According to The Times, Madonna is to walk away from Warner and jump into bed with gig promoters Live Nation instead in a deal reputedly worth $120 million (£60 million).
Her recent Confessions Tour grossed $260.1 million worldwide, according to Billboard magazine, with £11.8 million coming from her London dates alone – at Live Nation-managed Wembley.
Following Radiohead’s decision to self-release new album In Rainbows and Paul McCartney’s Starbucks deal, both at the expense of erstwhile label EMI (itself now swallowed up by private equity outfit Terra Firma), Her Madgesty’s decision is likely to further the already decaying state of the majors.
Prince’s album giveaway essentially nullified his deal with Sony BMG in the UK, which was left with nothing to sell. The Charlatans are allowing fans to download their new album for free. Trent Reznor looks set to leave Universal-owned Interscope and has been encouraging fans to steal Nine Inch Nails’ music gratis. Reports this week suggest that Jamiroquai and Oasis are seriously looking at non-traditional means of releasing their music. What started as a pioneering foray into a brave new digital world now looks like a headlong rush to end the status quo of (in particular) the majors.
But who, if not record labels, is going to fund the career development of the next Madonnas, Princes, Reznors and Radioheads? It’s one thing for MySpace to help a career to gain exposure, as in the case of Lily Allen, Kate Nash, the Arctic Monkeys et al, but quite another for that to translate into an income stream to pay for tours.
While Madonna’s deal is quite different again to what Radiohead have done, it poses as many questions for the record labels. And fans shouldn’t be surprised if, as artists come to rely increasingly on touring to make ends meet, gig ticket prices escalate into realms previously not even countenanced by Barbara Streisand.
At the other end of the scale, as majors inevitably reign back artist advances, will the DIY ethic of music-making become the dominant, rather than the indie, route to success? And if so, will music-making become the privilege of the wealthy few?
Interesting times ahead, anyway.