Bragg opens up on Popkomm Day Two


BERLIN -- Artists took center-stage Thursday as the three-day Popkomm convention in Berlin reached the mid-way mark.

Politically-charged veteran British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg used the platform of his keynote address to call upon artists to rise up and take control of their creative copyrights.

"I've always had reversions in my deals," said Bragg, "so copyright reverts after about seven years, which allows me to renegotiate contracts and take on new technologies. I'm no longer a high-end artist but I still sell records. I can sell them at my gigs. This change in the way music is bought means that we are in a stronger position than were in the analog age."

In a panel conversation with Billboard executive editor Tamara Conniff, Bragg aimed barbs at the record industry for bringing about its own downfall, in no small part through its ongoing legal campaign against downloaders.

"The music scene is thriving," he said, "but the industry is in danger of criminalizing the customers, the people who are going to take this thing forward, by calling them pirates."

The relationship between artist and the industry, Bragg added, was in "a state of incredible flux," which inflicted damage to both sides. "If the industry wants to move forward than it needs to move with the artist, and have less of a standoff way of doing things," he said.

"If industry has any sense," Bragg told delegates, "it will refocus itself around the artist and give catalogs back. So much of the way the record company is configured doesn't fly anymore."

Bragg also espoused musicians' power in the live music arena. "The advertisers will eventually go where the audience is going," he suggested. "The audience is leading this big time. They're not paying to download our music, but by God they are paying to see us live. They want that experience."

He added, "We are at an interesting juncture where previously we were selling a physical artefact which was a record of a performance. People are no longer willing to buy that artefact, they are no longer willing to go out and purchase CDs and albums, but that doesn't mean they aren't willing to pay for that service."

In an earlier morning panel session titled "Artist-generated business: power to the artists," the topic of artists and branding was debated.
Michael Baylor, CEO of Rights Marketing Group, dished out some advice to artists contemplating blue-chip sponsorship.

"The artist engagement with brands has to be carefully handled," said Baylor, who played a role in Robbie Williams' groundbreaking integrated deal with EMI.

"We didn't go in to the global brands," he explained "and say 'you've got a big marketing budget, we've got Robbie. Bring on the money.' That has tended to be the case in the past. What we need to do is look at the 360-degree franchise of the talent and go to companies saying 'what marketing problem can we solve for you?' Not 'how much money can we make from you, or how many records can we sell from you?'"

Baylor added: "Management of talent needs to be much more outwardly focused, and much smarter at helping consumer brands solve marketing problems. It's a difficult dance and it's really hard work."

Panos Panay, CEO of Boston, MA-based online music community Sonicbids, suggested that emerging acts and those on independent labels would be best suited to tie-ins with niche brands.

He explained: "Neil Young [or] Bruce Springsteen are brands, which the artists have spent dozens of years forming. It is a violation of trust if an established [act] chooses the wrong brand."

Panay insisted that younger acts whose own brands are "relatively unshaped" can still use branding tie-ins to their advantage. But, he cautioned: "your values must be consistent with the values of the company. It's something you have to ask. What are you trying to promote and who are you trying to reach?"