Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005
Fading Ways is a Canada & UK indie-label that has international reach. In addition to having national distribution throughout Canada, FW is distributed in several European countries and its UK operation have recently launched an online music store. Fading Ways also utilizes an innovative marketing approach with “street teams” of fans (see: 1, 2) based in Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland, Ireland, and the Netherlands helping to promote releases,shows, and Fading Ways’ mission, including its commitment to Creative Commons, by distributing flyers and getting the word out!
We recently spoke to Neil Leyton, a musician and a founder/director of Fading Ways, about the label’s background and its experience of applying Creative Commons’ licenses to its music.
Creative Commons (“CC”): What’s the history and background of Fading Ways Music? Where do you have a presence?
Neil Leyton, Fading Ways’ Director & Founder (“NL”): Fading Ways (“FW”) started out of a personal philosophy of fairness centered around the sociological and psychological theories of thinkers like Erich Fromm and Arno Gruen, coupled with my own first hand experience as an artist. As an artist, I learnt the hard way about how twisted music contracts can be – whether you’re dealing with a major or an indie. Originally FW functioned like an artist collective rather than a traditional label. Today we’ve got two FW labels functioning in Canada, which is where we’re from originally, and the UK. Our catalogue of 40 titles is distributed in 14 countries via independent distribution channels.
CC: How did you hear about Creative Commons, and what made you decide to CC license new Fading Ways’ releases?
NL: I was aware of the concept of CopyLeft through my friend Carlos Figueiredo, in Lisbon, who is a musician and a Linux user. Then in 2004 a University of Toronto student-at-law recommended an article that talked about CC because she knew what I thought about p2p and file sharing.
I had previously labeled the copyright notice on my own Midnight Sun something like:
“(c)2003 Neil Leyton / FWM. You are free to copy and share this album amidst your friends as long as you can listen to its entirety in one sitting and like the whole damn thing as much as we do.”
From saying that to the Attribution-NonCommercial CC license is not a very big step.
CC: What has been the economic impact of licensing your releases?
NL: Red Orkestra’s “After the Wars” was our very first CC-licensed album to hit the shops in Canada in the Spring of ’04 and it’s doing great.
Most of the other CC-licensed releases that we put out were released in September and October last year, 2004, so it’s hard to gauge because several of our distributors have not yet reported back a lot of sales from the last quarter.
We have had orders from people who, if it wasn’t for the CC license, would never have heard the music. Our “Share” sampler series is the key marketing component in our CC strategy — it allows fans to spread good music to their friends and via p2p; and the sales follow! Not to mention the associated other benefits such as higher attendance at shows, direct connection between artists and fans, and a positive, constructive approach to musical culture in our societies.
CC: How did FW artists respond when you raised the issue of CC licenses? What resonated with them, and what didn’t?
NL: Most of our twenty artists, with two exceptions, immediately felt CC was a positive step in the right direction and would benefit their careers. Jim Clements, Johnny Charmer from Red Orkestra, Aceface, and the Pariahs are examples of FW artists who immediately jumped on the CC train and whose records are now profiting from the use of CC licenses. Jim Clements, being a Wilco fan, was well aware of the promotional powers of the Net. I had many interesting conversations about CC with several of our artists, and heard some pretty funny anecdotal stories along the way. One artist, who was the most hesitant, feared that it may hurt his chances of getting a major label publishing deal in the future.
It was through the process of talking to our artists about CC that my own questions about it were answered. All of this helped cement my determination, as label director, to make all our releases in Canada be CC releases. We are looking forward to developments in the UK to see if we can do the same thing over there, for our European releases. So far our “Share” sampler series has also been a huge success over there.
CC: How do you see Creative Commons’ role in the future of the music industry?
What the majors don’t seem to realize is that CC is actually beneficial to help promote good music. There is a difference between what I refer to as the music industry (ie. arts-driven commercial output) and the entertainment industry (ie. profit driven pop music, largely “manufactured” by companies rather than artists). I think the major labels have uprooted themselves and forgot what it was that made them successful in the first place – signing high quality, career artists like the Doors, Bob Dylan, Springsteen, and others. Today, career-bands like International Noise Conspiracy, Nick Cave, Elliott Smith (rip) and others choose indies over majors.
Creative Commons levels the playing field in restoring the freedom of the Internet back to indie labels enabling them to compete with the majors market monopoly, which is stronger in North America than anywhere else, by allowing the public to hear new music that they would otherwise never catch on radio.
Every debate I have on CC with a representative from the majors and their numerous lobbying groups or collection rights societies fills my heart with joy. Invariably, I’d have to say that one on one, off the record, 99% of these individuals end up agreeing with me.
CC: What’s your ideal vision of how the music industry could be and how do you think we can get there?
Ideally no artist should EVER sign their copyright (the ownership of their work including moral rights) over to a company that will then profit unfairly from that artists’ work. I say unfairly because often, the major label makes all the money, while the artist gets none, or very little. For example, several labels were deducting “breakage” points off of digital music sales! The problems of the music industry run deep, all the way back to the days of Tin Pan Alley and the concept of “music publishing” — which is a key concept to understand in terms of who owns what in the music world.
Ideally every artist should own their own publishing and use and license their work however they see fit, instead of relinquishing control over to the labels.
I think CC can help bring about a fairer music industry — to the public, to the artists, and to those labels that recognize the present problems and are willing to work fairly with both.