Lengthy Magnatune Thoughts
Well, I've faxed off the documents and mailed the CD to Magnatune. I've talked to a lot of people about it over the past day and thought I'd share some (very possibly incorrect) observations here. A lot of musicians I know seem interested in Magnatune so maybe they'd benefit from some of this: 1. As harmless as a non-exclusive deal sounds, as far as I know, no major record company in the world is going to want to ALSO sign a non-exclusive deal. So if you're still holding out for Geffen to snatch up your album, a non-exclusive deal really isn't as benign as it sounds.
2. Various people raised the issue of the digital distribution deal (for iTunes, eMusic, the new Napster, etc) I signed with CD Baby being exclusive. This helpful page indicates that this is not a concern and that the only issue I would have is if Magnatune decided to go off and try to sell the tracks to iTunes or eMusic. In which case I'd have to choose between Magnatune and CD Baby for my digital distribution. (CD Baby says all it requires is 30 days notice.)
3. The 50/50 sliding scale model of Magnatune irked more than a couple of musicians and industry folk I showed it to. I was told that since Magnatune is not advancing you any money or promising to do any promotion, they couldn't understand why Magnatune would deserve 50% of the of the financial goodwill you generate as an artist.
When you buy a CD from Magnatune you're given the option of paying $5-$18 with $8 being the recommended price. It says underneath the pricing option "50% goes directly to the artist, so please be generous", which as several people pointed out, is the same as saying "50% goes directly to Magnatune, so please be generous".
Most other services (such as CD Baby and Cafe Press) take a flat amount per CD to ensure they profit on each transaction. Anything above that number goes to the artist. Does Magnatune necessarily deserve an equal tip each time you tip an artist on the service? For me I guess I don't really care, but it's probably something worth thinking about if you're looking at this as a potential big money maker.
4. To join Magnatune I had to agree to put a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license on the songs on my album. Whether this conflicts with my whole "no copyright" thing, I have no idea and basically I just don't have the energy to worry about it. You would think it would be easy to get the simple message "DO WHATEVER THE HELL YOU WANT WITH MY MUSIC, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD I DON'T CARE" across, but apparently it's a lot more complicated than that. In conclusion: I love licenses!
5. On the topic of Scott Andrew's post the other day about the Creative Commons and BMI/ASCAP royalties, you must sign a waiver when you join Magnatune so that BMI/ASCAP cannot collect royalties from Magnatune for the songs you specify. (I understand why, I just thought I'd throw that in for Scott.)
6. The contract is for five years, which seems like a dang long time. In the annotated distribution agreement it says "You give us these rights for 5 years (remember, they're non-exclusive rights, so you're not giving anything up)".
While it's true that a non-exclusive deal doesn't keep you from signing other non-exclusive deals, I think a lot of artists are secretly hoping that a really sweet EXCLUSIVE deal will come along within the next five years. Unless I'm mistaken, that means your album is effectively off the exclusive market for five years. Which I agree isn't a big concern for most people, but I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's nothing.
Anyhow, I don't mean to harsh on Magnatune. I'm still real pleased with joining and I think they offer a cool, unique service that is bound to change and evolve over time as things get ironed out. These are all just things that came up as I was running it by friends of mine, some of whom are in the currently dying record industry.