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Why Is It So Hard to Give a Record Label My Money?

Lauri Ylönen The RasmusI updated the original article I posted on October 19th.

Maybe I am missing something, maybe I don’t understand why territory restrictions still need to exist. I guess thinking of the world as the territory is wrong.

Maybe my feeling that fans will buy music if you make music available the moment they want it, at a fair price on whatever device they use is just wrong. But right now trying to buy music actually can drive a fan to steal music.

I am a fan of the band The Rasmus, from Finland, and I am trying to buy a digital download of New World the solo album by Lauri Ylönen the lead singer. The album was released overseas earlier this year. I don’t want to buy the cd and pay for shipping and wait, I want the music now and I want to pay for it.

Guess what, I can’t buy it. The album is available in iTunes Finland, but not the US. That is the problem.

Consumers don’t understand or care about territories, regions, license agreements… the internet broke down those barriers, it is just the world now. The album has been released and I want to buy it. This is what every musician wants, someone who wants to by their music. I am surely not the only person who has encountered this problem, not the only person ready to buy some music, but is told you can’t, we don’t want your money. What do you think that sort of action results in? My guess is the fan then begins to look for any option to get the album, including illegal download. A quick jump to Google and you can locate a download. Hey record labels you are driving them to do it. I have posted on Twitter and Facebook as well as emailing Lauri’s management asking if someone can help me buy a digital copy. Within 12 hours I heard back from Lauri’s management…

As Lauri’s album is distributed only in a few territories in Europe, iTunes US doesn’t let you download it. We have the same problem with a lot of US stuff here in Europe…

They did go on to say they would send me a CD.

Two weeks later I ran into this exact same problem again. I read that Gene Simmons’ record label in Canada was signing the band Kobra and The Lotus so I was curious to hear what they sounded like. A video clip I found was not bad, so I decided to track down their debut album, pre Simmons Records. My first stop was iTunes. No results. Next stop was Amazon. They have a import CD available for $31… sorry, no way am I that curious. Then I hit the band’s website. They have a iTunes link so I click it, it takes me to a iTunes Canada page and since I am in the US I can’t buy the album. Really, again! I am ready to buy some music and because I am in the US I am not allowed to buy. Nothing like making the purchase process a pain in the ass. Guess what, I can do a quick Google search and find the album to download… for free.

Is this Apple’s fault? It is the fault of the record labels and their license/territory agreements. A record deal signed in Finland or Canada does not allow the music to be sold in the US. When will they stop making it difficult to buy music? When will they realize the internet has made the world one single territory. I don’t suspect the artist is saying, I only want to sell my music in one country, I don’t want my fans around the world to buy this. I am sure they would love nothing more than make their music available to everyone. Another case for releasing your own music and avoiding a record label.

This all seems so simple to me:

1. Music is released.
2. Fan wants to buy music.
3. Sell the fan the music.

As with any commerce purchase, if you put a road block or obstacle in the way of that purchase you risk killing the sale.

Record labels don’t want you to steal the music, they want to sell it to you. They will even go as far as trying to sue you if you steal it. But when you want to buy the album they won’t take your money because of the country you live in. But, don’t go steal the music.

What is a fan supposed to do? Why is it so difficult to buy music? Is this the fault of the fan? No! We just want to support a band we like.

Posted By: Michael Brandvold (Michael is a 20 year music marketing veteran who has worked with unsigned indie bands and international superstars. Michael owns Michael Brandvold Marketing a site dedicated to providing tips and advice for musicians.)

References (1)

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Reader Comments (12)

Record labels are on the decline. Artists should be looking to build their own brands online and make use of the great free tools available today. eg.

November 7 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Finch

Hi, nice article. I experienced this problem a lot of times, too. Each time, I was wondering, what was the motivation for those territorial restrictions. And I am still wondering. I would like to know, where does this come from and what effect on consumer's behaviour this should have had, when it was first invented.
Can somebody, please, enlighten me?
Thank you.

November 7 | Registered CommenterRasti Tkac

This isn't limited to labels. Many indepedent artists also don't make their music available on iTunes. Many distribute via YouTube for free and leave it at that, or have all their music on MySpace but nowhere else. So if I want to actually buy a track and support the artist i can't. In the end i have to illgeally rip the track from MySpace which is pretty sad considering.

November 7 | Unregistered CommenterConrad Buck

Hi Michael, great post.

It's good to know you americans have the same problem, at least sometimes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not glad you guys have problems. No. But you see, I live in Colombia and we don't even have an iTunes music store, we can only buy apps there, and Amazon won't sell me music either. So I face that situation ALL the time, and my only choice to fulfill my music-loving needs is, yes, piracy.

So the more awareness of this ridiculous situation there is on the Internet from blog posts like this, from concerned americans like you, the more likely laws and restrictions will fall to let fans around the world get digital downloads legally, and music artists easily get more revenue from all over.

One thing to point out, though, is that sometimes I am able grab digital albums via Bandcamp, which is the only store I've found that lets me buy music my PayPal account, and without territorial restrictions. So next time you're in the same situation, just do take a look to see if the album is available there.

November 7 | Unregistered CommenterLucho Molina

I realize this problem is even bigger for the rest of the world, it is just so frustrating. I always hope that the artist may have elected to sell their own music via someone like Bandcamp or CDBaby.

November 7 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Brandvold

It's rubbish and it happens to me all the time too. In Germany, we can't even watch most videos on Youtube. I can see how it happens though.

If you release a record, you may chose to licence it to a different label to release in a different territory. For example, a UK label might not think they are able to promote a record properly in the US so they will licence it to a label there to do it for them. Makes sense.

The downside is that when they submit the record to the stores, they have to say that they aren't allowed to sell it in the US, because they've licensed it to another company to do that.

I realise fans don't care about all that and just want the record, but it may offer a bit of an explanation about why this happens...

November 7 | Unregistered Commenteralex stacey

There are still some legitimate reasons for things to work this way as far as an Australian label knows how to market stuff in Australia & a German one in Germany & such & it makes sense to sign to multiple labels in multiple territories for that reason & that's why there are the limitations. However it also seems like *if* your band is big enough to worry about multiple labels/territories you should also be large enough to offer a downloading solution of your own on your website, or as Lucho pointed out you can just do it with Bandcamp. I know as a label owner I handle the digital sales on my site & the digital downloads through the standard channels, but I don't mind the artists doing what they like on their own with their releases (at least not after I've recouped costs!). The traffic a band gets on their website belongs to their brand & not my label brand, but that's just me. I do wish there were a way to shift prices a bit with the regional pricing because clearly a fair price in Europe might not be a fair price in Central America, which I guess could theoretically happen with the pay what you want plan though I'm not at all sold on pay what you want from personal experience (about a donation per 10,000 downloads).

ABSOLUTELY! I couldn't agree more. Most of the music I follow is out of the UK. I have the same trouble. There was a recent release over there, not available in the US, for which I ordered over 100 copies from the UK for people who wanted them here. I made a deal with a shop to overnight them to me on release day so US fans could get the album on release. It was time consuming and a pain in the ass, but I wanted to do my best to support the artist. I have seen it happen time and time again that something isn't available legally, so it is obtained illegally. It just hurts all involved.

November 7 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna

Nice article, and good comment Brian John Mitchell. Brian makes a good point about the territories and promoting in different countries, but if you're only under one record label (Or independent) you should make your music available directly from your site. Services such as E-Junkie can take care of that for you easily and cheaply. Getting on iTunes has it's benefits, but there's nothing like selling on your own site. Why give someone else your traffic when you don't have to?

November 7 | Registered CommenterShaun Letang

Here is a short story about an old man:

There once was an old man named Major Record Label (we'll call him Mr. L). Mr. L made a living as a middle-man between musicians and their fans. Like most people who reach old age, Mr. L was set in his ways, especially when it came to his business. So when a much younger man named Internet came to town and changed everything about Mr. L's business, he did everything in his weakening power to fight for his (copy)rights as a business owner.

To this day, Old Mr. L is alive, but his health is rapidly failing. Many musicians say, "Mr. L is a crotchety old man anyway, screw him, I'm going to be independent and embrace the philosophies and many possibilities of the young and charming Internet." Many musicians also say, "Mr. L stood between us and our fans for too long, and now Internet will provide direct communication and exposure to a whole world of fans!" And they all lived happily ever after?....the end?

Michael, I like your post because I think the difficulty you've had trying to support a musician's work by purchasing it directly through the various (and sadly limited) legal online music stores on the "World Wide Web" is reason to question exactly how much the internet has helped artists/musicians etc. in general. Here is one answer to your question about why it is so difficult to buy music (particularly digitally): At this point in time, there are two middle men between musicians and fans: record labels and the internet. Record labels have had a bad rap for decades; I believe it's almost cliche to complain about them at this point. So if it's widely known that the record business is failing to support artists, are we ever going to see more web businesses helping artists? Basically iTunes is our best option but, as you experienced with your difficulty purchasing what you wanted through them, even they're still dragging labels into the online world kicking and screaming. I think we need more help from web companies somehow. But unfortunately, the internet thrives on the idea that all media should be free. As it stands, Google, the largest web corporation, would prefer all media content to be free. There are far more people using their search engine to find pirated media than people trying to find media to purchase. So to Google, the more people they get on their site, more ads are seen which means more money in their pocket. I don't know if Google is truly evil, but that sort of business seems as lop-sided as the record industry that ended up devastated.

I don't know, I can only agree with your frustration.

But I highly recommend reading a new book by Robert Levine called, "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back." It sparks many questions and potential ideas for making sure artists get compensated for their work in this digital future of ours. It's also just great to read a book instead of a screen every now and then.

November 8 | Unregistered CommenterDan

The frustration is real and common. And I remember coming across (one or two) lawyers who commented that it would be much easier to get rid of territory restrictions. But the way I see it, the world is built up gradually by independent countries creating their own laws (including copyright), and individual companies creating their own ways of doing business that abide by those laws. In a fantasy world, it may seem easier to scrap all historical laws and start again, but that’s not reality (and would probably not be any easier as you’d still have to get every country to agree).

To me at least, the frustration seems born out of the fact that the technology for access is there in front of us - that’s what we see. So sometimes you get fans commenting on, for example iTunes, “come on itunes, sort it out – you’re such a crappy service to not have my favourite track by [insert band name]. Sort it out iTunes!” when the fact it isn’t there might be down to the band, or the record label, or it might be down to iTunes, or the industry’s representative body in that country.

Regardless of whose ‘fault’ you see it as, the fact is all parties have to agree – sometimes it’s the band’s decision, sometimes it’s the record company, sometimes it’s the digital music service that isn’t happy with what the others want – but they have to find a way to agree, on all points of their contracts, before that music is then available in your country. And there are lots of albums and bands and digital services and countries out there to agree on!

I don’t see there being any motivation to specifically restrict access. Yes of course there are commercial motives for record companies and digital music services and (yes, sometimes) bands. Any of those might delay or stop the music’s availability on one particular digital service. You can still usually go to a band’s site, or their myspace (etc.) to get their music. But it's just easier to go to one site for all music. No-one’s going to blame The Internet for bringing us the knowledge of what music is available on the other side of the world, and for bringing us this impression/appearance/hope of instant legal access, so we get instant illegal access alongside...

What seems new for music (even after 10+ years) is that the route to illegal access is much the same as legal access – it’s all just a few clicks away. But working out and agreeing on a 'proper' way to get something is never going to be the quickest way of getting it. Until it so happens that every band and/or their record label has agreed with every digital music service in every country; or until alternative routes for bands to get their music to the consumer are more established, these ‘restrictions’ will persist. Whether you choose to bypass those restrictions (which might only be temporary and conceivably might be down to the band not agreeing with that digital service, or that record label) is up to you. It’s never nice to be shown everything only to be told ‘you can only have that bit’, but to me it’s a privilege just to be shown everything, even if I’m then told ‘you can only have most of it right here right now, some bits you’ll have to wait for’.

November 9 | Unregistered CommenterSaul

"Guess what, I can’t buy it. The album is available in iTunes Finland, but not the US. That is the problem."

- the label knows if they make it available in the usa on itunes, they'll never get a label in the usa to license the band or help develop the band there. and the label in finland doesn't have the ability to market effectively in the usa or finance tour support. so they are dependent upon a usa label

why do you hate bands so much?

November 12 | Unregistered Commentervisitor

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