Music seems to be very pro-active in bringing change to an industry known for its inflexibility. Can you foresee any problems with the establishment and what has been the general feedback from both artists & labels?
[Shayne]: While the establishment - as you call it - has at times been cynical & dismissive, music identities within the industry have been very supportive. If Cowbell can make its own way through the woods while maintaining integrity and complete transparency, I don't see we would have any problems with anyone.
In relation to the artist response, it was a lot harder initially when we really only had a concept of what could and might be. Of late the feedback and interest has been sensational due to greater exposure. I think most artists are more guarded nowadays due to past industry indiscretions and thankfully they are well informed to make the correct career choice.
[RY]: Is there any truth to the rumous that you will be endorsing a projected called ``Save the Music Fan''?
[Shayne]: Absolutely! This stems back to the P2P debate. The project started in Canada by Nettwerk Music. Terry McBride from Nettwerk realised that fans needed to be protected from being sued by major labels. We are taking hold of the torch and will be opposed to any label that forces ISP's to snitch on users for P2P illegal downloads as is the case in France at the moment.
In our opinion, whilst they are trying to "help" artists not lose income, the authorities in France are actually driving a huge wedge between the fans and the artists. In the end the whole thing will cause even more underground file sharing and p2p networks to appear. They are really trying to shut a gate after the horse has well and truly bolted.
[RY]: A case of too little, too late?
[Shayne]: Precisely, we should be educating artists to use the networks to their advantage not shut the networks down. They will only come back stronger.
[RY]: OK, lets get down to the basics of an Independent Artist agreement.
[Shayne]: There is no cost to join the platform whatsoever. The artists sign up for a 3-year term on a non-exclusive basis. The artists can set their own price structure and we take 25% on any purchase being music, vision or merchandise. The publishing option gives us the ability to place an artist's song with our affiliate in the states to gain possible placement. If the song is accepted, and a licence issued, an agreement via the publisher and licensee would be subject to the terms and conditions of the contract.
It goes without saying that the songs owner/ interested parties would have to approve any such placement prior to any licence issue. A film company/agency may then provide an independent artist an advance and/or a royalty income for the term of the placement.
[RY]: So this in effect would provide an artist an alternative income stream as opposed to live work?
[Shayne]: Yes, because there are artists out there that have an inherent dislike of touring so this in effect would become a viable alternative.
[RY]: What if the artist has moral issues in relation to a certain advertisement placement, do they have control?
[Shayne]: No agreements can be entered into without the artist's consent as this prevents an artist who may be vegan, being exploited by publishing placement licensed by a meat company, for example.
The publishing option in the contract is just that...optional. And if publishing is required, conditions can be applied in accordance to the artist's desires to safe guard.
[RY]: Does the independent artist contract provide access into China?
[Shayne]: Any music listed on the Cowbell Digital platform will have the opportunity to have their music exposed to the Chinese market and will in turn receive royalties on any track that has been downloaded. Saying that, any songs not deemed appropriate for that market will not be available on the China site. The Chinese government regulates this and their wishes need to be respected in this regard.
[RY]: Does that mean hard-core acts with colourful language will find it hard to gain representation?
[Shayne]: Pretty much, although if a number of tracks are considered non-offensive they could still be listed. Take in to consideration that the free Western world has been living with popular music for over 50 years now. China is a new player in the market and in time will become more receptive to extreme musical genres and extreme expression of such.
[RY]: When do you expect the Cowbell Digital Music platform to be fully operational and what is the roll out time in relation to China?
[Shayne]: Our development partners will initiate the Version 2.0 platform on the 1st of November. Five of our artists, St. Paul, Noush Skaugen, Nik Phillips, Angie Whiteley & Oxygen will kick start the operation with further artists coming on board at a later date. The China & Lite platforms should be fully operational by March 1st 2010.
[RY]: Why the delay with the artist rollout?
[Shayne]: This approach ensures the platform operates in the way it was intended with a gradual build up mirroring the sites working capacity. We foresee no problems but would prefer a conservative approach to ensure minimal disruption.
[RY]: What can an artist do now to ensure their inclusion on the Cowbell Digital Platform?
[Shayne]: Initially, we welcome any unsigned artists to register their interest in becoming members of both the Cowbell lite & Cowbell China platforms. Just log on to the Cowbell Digital Music Website at http://cowbell.com.au/ and register your information in the contact section. We will email back an electronic artist and information pack relating to the artists platform requirements.
[RY]: What about Independent labels?
[Shayne]: Basically, they should contact me direct on firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any licensing opportunities. We feel there are many, many possibilities out there just waiting to be connected.
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