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Friday, 29 June, 2001, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
New kid on the music industry block
Alison Wenham
AIM was set up in Wenham's daughter's bedroom
By News Online's Alex Webb

The deal between Napster and Britain's independent record companies on Tuesday reflects the growing importance of the Association of Independent Music (AIM), the music industry's newest trade organisation.

Alison Wenham, AIM's chief executive and chair of the board, told BBC News Online said she created the body because independent record companies needed representation

"Prior to my coming to start AIM a lot of smaller companies had decided they needed to explore alternatives to the existing industry structures," said the former head of Conifer Records and of BMG's classical and jazz divisions.

She added: "AIM was started in March 1999 in one of my daughter's bedrooms - with a phone, a pen and a blank piece of paper.

'Growth'

"From the outside it looked precarious, but from the inside it's always felt as if it was a copper-bottomed initiative.

"The rate of growth of AIM demonstrates there was a real gap."

AIM started to try to hammer out ways in which the industry's small fish might, working together, be able to take on the big fish.

"When you bring that number of small companies into one entity, you can leverage the independents' access to markets - and on terms they would never get individually," says Wenham.

Napster's Shawn Fanning
Napster's Shawn Fanning: deal with AIM
"If we were not able to do this, then there would be a concentration in the new economy that would make the concentration in the old economy look tame", believes Ms Wenham.

Napster

"The Napster deal demonstrates that."

But the Napster deal still begs the question: When will consumers be able to download artists like Moby, legitimately?

Wenham is optimistic: "We're saying late summer - they've got some issues about the fingerprinting technology but we have every confidence it will launch reasonably quickly."

She is upbeat, too, about the future of Napster itself: "I don't know yet what Napster's subscription model will be.

"But let's just play with some numbers, say that it was going to come in at $5 - you only need two million subscribers at $5 and you've got a hundred million dollars a year."

'Difficult issue'

But the question of the publishing - the rights to the songs, rather than the recordings - remains unresolved.

"The publishing is a difficult issue, because there needs to have a consensus about the rate of remuneration - and also how we will deal with trans-territory trading.

"But we have made sure that arrangements are in place so that when the royalty rate is determined, all rights owners will be remunerated from day one.

"I hope we've shoved the agenda forward so as to put an imperative on the publishers to come together."

But what else does AIM offer the music consumer, rather than the music company?

Alison Wenham
Wenham wants more diversity
"Access works both ways," answers Wenham.

"We all know people who are searching for an obscure 1970s record on Mute and nine times out of ten if they go to the working retailer, not only will it not be in stock but the assistant won't even know what they are talking about.

'Signposting'

"Through our initiatives consumers will have much more awareness of independents' music.

"There'll be more diversity, more signposting, more availability.

One concrete initiative should highlight the existing diversity of Britain's music scene: a new record sales chart which AIM is developing.

"The chart will have only one rule - you have to be an independent company, which we define as owning 50% of your own equity.

Alison Wenham and Hank Barry
Wenham with Napster chief executive Hank Barry
"The other rule is that there are no rules - all formats are pitched together, all genres, compilations, vinyl, digital files - anything that can carry music.

"What we see in the new chart is singles pulling up albums - what you don't see is the supernova effect, the single going in at number one and then next week it's gone."

The new chart is planned for launch in September.

See also:

26 Jun 01 | Business
New court setback for Napster
26 Jun 01 | Business
Napster signs deal with indie labels
21 May 01 | Music
British music sales leap
30 Apr 01 | Business
Online music bonanza
26 Apr 01 | Business
Napster use slumps after court order
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