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Rcrd_lbl_logo RCRD LBL, the advertiser-supported music venture from Peter Rojas (founder of Engadget) and Downtown Records (the label behind Art Brut, Justice and Eagles of Death Metal, among others), launched today. There's a good Wall Street Journal story here, which includes the following money graf (after the jump):

Artists with songs on Rcrd Lbl won't get a cut of advertising associated with their music; they'll get advances Mr. Deutsch characterized as modest for each song they give the label. These advances range from $500 a song for the least established artists, according to people who work in the music industry, and escalate for bigger names to around $5,000. Rcrd Lbl will divide with its artists any money that it makes from licensing their music to television shows, movies or TV commercials.

My initial impression is that RCRD LBL is more of a commercial music blog than a record company. Yes, it buys the rights to songs and then distributes them, as a conventional label does (and quite unlike the typical music blog, which doesn't pay artists). But the main point apparently isn't to build an audience for individual artists, it's to drive traffic to the RCRD LBL site and its advertisers.

Marc Cohen at Ad-Supported Music Central, who gets props just for the way he hyphenates compound modifiers, was flummoxed by RCRD LBL's decision to let people download tracks with no ads attached. If the goal is to maximize ad revenue, why not let the tracks carry ads with them across the Net? It's a good question, and it's the main reason I think RCRD LBL should be seen as competing with the likes of Hypebot or even iTunes, not Universal Music Group or Barsuk. By not gluing the ads to the songs it distributes, RCRD LBL is saying it doesn't care whether people download or redistribute the songs (although the Creative Commons licenses displayed with the tracks make it clear that they're not to be resold). That's not how it makes money. It cares only that people keep coming back to RCRDLBL.com. That's why the only message you'll see when you play a downloaded track is the line "Get free music at RCRDLBL.com," which appears in lieu of an album title.

If I were a musician with talent -- a wild hypothetical -- I'd care about downloads and redistributions. Deeply. I'd appreciate the fact that RCRD LBL's DRM-free approach makes it easy for my songs to be shared far and wide online. But I'd also like to know where the songs are going, so I can build a fan base and tour more effectively. RCRD LBL may have developed a great business model, which may prove to be an effective promotional vehicle for bands. Still, it doesn't strike me as a next-generation record label. It seems more like an Internet-fueled way for bands to market themselves through giveaways, like the freebies in soda caps or fast-food restaurants.


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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