The Indies: Pebbles in the Stream
As the actions of the RIAA shape the future of digital music delivery, independent labels, even the big ones like Matador and Sub Pop, can only stand by and watch, passengers to their ultimate fate as far as digital distribution and compensation are concerned.
Even if record labels continue to exist, the fact that most of the indies are not part of the RIAA leaves their future even more clouded. If artists are to be compensated out of a public digital-usage fund, does label affiliation affect royalties?
Currently, Matador Records claims no substantial gains or losses from the file-sharing phenomenon, according to publicist Ben Goldberg. Matador currently licenses with eMusic and PressPlay, and that's the beginning and end of their digital sales presence.
Goldberg himself has a different stake in the game. He runs a small "closet" label, Ba Da Bing! Records, and has released around 40 albums since 1994. The label specializes in guitar-based psychedelia and oddball songwriting, from the likes of Windy & Carl, Bright, Comets on Fire, and ex-Austinites Ultrasound.
Though the Internet is an excellent vehicle of exposure for the underground, the little guy stands to lose even more in any kind of big-money compulsory-license grab. Such operations may even stand as the last bastion of true independence, operating outside of the proposed framework, for better or worse.
Goldberg believes there will always be a place for such mom-and-pop labels, whether the music comes in grams or bytes.
"Since I work on such a small level, I see striking a deal with a band as offering them access that they can't get themselves," says Goldberg, citing the clout of a record that comes from a known and trusted source. "What I can offer is access and an honest person to work with. That's what most smaller labels have to sell."