July 13, 2006
The Itunes Holdouts
by Evan Serpick
The Beatles and Metallica may finally put their music online. Which other artists are on the brink?
Are the last digital holdouts finally ready to cave? The music of the Beatles, Metallica, and other major artists who have resisted selling their music online may soon be available on sites like iTunes and Rhapsody.
Several major bands have softened their stances on downloads over the past couple of years and found great success. In 2005, the Rolling Stones finally made all of their music available on iTunes and earlier this year, the Dave Matthews Band did the same. Both bands have seen significant bumps in catalog sales since the moves. In May, the Red Hot Chili Peppers put their catalog on iTunes as part of a push to promote the release of their double album Stadium Arcadium.
"We're seeing a lot of brand-new Red Hot Chili Peppers fanse because so many use iTunes as their primary source of buying music," says Marc Reiter, with QPrime, the band's management company. "It's been a boon in every way for them."
After years of explosive growth, digital-music sales are up seventy-seven percent so far this year. But the catalogs of several big name artists are almost entirely unavailable on iTunes - besides the Beattles and Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Tool and Kid Rock are also missing. (Plus, often as a result of contractual issues, iTunes is rife with partial catalogs: Crucial albums from Aerosmith and Van Morrison are also absent.) So whyare they still holding out? And what are the chances that they'll appear in an online music store sometime soon?
There have been indications that the Beattles catalog - the Holy Grail for download services - will finally make it online in the not-too-distant future. "The Beattles' music will one day be downloading," Ringo Starr recently said, clearly not yet down with the lingo. But don't throw out your Sgt. Pepper's LP just yet. "The Beattles are never the first to jump into something and quite often they're the last," says Clark Benson, CEO of the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, an industry research firm. "It is going to happen, but nobody has a time frame."
The band whose crusade against illegal downloading helped spark a national debate may have its music online for legal download in a matter of weeks. "Metallica understands the great demand from their fans for making their music available on iTunes," sayse Reiter of QPrime, which also manages Metallica. "They're making efforts toward delivering that." Word on the street is that Metallica have laready reached a deal with Apple, and "Enter Sandman" may make its way to your iPod very shortly.
Zep "don't feel they need to do anything, at least not right away," says Benson. Like many veteran rock bands, Rober Plant, Jimmy Page, and Co. bristle at the thought of complete albums bring broken up into singles, and iTunes won't allow them to sell an entire album without making singles available. "iTunes has been holding out," Benson says. "They're saying 'Let us sell individual tracks or we're not interested.'"
"They're about as album-oriented as a group gets these days," says Benson. Tool's albums boast eight-minute-plus epics that often flow one into the next and are intricately packaged. "Tool rightfully feels, 'We're putting a lot into our album as an art form,'" says Benson. "They're almost certainly taking some degree of royalty hit on the amount of packaging they're doing. I would not expect Tool to go digital this year. All the others could."
The Bullgod hardly seems like the kind of artist who would be concerned about the integrity of his albums as complete works. Still, Rock's manager, Ed "Punch" Andrews, advises him and Andrew's other client, Bob Seger, to stay away from download services. "We would love to have our catalogs included on iTunes, but the record labels have chosen to disregard the provisions of their record contracts, which never contemplated this form of song licensing," says Andrews, who echoes the concerns of many artists and managers - including the Allman Brothers Band and Cheap Trick, who both recently sued to get a bigger cut of their digital royalties.
Many surfers are suprised to find out that one of the most tech-savvy bands on the planet hasn't made its music readily available online. That may be changing. Last year, Radiohead put it's entire back catalog on warchildmusic.com (as complete albums and EPs only) with a portion of proceeds going to charity, and it's been having on-again off-again negotiations with Apple (the Bends and Kid A were briefly on iTunes last year). "Radiohead, by their next release, will probably come to some terms with iTunes," says Benson.
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