Charlie Chan is an Australian musician and a very good friend of Downhill Battle. She even let us sleep in her hotel room when we were at conference together– she rules!
Charlie was one of the first musicians on the planet to start selling CDs online and one of the very, very, very first to actually make a living at it. She’s just started an online storing hosting system called Martian Method that gives independent musicians a great way to sell DRM-free MP3s online. We asked her to give us a write-up of what the project is all about. We love you Charlie!
by Jonathan Jaques, for Martian Method and Downhill Battle
Charlie Chan â€“ internationally renowned composer, performer, and the woman about to drop a bomb on the Music Industry that will strike a lasting blow to majors and finally level the playing field for all independent labels and artists. The revolution begins online with Martian Method â€“ an MP3 delivery system developed by Chan to bring equality back to the Industry by giving indie artists and labels all profits from their sales in a swift and legitimate way.
As we already know, paradigms are changing: the Industry is in a state of upheaval, in need of major redevelopments due to the evolution of the Internet and download technologies. And the majors are struggling to keep up. Stuck in business moulds decades out of date, they have been unable to embrace the new technologies and are for the first time truly vulnerable. We know that to change the system for the better, the time to strike is now. Finally there is a mechanism to do so. While corporations like iTunes are shepherding the majors through this time of darkness, Charlie Chan has found a way to cut them out completely.
Chan, a pioneer of early Internet distribution, has been independently selling her own music online since 1996. Last year alone she sold over 400,000 downloads, as well as having personally sold over 75,000 physical CDs in the last 6 years. According to Chan:
â€œMy job now is to inspire other people to see that they can do it themselves! That is where Martian comes inâ€¦â€
Two and a half years in the making, Martian is a new method of delivering content that short circuits the consumer directly to the creator. The system is comprised of two core elements: Martian Method â€“ the upload/delivery system for artists and labels, and Martian Music â€“ an online store for the consumer. Combined, they form a complete online digital music distribution service where artists and labels earn all of the profit from sales (which means up to almost 70% of GROSS) and are paid fast.
For Chan, the Martian development process was simple. Recognising the significant lack of artist direct-selling services available, she identified the problems in existing services and solved them by addressing what she, as an artist, needed from them to continue functioning independently. The main problems were, not surprisingly, an inequality in the distribution of funds and the prolonged time it takes for an artist to be paid their share.
Generally with online distributors, when a sale takes place, service fees and royalties are deducted. From the remaining NETT figure the online distributor generally takes a 30% commission and remits the rest to whatever record label or aggregator the artist is signed to. (An aggregator is a third party that acts as a go-between for the artist/label and online distributors, and takes a commission for the services they provide.) The label or aggregator then pays the artist from this remainder in accordance with their agreement.
For artists signed to major labels, royalty rates can be as low as 5%; which means they are really getting 5% of the labelâ€™s 70% share â€“ essentially 3.5% of NETT earnings. This amount can literally take years before it actually reaches the artist.
A digital music aggregator, on the other hand, may offer an artist or label up to 90%. This 90% actually represents the remaining share after the initial service fees and communication royalties have been deducted, as well as the online distributorâ€™s commission. With the aggregator taking their 10% commission as well, an artist signed to a label with the same agreement as the previous example would be even worse off.
According to Chan, no such inequality can happen with Martian: â€œEverything is above the line, so everyone is paid above the line. And we donâ€™t take a commission. Everyone is paid straight away.â€
Martianâ€™s services include streaming music previews, personalised charts, email marketing and promotional tools, as well as accurate on-demand sales reports, and an easy to use web interface for artists to upload, organise and sell their music. This means that the artists and labels have direct involvement in how their material is promoted and sold, and has access to information about what/when products are selling, straight away!
â€œEssentiallyâ€, Chan asserts, â€œall that is needed is a direct connection between the artist and the audience, the creator and the consumer. This is what we provide with Martian. It is a communication tool; not a money hungry company. Among our artists, everyone is equal and we all help each other. Martian is what you make of it. The possibilities are endless!â€
With what is by far the fairest and most generous royalty distribution percentage in the world, it is no surprise that Martian has already garnered interest from independent music labels and distributors around the world. Having launched in Australia only two months ago, Martian has already signed up high profile labels like MGM (the largest independent distributor in Australia) and Origin, among others, and is currently negotiating with ABC Music.
The Martian catalogue now includes some of the countryâ€™s biggest acts, such as John Butler Trio, The Waifs and Endorphin. By only its eighth week of going live, Martian has been so inundated with requests that much of its new content is yet to be uploaded, however, if the last few weeks are anything to go by, Martian is shaping up to become the biggest independent online music distributor on the planet.
Martianâ€™s services are not limited to artists already associated with indie labels or distributors. Martian embraces the philosophy â€œEveryoneâ€™s listeningâ€. This can apply to anyone, so long as they are not a member of the Major Cartel. This includes individuals, as well as labels, ranging from the most obscure and independent of artists, to signed, published and established acts anywhere in the world. Anyone who has music they want to sell digitally can be a part of Martian. Martian is licensed by APRA (Australian Performing Rights Association) and AMCOS (Australian Mechanical Copyright Ownersâ€™ Society) â€“ the countryâ€™s key collection societies â€“ and offer a discount for their members.
â€œWith Martianâ€, Chan concludes, â€œit is ideological and political. We have developed this system out of a social responsibility to bring equality and diversity back to the Music Industry. Martian aims to see artists enjoying the full fruits of their labour; not greedy third parties that dilute the product while embellishing their costs and commissions. We want to break the domination of majors over world wide audiences and stimulate a new era of creativity in music.
â€œMartian will work because consumers know that artists and their music are our foremost concerns. We provide consumers with a safe and legitimate way of purchasing digital music and directly connecting with and supporting the artists and labels they love, knowing that the money goes to the right people. We wonâ€™t sell them out at any cost!â€
Jaques is a freelance writer based in Sydney; holds a BA in Communications (Honours), University of Technology, Sydney, and is currently studying a Certificate in Music Industry Business @ Sydney Institute, TAFE.