So RCRD LBL, the joint venture between Gizmodo/Engadget founding editor Peter Rojas and Downtown Records, launched today, and surprise: It’s an MP3 blog! Well, but it’s an MP3 blog with one important twist: It pays the artists whose work is featured on it, thanks in part to some totally sweet advertising revenue from the likes of Nikon and Puma. Which is why its first post is all, “please don’t rehost our tracks! thanks!” Yeah, good luck with that, guys.
Rcrd Lbl has signed contracts giving it the right to distribute a handful of songs from 40 to 50 bands, including some, but not all, of Downtown Records’ artists. For instance, there are no plans for Downtown’s marquee act, Gnarls Barkley (the duo behind last year’s alternative hip-hop hit “Crazy”), to contribute music to Rcrd Lbl. On the other hand, the hot indie rock band Cold War Kids and high-profile rapper Mos Def, both signed to Downtown, will have music on the site.
Rcrd Lbl’s artist contracts are unusual — chiefly in that they make the company the exclusive distributor of a specific number of songs, not for an act’s entire musical output, as is the case in traditional record deals. “It’s a blog,” says Mr. Deutsch. “We’re not necessarily trying to tie you up for your fifth album.”
Big-name advertisers have generally shied away from even the most influential music blogs, since most of the music they include is posted without permission. Thanks to their involvement with Rcrd Lbl, the company says it is launching in the black.
Artists with songs on Rcrd Lbl won’t get a cut of advertising associated with their music; they’ll get advances Mr. Deutsch characterized as modest for each song they give the label. These advances range from $500 a song for the least established artists, according to people who work in the music industry, and escalate for bigger names to around $5,000. Rcrd Lbl will divide with its artists any money that it makes from licensing their music to television shows, movies or TV commercials.
RCRD LBL is pitching itself as “music we like,” but obviously that term is a bit of sleight-of-hand; it’s more like “music we like from artists and labels who are willing to work with us.” (Although I do have to tip my hat at them coming out of the gate with a totally utterly blogger-approved collaboration between Justice and Spank Rock and Mos Def. Way to get that elbo.ws love!) It’s like the old promo-track trick used by promo companies all over the Internet, but with money behind it and the dreaded term “exclusive MP3″ being thrown around more than usual.
In a way, this take on monetized music blogging reminds me of the Radiohead experiment, in that both Rojas and Radiohead are already pre-existing brands who have some loyalty; Rojas’ gadget-blogging background will probably earn him some extra love/eyeballs from the “free music at all costs” Digg crowd. But as Glenn at Coolfer noted in his ruminations on In Rainbows yesterday, trying to get people to change their music-acquisition habits is a trick. Sure, members of the MP3-blog-reading crowd will add RCRD LBL to their RSS feeds. But will enough regular-Joe music fans be willing to change their music-ferreting habits–and take risks on new artists–to sustain the advances paid out to bands? Or will people just wait for the MP3s offered by the site to show up on their favorite torrent tracker?