Page last updated at 09:09 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Armada pave way with 'rum deal'

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News, in Cannes

Groove Armada: Tom Findlay (left) and Andy Cato. Photo: Ali Mobasser
Groove Armada are encouraging fans to share their new EP
When dance duo Groove Armada's last record deal expired, they chose to sign up with drinks firm Bacardi rather than stay with a normal label.

The release of their new EP could now open a new path for musicians as a shift in the industry creates a maze of opportunities for selling music.

In an ideal world, says Groove Armada's Andy Cato, musicians would not have to worry about whether to sign with a record label, a major brand or a private investor.

"Any artist ideally would just go back to the time when you sat down and thought about songs, put them out there, everyone paid for records and it was nice and simple," he says.

"It's not like that. You've got to hustle a bit more and find all these new ways of doing things."

In the 21st Century music scene, with music sales down and the internet transferring power to the artists, their options are wide open.

It may not be simple, but it can be beneficial.

For Groove Armada, whose hits include I See You Baby and Song 4 Mutya, the one-year deal with the rum brand, which began in April, covers recording, DJing and playing live.

They say it has let them perform in new places around the world, given them creative freedom and allowed them to give away their music for free.


The four-track EP - the only music to be released under the tie-up - has just been unveiled at the Midem music conference in Cannes, France.

The first track is available to download for free from the website.

To get the other three tunes, fans must share the first with their friends, who share it with their friends, who share it with their friends.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead
Radiohead rocked the industry with their pay-what-you-want album offer
To get the second track, the fans and their network of friends must spread the first 20 times through the website. To get the third, the network must share it 200 times. And for the fourth, the first MP3 must be shared 2,000 times in total.

Fans have six weeks to spread it, after which time all four songs will go on sale through normal digital stores.

People can, and undoubtedly will, share the songs through peer-to-peer services. But the band hope a mixture of goodwill and other rewards, such as concert tickets, will keep fans in the system.

"The sharing thing is nice because I think it encourages people to interact with the music in a slightly deeper way than just nicking and downloading it," says Tom Findlay.

"This pushes people into a bit of a crusade and opens up a bit of a dialogue with the fans."

The increasingly direct contact between artists and fans has been a hot topic at Midem, and Findlay says it is becoming more important.

"I can see a lot of bands moving more and more towards that and maybe away from labels," he says, citing the trend of some acts to ask fans to pay annual subscriptions to fund their activities and giving music in return.

"I think that's probably where the future could lie, not just for established bands but up-and-coming bands as well," he says.

'No rules'

The Groove Armada deal follows other radical releases, most notably Radiohead's pay-what-you-want album offer.

Brian Message, one of Radiohead's managers, says the options for artists are now wide open.

"There are no rules any more," he says. "What Radiohead did is just one example of that freedom to go and make up your own plan."

Oasis signed a new deal with Sony BMG last year
Traditional record deals will still be right for some acts, he says. But there are new ways of funding records, ranging from private investment to public bodies.

Singer Yoav, another of Mr Message's acts, is part-funded by the Canadian Arts Foundation.

The manager is also encouraging out-of-contract dance group Faithless to "be radical about the decisions they make".

For Groove Armada, there are already a range of offers to release two new albums this year when the Bacardi deal expires.

"Some of them are from majors [labels], some of them are from indies, some of them are from brands that are nothing to do with record companies at all," says Cato.

"Some of them are from people with a bit of cash who are up for it. So we've got to get down to the small print and work out what's best for us."

Despite the new opportunities, though, the Groove Armada case is still an exceptional one.

The vast majority of acts remain in the traditional label system. New acts especially benefit from the promotional clout and sales expertise of record labels.

And among established acts, few have chosen to go their own way.


Oasis could have picked a different path when their record deal expired recently, but decided to re-sign to a major label. Even Radiohead released In Rainbows on CD though the traditional route following its online release.

Groove Armada, meanwhile, have attracted criticism for some for aligning themselves so closely with a major commercial corporation. So have they sold out?

"The sell-out question is obviously something that we've thought about," says Cato.

"You've always needed big business to get your music out there. That help used to be major record labels, now it's all kinds of different things.

"If you say one corporate pound is any more or less corporate than another, then you're wrong. What is a record label if it's not a commercial brand?"

Findlay adds: "People within music, particularly people who actually have to make a living out of it, they understand the pressures on you.

"Everyone's working hard. This is just one way of doing it. Most people say well done and wish they'd done it before us."

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