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.
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself