Arts / Internet

For struggling indie artists, YouTube helps — kind of

That and other insights from CD Baby CEO Tracy Maddux, who spoke to DC about the state of indie music.

“Technology has really changed the music industry,” says CD Baby CEO Tracy Maddux. (Photo courtesy of CD Baby)

For better or worse, new content platforms have permanently transformed the music industry, but they’re not always a boon for fledgling bands. CD Baby CEO Tracy Maddux was in town for this year’s Future of Music Policy Summit. DC took the occasion to ask him about being an indie artist in the age of YouTube.
The first thing to know, said Maddux, is that metadata is what makes the music world go round.
Each track has to be described through about 31 different indicators and has a unique identifier, a 12-digit number called an ISRC code. Painstaking as it may be, categorizing a song has become an essential step for publishing — for all artists. “The more qualities we can associate with a piece of music, the more valuable it becomes,” said Maddux.
Altogether, it’s a new era for indie artists. “Technology has really changed the music industry,” he said, and “the ways people can discover and use music.” For three years, CD Baby has helped its users receive royalties from YouTube views by keeping track of any video that plays their songs. If a user is “synchronizing a cat video with the music on YouTube,” a service called Rumblefish will automatically identify the track. CD Baby has now paid out about $2 million to artists for these YouTube royalties. The concept of garage band has taken a whole new meaning with the development of music editing software, too. “Now you can create music in your basement,” added Maddux.
It still takes grit and a whole lot of luck to make it as an indie artist, though. To be licensed with CD Baby, artists have to pay $49 per album plus a 9 percent commission on sales. Maddux argues that’s a beneficial business model for artists who see most of their earnings a few years after their release. “We succeed when our artists succeed,” he said.
And music labels are still king.
The major labels remain “the casemakers for pop culture,” said Maddux. Take Macklemore. The rapper had been around for years, writing and performing and touring. “He’s not an overnight success,” said Maddux. “He’s been doing what he’s doing for 15 years.” After being catapulted to stardom by the song “Thrift Shop” — which was produced independently but promoted with the help of the Warner Music Group — he’s been jumping off Space Needles.

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