How we do it
Every day we get requests from people all round the world asking for us to get their favourite songs from yesteryear onto digital music platforms. But how do we do it and what goes into a piece of Pop Activism? Surely it’s as simple as Import CD to Spotify?
Is it already there?
The first thing we do when taking a request forward is having a check to see if it’s already been digitised but only available in the country of origin.
Local iTunes web pages or Amazon stores are good for getting this info (but not Spotify which keeps a record of deleted releases that can be found on Google). Often making something available worldwide can be done relatively easily by a label.
Who owns it?
If it’s not currently available somewhere then we need to find out who the rightsholders are. Discogs.com is a very useful resource for seeing which record label originally released it and usually Discogs and Wikipedia can help us trace who owns it now.
A lot of the time it will be one of the three majors (Sony, Universal or Warner), who have acquired many labels over the years. In the case of dance and club tracks, then rights often revert to the producers who only licenced the music to a major label for a limited time.
Asking the rightsholder
Having figured out who should own it, we then set about finding a contact at the rightsholder to enquire with and send a request for confirmation of rights and digitisation (or worldwide availability) to them. For dance tracks that have reverted to the producers, it can sometimes take a long time to track them down - it took many attempts and dead ends to get in touch with Shanks & Bigfoot (though we finally got there!).
It normally takes three emails to get a response (generally 80% of the emails we send to rightsholders go ignored or unreplied, no matter how nicely we make our request!). Sometimes we will be REALLY persistent and send upto 10 polite emails before giving up. This part itself can take months.
With a lot of releases now owned by the three majors, we have to hang fire in asking them (realistically we can only ask each local entity for a couple of releases at a time - we can’t take the piss) and a request from our followers for a release owned by a major label will probably go to the back of a long queue of things to ask the major label about.
The responses we get from rightsholders range from the massively keen or “good spot you’ve made” to can’t be arsed fobbing off or blunt can’t/ won’t helps. We still continue to try and (nicely) persuade the latter kind of responses, even up to three or four times before conceding defeat.
“But we don’t have audio files!”
In some cases, a rightsholder is happy to digitise but doesn’t have masters or audio files. This is common with dance tracks where the original rightsholder licenced the track to various labels worldwide who in turn may have locally commissioned new remixes and edits and not given these to the original rightsholders.
This can also be the case where a label acquires a catalogue off another company who were shoddy with their archiving, leaving the acquirer with rights to music but no actual audio. In these cases we often source WAV files for the rightsholders either through our own collection, our followers or through collectors on Discogs and send them on to the rightsholder - the easier we make it for the rightsholders (by sourcing for them), the more likely they are to digitise the music. When sourcing on Discogs this can involve a lot of explaining of what we are doing and convincing to send us the files which is hard work!
Keeping it on the to do list
Whilst we have an OK from a rightsholder to release, our job is not done! People at labels leave, new priorities come in for them (particularly those labels where the catalogue teams manage both front end - new release - and archive releases), things slip down the very long to do list (or slip off completely) or get held up with the Business Affairs team and we will periodically check in with a rightsholder to see how a release is coming along (or not).
We’ve had instances were everything seems positive and going swimmingly only for there to be a curveball and we are back to Square One and have to make our case for digitisation again.
In other cases, we’ve had major labels (outside the UK) show interest and then never ever respond to anything again. We’ve been ghosted by more record labels than we have dates!!
It’s also not as simple as Insert CD > Import to Digital Music Platforms. In addition to sourcing audio, a label needs to double check the rights situation (and with major labels, the original contract), sort out label copy and meta tag data (as well as ensuring songwriter royalties will go to the relevant publishers) and source HQ cover art (Apple Music is notorious for rejecting cover art that doesn’t meet their high standards, even when an existing digital release is made available wider).
All set for release
When it comes to when a release will finally be coming online, our knowledge will vary. Some labels will tell us the exact date it will go live, some an approximate date. In most cases we don’t know and it’s only on doing one of our “New Music Friday” sweeps, searching for music we think might be on the way, that we see something we have asked for has come online.
More often than not those Friday morning searches result in a lot of “nothing found” but every now and then something suddenly pops up that we get excited about.
Spread the word!
Assuming everything is fine with the release (no faulty audio or incorrect tracks - that has happened!), we blast out word on Twitter and the Popjustice Forums and do our best to get word out there. After all, if the music isn’t streamed much, the rightsholders will be less likely to grant future requests from us.
There’s no set time frame for how long the process takes but it’s common for something to come online four to five months after our request goes in.
Liquid Child’s “Diving Faces” came online four days after we sent the rightsholder audio files (two weeks after our initial request). In contrast Jan Johnston and DJ Shah’s “Beautiful (Glimpse Of Heaven)” took 28 months after our first request to the record label!
But despite the time taken and the exhaustion that can be caused from dealing with really uncooperative and disinterested rightsholders, the reactions we get when we announce something has gone online is worth it!