Volume 93, Issue 74

Thursday, February 10, 2000


AOL takes a byte out of the net

Indies find the source before the majors

Indies find the source before the majors

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

First America Online Inc. merged with Time Warner, only to then join forces with the record label EMI.

This snowball effect has produced one of the largest media corporations in history. EMI currently features on its musical roster the singing talents of Radiohead, Blur, The Rolling Stones and of course, the infamous Spice Girls. No changes to their lineup are expected in the immediate future.

Last year, this fear surfaced when the Universal label merged with Seagram's and its Polygram subsidiary was wiped out. However, the possibility of this scenario was not as rampant as everyone thinks, said Charlotte Thompson, alternative media and artist relations spokesperson at EMI.

"[AOL, Time Warner and EMI] is a very positive merger where everyone gets [an even split], but we won't know for about a year of any major changes when the deal will be finalized. But this merge with AOL/Time-Warner is putting EMI at the forefront of the new media. We are leading the way in the new field," she said.

In terms of identifying the technological advances of the internet as the driving force behind the merger, Thompson conceded that downloading songs from the web was not a major concern for EMI but a worry for smaller labels. "Technology is a growing field, but the MP3s are not majorly competitive. That's more for the indies and people who are really into technology."

Mark Milne, co-owner of Sonic Unyon, an independent record label in Hamilton, said he hoped the big labels would join forces so the independents could pick up the talent the majors let fall by the wayside.

"We've put out the [band] Jesus Lizard, which EMI passed on and we also released Frank Black which we wouldn't have gotten otherwise," Milne said.

Monopolies do exert a certain control in the industry in terms of trends and deals, however they are not controlling the indies, Milne said. "The merger is bad for musicians who want to shop for a major record deal, but for us, it means more options."

Sonic Unyon is also staying on track in the technology race by making their products available online. This is a strategy, Milne said, the majors are realizing in the aftermath.

Sandy McIntosh of the band Tristan Psyonic, who signed with Sonic Unyon, said the major record labels were hoping the need to integrate with technology would not be a necessity. "All along they kept hoping that it wouldn't be such a concern, but it came to a point where you couldn't ignore it anymore. Now you see them merging and becoming internet-centric."

McIntosh said he has never concerned himself with the events of the major record labels. "They've never paid attention to or even considered me. I just enjoy playing."

However, he added he believed the integration between music and technology was essential and convenient. "Now you can download your earl grey tea, hot, from one box, like on Star Trek."

But this merger does not simply mean competition in cyberspace, it will also manifest itself visually, noted Nadine Gellineau, head of production at TVT records in New York. "There will be more competition for shelf space in the stores, since the majors have their own distributors and deal directly with the stores. Indies use other distributors so it will take longer to get on the shelf."

The intimate nature of the independent record labels is what makes them stronger, as they are able to react faster to the changing nature of the industry.

"The majors have so much bureaucracy and we won't see signs of what's going on with them for awhile. They ignored the changing technologies, hoping it would go away, but it didn't."

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