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Pink Floyd Turns Tables, Screws the Record Company

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(Techwriter10)
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The band is just fantastic,
that is really what I think.
Oh by the way, which one's Pink?
~Pink Floyd, Have a Cigar

In the classic rock tale, the young, talented musicians are exploited by one of two entities: the unscrupulous manager or the greedy record company. This week Pink Floyd turned the tables on the record company, winning a case involving a 1999 contract that stated Pink Floyd's albums had to be sold intact. In other words they could not be broken up and sold as individual songs.

A high court in England agreed that the band had a right to preserve its music in the form outlined in the contract. The irony here is that EMI, the band's record label has been making good money selling individual digital songs, and if the ruling holds, the company, which has been reportedly losing millions, will lose this lucrative cash flow from a popular band. The band won the battle, and screwed the record company in process. Talk about a role reversal.

It's a Digital World

Today, people tend to buy individual songs, instead of an entire album, but back when Pink Floyd was at the height of its popularity, you had to buy the whole album and listen to both sides usually in order. Even with the advent of CDs, the whole album tended to be played in order, but that has changed in a big way. According to an article on PaidContent.org the other day, "Digital singles outsold digital albums in the Floyd’s native UK nearly tenfold last year."

Although the same article points out that album sales are on the rise again, individual digital sales are still the leader by far. In today's world, younger music buyers are far more likely to buy a digital song than a digital album or a CD. Pink Floyd has won a key battle with the record company to maintain its artistic integrity, but at the same time, it's shutting down a way for a younger audience to become familiar with its music.

Record Companies Lose More Ground

Record companies as an entity face a threat from the same online forces undermining other corporate media. It's a simple fact of a changing world. Engadget had an excellent post the other day called Record Labels: Change or Die outlining just what the traditional record label is up against. The funny thing is that EMI was trying to make adjustments to this newer way of selling music and got pushed back by the old rules (which for so long it fought to preserve and protect).

If it holds, this ruling puts the music firmly in Pink Floyd's control, but in a twist of fate, it also puts another nail in the corporate media coffin. In a case that just can't stop dripping with irony, the courts have traditionally been a place where media companies could take refuge, but EMI got slapped down for trying to take advantage of the digital marketplace.

It will be interesting to see if there is any longer-term fall out from this or if it's is just an isolated case related to an 11 year old contract that affects the band which signed it. Ultimately though, you can't help but love the 'man bites dog' aspect of this story and how one band, for at least one ruling, stuck it to the record companies.

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snkiz
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Its not all doom and gloom for EMI. They just picked the wrong band to start selling singles with. There is a reason Pink Floyd had that contract, have you ever listened to their music? Half of the songs don't make any sense if you pull them out of the album. You also fail to mention that the ruling is not preventing EMI from selling the album digitally as whole.

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Techwriter10
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I've been a fan of Pink Floyd's music for many years, but most songs even though they are often part of a whole story on PF albums still could stand alone on their own.

Using your reasoning (and theirs for that matter), you could never hear a Pink Floyd song on the radio (and I often have). Comfortably Numb from The Wall sticks out as a song that often gets played on the radio and which you can listen to and enjoy out of the context of the story The Wall album as a whole tells. It's still a good song on its own.

Thanks for your comment.

Ron

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getitright
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Wasn't it after Darkside that Pink Floyd never released a single again? I think Money was the last single ever released by them, I could be wrong. Part of this article misses something, it was very popular in the 60's and and 70's for bands to release singles either a month before or concurrent with a full album release, and sell it at a fraction of the price than the album, similiar to the per track purchasing available in our digital world. It's why there's a singles chart. It was during this time that Pink Floyd, following in the footsteps of Led Zeppelin, decided that their albums were one big piece of work and were not composed with the idea that one song was not connected with the next; therefore to release a single would be sending the wrong message about the album. But to say you couldn't find single tracks in the 60's and 70's is not acknowledging the true reason why the courts ruled in favor of Pink Floyd here; this had been an agreement with Pink Floyd and the record company since the 70's when Pink Floyd refused to release a 7" vinyl. In the 90's they reaffirmed that this also applied to CDs. Now they have reaffirmed that this applies to digital downloads as well.

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Techwriter10
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getitright
I think you're right, and I as I stated this ruling probably only applies only to Pink Floyd, but it is ironic that a record company tries to go the modern route, only to get pushed back by the band. And that was my point.

I don't think anyone's disputing Pink Floyd's right to do this, although I question the wisdom of the decision, they certainly have the contractual right to do what they did.

Whether it's a smart move in today's market is open for debate of course. I do wonder how they reconcile the idea that these songs get played as individual entities on the radio all the time (as do Led Zeppelin's) and one can still enjoy the songs outside of the context of the whole piece.

Thanks for chiming in. I appreciate your comment.

Ron

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snkiz
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Some songs from albums like these are "signature" songs and can stand on their own, kinda like teasers. But if the band wishes not to diminish an album by splitting it up, those wishes tend to to be adhered to where I come from. On the radio we have special events like b-sides and cover to cover to experience these works.

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Techwriter10
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Not many radio stations other than college radio can afford to play a whole album side uninterrupted. I respect Pink Floyd's desire to keep the albums as a whole, and some like Echoes really demand that, but not many stations can do that. It's not called commercial radio for nothing. They need to make money and they aren't likely to play an album side except maybe late at night when there aren't as many listeners.

Ron

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MikeBlack
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Maybe Pink Floyd will decide to authorize more singles, but it is important that they got the court to confirm their contractual rights. Hopefully other artists will benefit from this decision. However, this will ultimately just add to what gets signed over in future contracts.

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Techwriter10
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Mike:
My feeling is that this is unique to Pink Floyd. This contract was signed in 1999 long before MP3 players and itunes stores. Today, most artists are going to welcome the revenue stream they get from single song sales, and there aren't many artists today who offer an album that tells a complete story as deliberately as Pink Floyd has done in the past.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ron

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jwenting
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Pink Floyd's creations are meant to be seen as a whole, not individual tracks.
The band wants to stress and enforce that point, not screw the record company. They're understandibly proud of their compositions and don't want them broken up for scrap.

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Techwriter10
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jwenting:
I don't think they were intentionally screwing the record company, but that was the end result in my view. Also the point of the post is to see the humor and irony in the situation, which you have to admit it has plenty of.

Thanks for your comment.

Ron

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