Rut Roh: Led Zeppelin’s Free Agency Streaming Service

There’s always been a wrangle between record companies and artist managers over who owns recordings the band creates outside of the “recording commitment” masters that the label pays for.  There’s a misconception out there that if an artist is signed to a label, that label “owns” everything the artist records during the term.

Not true.  The label may have a blocking right over exploitation of records made outside of the artist’s deal during the term, but there almost always comes a time when the artist is free to exploit those outside recordings on their own or through a third party.  Not to mention re-records.

In the middle of what I think is a lot of hot air about Spotify becoming a threat to record companies–almost always a story promoted either by stock analysts who don’t know a trap case from a coke spoon or by overpaid Spotify executives–comes a very interesting story.  According to Digital Music News, Led Zeppelin may be about to launch its own streaming service.

If the stock analysts want a story that actually is disruptive, here’s one.  Led Zeppelin is exactly the kind of band that can maximize free agency (not to mention owning their own label for years albeit one closely affiliated with and probably largely funded by a major label).  Led Zeppelin is also exactly the kind of band that a service like Apple would do well to cozy up to which I’m sure was not lost on people at Apple.  (Spotify wouldn’t know what to do with anyone who wasn’t already a pop or hip hop star, frankly.)

This is exactly the kind of thing that many, many bands from the 60s, 70s and maybe 80s could do very well (assuming they still have enough of the kind of rarities that used to be included as bonus material in CD box sets and are still included in some vinyl releases).  This is also the kind of thing that is simply not a fit for Spotify as that service is the wrong demo and you couldn’t really imagine a John Bonham record on a “Sleep” playlist.

We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of an article I wrote called “Why Free Agency Matters: The Coming Changes in Artist Relations.”  This Led Zeppelin service is exactly the kind of thing we should have more of–a great add-on to a fan club or fan community, completely outside of the big platforms.  One challenge will be overhead, but that’s nothing that a sponsorship couldn’t solve for a band like Led Zep.

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