Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Three days before the Beatles released Love Me Do, they signed a five-year contract with manager Brian Epstein. The contract was so informal and measly it was actually written out on the back of a row of stamps. Epstein then negotiated a deal with Parlophone Records that gave the band no advances and earned them one penny for every double-sided disc they sold.
The shape of the record industry has changed dramatically in the 46 years since, but it is not necessarily any more rewarding than in the 1960s. That explains the formation of the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a coalition of working musicians who aim to strike a new bargain with the companies that distribute and sell their music in the digital age. Over 140 well-known artists, including Billy Bragg, Robbie Williams, Radiohead, Annie Lennox and Kate Nash, have signed up.
The coalition has formed at a time of crisis for the record industry. Under the old model, musicians such as the Beatles signed away control of their ownership rights in exchange for a record company’s expertise in production, marketing and distribution. But the structure of the industry is changing. While the Beatles needed Parlophone in the sixties, popular artists can now eschew the traditional labels. FAC members Radiohead left Parlophone to release their latest record In Rainbows on their own website.
Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien believes new technology can be used as a bargaining tool by artists: ‘The reason we can do all this is because the internet and digital technology have changed the landscape in the music industry, which basically means people can now release their music without a middleman, without a record company.’
Musicians need a new set of agreements that reflect the new ways music is ‘consumed’, argues David Rowntree, Blur drummer and FAC board member: ‘The digital revolution has swept away the old music business of the 1960s and changed forever the relationship between artists and fans. For companies who made their money by sitting between the two, these are increasingly hard times, but for music makers and music fans this should be a fantastic opportunity. Acting together, we can be a powerful force. We need to re-shape the industry for the future so it serves those who want to make music and those who want to hear it.’
The coalition aims to use a collective voice to retain music ownership, negotiate with digital distributors and rewrite unfavourable copyright laws. A key issue for the FAC is receiving compensation for music distributed freely to consumers through companies such as Google and MySpace. Artists are not routinely consulted in deals their labels and publishers strike with these digital partners. Kate Nash emphasizes that the enemy is not the young consumers, but parasitical companies: ‘If someone is just listening to my music I can’t punish them for that. But if organisations such as Google and MySpace are making large profits they can pay for it.’
Record companies are engaging with digital technology to protect their interests and profits. O’Brien believes artists need to do the same: ‘This is a defining time for the industry. A lot of the rights and revenue streams are being carved up, and we need a voice. We need to be in there and we need to be discussing it, and I think all the major players want to hear what we have to say.’
Alexander Ross, a music lawyer with London-based firm Theodore Goddard, believes established artists are already benefiting from a tilt in the balance of power: ‘There’s been a real shift in their awareness of their bargaining power. Some of the real Stone Age artists are so wealthy that if they don’t like the way their work is being marketed they can set up their own labels, record their own music and sell it to interested companies under licence.’
While established artists can forge their own way in the industry without publishers and distributors, young artists – like the Beatles in 1962 – remain vulnerable to the preying eyes of record companies. Billy Bragg hopes they can help: ‘The FAC will actually go out and mentor and educate young artists not to sign “life of copyright” deals. What we need is an industry where the next Billy Bragg can make a living like I have for the past 25 years.’
Not every young band can pull off their own In Rainbows, but at least they can now have Thom Yorke and co at their back.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced