A record label based in Kansas, USA, is taking inspiration from the co-operative model to give classical music and jazz artists more say over the direction of the company.
Odradek Records, set up in 2014, is non-profit record label which uses an online platform to allow submissions from any performer to be anonymously evaluated by other performers on the roster.
This is done via Anonymuze.com, a democratic blind judging platform run by roster members.
The company itself is not a co-operative, but founder John Anderson, a former musician, is looking at how the co-operative model could work in practice.
“The only thing which is done co-operatively is the artistic direction,” he said. “I have one vote just like the others.”
The label currently includes 15 ensembles, 17 women and 17 men from 21 countries. Competing with the “big three” – Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group, which between them own around 80% of the classical music market – is difficult. Independents unveil thousands of small releases every month but they struggle to recover expenses.
“We’re a non-profit. We hope that we make profit but all those sales are paid to the artist – we don’t keep any capital from sales,” said Mr Anderson.
The record label provides a variety of services, including recording, mixing and mastering, photo shooting, writing programme notes and advertising.
Looking ahead, the classical music industry faces many challenges, says Mr Anderson – notably the shift to online. While 80% of Odradek’s sales are physical, the classical and jazz music industry is shifting towards digital. This means recording music is now more an exercise of brand building, rather than revenue generation.
I’m a big proponent of co-operatives as a solution to many contemporary issues, and my long term goal with Odradek is that it become organised under a ‘real/legal’ co-operative structure
The record label is preparing by using different digital platforms to promote its artists, including an online biography http://b.io/ where artists can showcase their biographies and have them translated into different languages by Odradek.
“Major label releases would have €50,000 (£39,000) – if not more – just for advertising. For us the budget is between €1,500 and €2,000 (£1,100-£1,500),” said Mr Anderson. “We don’t have the same media coverage. But if you look at sales they don’t sell that much more than us.”
He now wants to see Odradek become a bona fide co-operative in the future to enable artists and workers to own a real stake in the business.
“I’m a big proponent of co-operatives as a solution to many contemporary issues, and my long term goal with Odradek is that it become organised under a ‘real/legal’ co-operative structure, with the workers – engineers, writers, photographers, videographers, graphics, accounts, PR, co-ordinators – sharing in the governance with the artists.
“My idea is to split the board 50/50 between the employees and the artists.”
He added: “The artists’ shares, of course, devaluate with every new roster member.
“But it’s also fair I think, because for them it’s a label, while for the workers, it’s their livelihood.”
But these plans will have to wait until the company as a whole is on its own firm financial footing, he said.
“We need a few more years of growth before it will work. So someday we’ll be a co-operative also in a strict sense. Until then, we’re doing this hybrid structure.”