Paul Young: Wherever he lays his hat, that's his internet home

Eighties star Paul Young tells David Parsley about the download site that allows both new talent and 'old gits like me to get our songs out there'


It must be something in the blood. For 52, Paul Young doesn't look his years. Indeed, his looks have changed little since those halcyon days in the 1980s when he ruled charts around the world with hits such as "Wherever I Lay My Hat" and "Every Time You Go Away".

He's still gigging with his TexMex combo, Los Pacaminos, as well as belting out the old standards, but Young has a new ambition: to become the next internet music mogul.

He has teamed up with Ricky Simmonds, founder of the dance music label and download store Audio- jelly, to create a site designed to showcase raw talent as well as established acts. Beside unknown bands such as The Teapot Tribe, his Etopia Music (etopia-music.com) offers subscribers new music from the likes of Paul Weller, Peter Gabriel, Bjork and pre-Simon Cowell recordings of Leona Lewis.

There's no hierarchy, no special treatment for the big names. This democratic download site allows all artists, whatever their popularity or talent, to decide what they want to charge for their music and get the best royalty rates available anywhere.

"We got together and started to think about what we could do around three years ago," says Young. "Actually, the idea originally was for old gits like me, who haven't got a label, to get our music out there. But as we thought more about it, we came up with the idea of opening the site to anyone and everyone."

Simmonds adds: "The ethos was to create a site for those people without a label or for established artists who don't want to be with the major labels because of the difficulties with them these days."

For £4.50 a year, any band can place a profile on the site and include information such as gig dates, as well as offering up to three tracks to sell from as little as 50p. A more extensive package, for £19.50, allows the downloading of several albums worth of material.

Even with so many music download sites available, many of which are illegal but free, Young and Simmonds believe their site stands out because of the freedom it gives to artists.

"They get 80 per cent of anything they sell on the site," says Young. "Not only that but the tracks are free of digital rights management, which means there's no restriction on how subscribers use the music and they can put them on any device they want."

The site is also open to every music genre from pop to classical, and the group is in talks with the major music companies so Young and his other label-less "old git" friends can put their back catalogues on the site.

"Sony has been one of the last labels to remain tough on digital rights," says Young. "But it seem to be softening that approach now and that should make it easier for me and many of the other artists to get our catalogues on there.

"However, it's a shop window for everyone. In America alone, there are up to four million unsigned artists and we're planning to take Etopia to them soon and give them the opportunity of being seen."

In many ways, Etopia is a talent incubator. It allows bands to enter the public arena and begin to build up a following. It could even save the major labels a great deal of time.

Ironically, Etopia, born out of the digital controversies that set download sites against the established music industry, may well prove the A&R talent-spotters dream. No more will representatives of the likes of EMI and Sony have to trawl Camden pubs for new talent. The rebels are now feeding them some of the best new acts around the globe. But could that actually damage Etopia's chances of success?

"If bands get a deal from being on Etopia then in many ways we've achieved what we set out to do," says Young. "But there's no reason why we can't start our own label and sign some bands too. There's plenty of talent to go around and we're just getting more of it into the public domain."

Funded from a mixture of their own cash and one unnamed wealthy American backer, Young and Simmonds are about to embark on the European and American launch of the site over the next year. By the end of 2008, the pair believe they'll have more than 3,000 artists.

Since the ribbing he took for wearing a silk Antony Price on the cover of No parlez, he is unlikely to don a suit and tie again. But the '80s soul man has still managed turn to businessman, and he's hoping to flip the music industry on its head.

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