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The Music Industry’s Race To The Throne

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The major record labels that had dominated the music scene for as long as anyone can remember came out vehemently against file sharing when it was introduced, claiming it was nothing more than epidemic bootlegging. Suddenly, the same group of young people, whose steady diet of $20 CDs made them rich throughout the decade,were dragged into court as an example of what happens to the thieves who were eroding record industry profits. The fierce opposition even led to a 9-0 victory by MGM in the U.S. Supreme Court, forcing one of the early file sharing websites, Grokster, to pay $50 million for copyright infringement. When the initial free sites were disintegrated or forced to become fee-based, it seemed that these companies, with the help of Uncle Sam, had taken back their rightful control of the music industry, but it was not yet a time for celebration. In fact, for most, it may never be time.

The labels were mistaken in the beginning, not because their instinctive greed had placed them on the wrong side of the file sharing debate, which it did, but because they squandered precious time on a crusade that they simply can not win, against the very people they look to for support. Unfortunately, over a half-century of dominance had blurred their vision, and the mission was a knee-jerk reaction to protect their profits (and nothing brings customers back like public prosecutions). Still hungover from the '90's record setting CD sales, they couldn't see, or refused to believe, that the party was over and it was time to go back to work and show why they got the job in the first place. This select batch of CEOs have a chance to either seize the moment and re-write the history books or watch their mighty ship disappear into the sea.

The Internet isn't going away, nor will it be commandeered by any one entity. Trying to police it is impossible and other than feeble scare tactics, which may work in third world countries but not so much around here, there is no way to bring back the record sales of yesteryear. Still, these dimwits continue to fight an uphill battle, as their “gang,” the Recording Industry Association of America, led by Cary Sherman, maintains that the measures taken to punish these music bandits will intensify, regardless of their former leader's admission, after the fact, that “it IS pretty cool to download music….” This ridiculous effort has turned into a full campaign throughout universities, involving several other “groups,” which are basically a collection of stuffed shirts, operating under some official-sounding acronym, like the R.I.A.A., who desperately need that bonus check to maintain their lavish lifestyles.


It's almost sad to watch these big kahunas flounder. Sure, there are some, like American Idol's Clive Davis, who have created successful revenue streams other than the sale of an obsolete physical product, but the rest, who thought it would be “fun” to get into the music business and be important among the high-rollers, have gotten more than they bargained for. While the natural instinct of any business manager is to fight “shoplifting” by beefing up security during business hours, what they are doing is pissing off customers who know the door is unlocked all night. Meanwhile, that “shoplifting” only represented an opportunity to stake their claim in the music business, but don't tell them, though. By now, it's clear that these guys are going to hold their ground all the way to the end.

It is true that the file sharing debate is one that continues forever and both sides have been clearly illustrated everywhere, ad nauseum. They do, indeed, each have their points, and because of this, major record labels will continue to argue their case, but what they fail to realize is that nobody cares. Especially when they consider that the only people truly being effected are the middlemen, nobody is going to stop downloading music; so, it's time for them to start rolling with the punches. As head of a major label, they are in prime position to spearhead a campaign that would change music forever, but it must involve doing a complete 180 and embracing the enemy.

Today, major labels have all taken a small step in the right direction by creating departments to oversee digital distribution, and many former personnel have crossed over to sites like Yahoo music. However, their involvement, for the most part, is begrudging, and these digital wings are meant to continue the impossible task of controlling downloads, rather than thinking of ways to utilize the new media accessibility to generate new profits. Their inception and development were reactive to the situation, not innovative, and ironically, they will be swallowed up by the nature of the business, the very same fierceness they once created.

Meanwhile, the race is on between a new breed of executives, who are hungry for a piece of the action. People like MySpace founder, Chris DeWolfe, or Martin Stiksel, who launched Last FM, a major online music site. Apple's iTunes is also a major player in the new world order of music. This is the group which will emerge as the new music industry legends. Whether it will benefit music long term or the industry will become another Animal Farm, it's most likely that this century's Barry Gordy or Sir George Martin will be a card carrying member of Silicon Valley, and that most likely means curtains for all of the smooth talking pimps, who slashed their way to the top in the old world. The choice is simple. They can continue suing downloaders, in essence, killing one roach at a time, or they can end their futile campaign and earn their place in the music business of the new millennium.

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  • Dyrkness

    It’s not all about the execs. What about the artists themselves? Are they going to be forced to tour endlessly to make a living? Will their studio output be merely a “loss leader”? Computers and mp3 players do crash. Will all of today’s music eventually disappear because of it?

  • profplume

    Dyrkness,

    I’m not sure what you mean exactly. The point of the article is this:

    “It is a waste of time to sue downloaders and try to regain profits on a physical product. The industry is changing, whether they like it or not, and out of this mishmash of sites charging for downloads, not charging,…etc will emerge a true, NEW, method which will benefit everyone”

    About the execs—screw them.

    About the artists- a one dollar donation from fans equals the revenue they recieve on a CD under the execs. They can grow as big as they want, without the loansharks. Recording is much more cost effective these days. Hire an engineer for yourself, promote, hire a team, treat ur music like a business, ur business. Whatever it is, it is going to be different. That’s the point, it is up to somebody to figure it out.

    The artists who are helpless are the ones who need pimps, and they usually end up putting out garbage they hate.

    About music vanishing….lol…that was a joke, right?

    Thank you for dropping by our page, where you are guaranteed a response.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    PP, I agree that suing downloaders is a waste of time, and I also agree that the music industry didn’t handle the situation well right from the beginning.

    But the simple fact is, bands want to be heard, they want radio airplay, they want their music to reach fans all over, not just in their own neighborhoods, and none of that happens by selling their new CD on iTunes or creating a music page on MySpace.
    Bands want record contracts.

    Bitch and moan, but the record companies are never going away. Sure a band can make a buck per song selling on iTunes, but who are they going to sell to? Record companies make a profit, yes. But they also pay for national promotion, publicity, all of those things that a band couldn’t possibly do on their own–and their $.99 downloads will never pay for that kind of promotion. It won’t even pay for the gas to drive around town dropping off their CDs at radio stations. You said a $1 donation from fans is what a band makes anyway, but where do those $1 donating fans come from? Believe me. Bands with record contracts have a much better chance of making more $1s, and they don’t have to pour it back into trying to make another $1.

    The format may be digital, but the promotion isn’t–it’s still guys getting on the phone, driving daily to radio stations to try to get artists on the air, setting up interviews, appearances. It’s still face to face public relations. If it were as simple as sending out emails, every band would be famous right now.

    How many bands can afford to hire ten people, working around the clock, in every major city and market in the US, just to market and promote one song?

    I’m with Dyrkness in the fact that the only ones really harmed by music thieves are the bands themselves. And you said that too–in saying that the only people truly effected are the middlemen–the bands are the middlemen. Between the customers and the record companies, they’re the ones who lose when there are no ‘paying’ customers.

    I don’t really get the ‘shoplifting’ analogy though. What I read in that analogy is that people are stealing and, by trying to stop them, the shop owners are pissing off their customers. Who aren’t really customers, they aren’t buying. They’re stealing. So you’re saying don’t piss off people who don’t buy from you–or they won’t steal from you anymore?

    I think the big mistake in the recording industry came long before illegal downloading. It came when the record companies decided to stop producing records. And I mean records. Those black, flat discs with grooves in them. As soon as they decided that digital media is cheaper to produce and doesn’t last as long as vinyl–forcing people to re-purchase the same product when the media gets scratched or damaged, they dug themselves into a hole.

    I agree that going after downloaders is stupid. Going after uploaders makes much more sense. And switching back to media that can’t be uploaded at the touch of a button would be the smartest move they can make to save themselves. But iTunes, Amazon and Apple aren’t going to take that sitting down.

    I don’t really think a digital company is ever going to replace a record company, iTunes, MySpace, Last FM, Amazon, they serve an entirely different purpose, they’re a medium that relies on what the record companies produce.

    If any digital company were to start turning garage bands into rock stars, they’d charge for promotion, they’d pay for artist development. They’d decide who was going to get a shot based on how much profit they think can make off them.
    They’d become… a record company.

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

    I can tell you really hate the record companies, the industry executives. But I don’t really feel that way. I’m far more concerned about seeing artist development shrink, watching a sea of talent turn into a fishbowl. Having the companies delivering new talent strangled by digital media companies –who reap the most benefit from seeing illegal downloaders prosecuted, removing their competition, without getting their hands dirty– I look at it from the flip side of the coin. I don’t think Chris DeWolfe, Martin Stiksel or iTunes are going to emerge as new music industry legends or the answers to music industry problems. I don’t think they know anything about music at all. I certainly don’t want them deciding what music I have access to.

    Sometimes people are just too in love with technology, they think that the answer to every problem must somehow relate back to technology, they want advances, apps, software–Never fear! binary code and microchips will save us!

    Bill Gates’s biggest achievement was convincing us that we can’t do one damned thing for ourselves. That we cannot look inside ourselves for the answers, we must look to Silicon Valley. Wait for them to give us our answers.

    Unlike you, I don’t think the answer lies in bigger, faster, more technology. I think the answer lies in the artists, and the music itself. I think Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss were on the right track long ago when they began building a record company, by artists, for artists.

    The idea of the record company as a collective of artists, not executives. When groups of artists start coming together, pooling their resources, protecting each other’s intellectual property, opening windows of opportunity for one another–then the music industry will change. It will be about the music again, and the connection to the audience, and not the software. Not the executive.

    Sorry this is long, and particularly if I come off sounding like I’m trying to argue. That’s not my intention. I just keep hearing these same complaints. With no real solutions being discussed.

    I sort of look at what we do here as a good model for a possible solution. Many people, good at what they do, with diverse talents. We do what we do as a group, and maybe we don’t always agree, but the product that goes out is something I’m proud to be a part of.

    I appreciate the opportunities that I get and realize I probably would never have gotten them on my own. I’m proud of the writers here–and that my own small (but wordy 😉 contributions are part of a successful collective.

    Okay, enough. I have to go write.
    Sid Vicious is hot, sexy and dead.
    He’s just begging to be Crushed.

  • Sam I Am

    Like many in this issue with an angry ax to grind and a myopic view as the result, you miss the forest for the trees. America has outsourced its manufacturing. IP is what it has in the global marketplace going forward. Music is one tiny part of it, but only the canary in the coal mine.

    Government was fine with industry taking the lead in protecting their own digital products because it would temporarily offload the costs of maintaining law and order while offering a case study in effectiveness (or not). We see now in the 11 years since Napster what a minority will do with an internet connection and stealth. It’s not lawful. It’s also not very pretty.

    So it’s clear the laws as they stand are not effective and wise observance will realize the laws are migrating to a new and fearsome place. Are you even watching this legal process well underway? Personal accountability to “whatever you do and whatever you take” is as essential IRL as well as online and it will be established online because without it, the speed and ecological benefit of digital distribution is lost to unlawful behavior. Worse, that behavior is based upon personal greed and hiding behind privacy assumptions, not a particularly noble way forward considering what it will compel in inevitable online surveillance.

    The bottom line is not your personal animosity towards entertainment industry executive’s and unfortunately you belittle your voice by revealing all that. IP will eventually regain the same respect in the marketplace to purchase and possess as material products or government will go to extreme ends to compel that respect for the essential tax revenue it all yields. Preoccupation in slagging executives is to miss the much larger point that world government has literally no other choice and everything will actually unfold from there.

  • profplume

    First of all,

    I don’t see how my opinion “belittles my voice” in an opinion piece I wrote, but anyway, I have no beef with record execs, except they screwed up.

    A Geek Girl,

    I’m not so sure you aren’t echoing my views in a different way. Your comment about the new regime , in essence, becoming the record companies was illustrated when I likened it to a possible “Animal Farm”, as in George Orwell.

    I agree also in a record company fro artists, by artists.

    I also am not looking for silicon valley to answer our questions, rather that the internet is an unstoppable force, and like most other industries, the ones who lead the internet have a head start.

    I am implying a “race to the throne”. That race consists of Record Execs, who stumbled out of the gate and are well known throughout the industry as swine (with money.), the website guys, and the rest of the field, and that may be you and me, in fact, in my last article I touch on and in my comments expound, the fact that I do indeed have an idea that I would discuss with serious people.

    I’m not implying that I have the answer, but I’m certainly not just complaining for nothing. I am an artist as well as many, and I want to fix this, not just bitch. I just feel that we will NEVER go back to the old days when it was a physical product. It simply won’t, as much as we want that money.

    Speaking of the money, maybe an artist (band) can’t afford all of that, but they should be able to rally support, the same way they bank on that lottery record deal. (Remember, as I said prior, the record labels give hundreds of deal that fall flat for every one that does well and it turns into a deficit for the artist.

    It may not be as easy for someone to come out of pocket when things are run by the labels (the crime syndicate), because of many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that as soon as they make noise the syndicate will push them out and dangle bigger things in front of their band ( a common theme in music)

    However, when a new system is in place, and the slate is wiped clean, it will be different.

    And you know what will eventually spawn, more “record labels” as we’ve both said. BUT, maybe not. That’s where the question lies. What “system” will win out. Capitalism or socialism, or a happy medium.

    With all due respect, I feel that the attitude of “no, we need you,labels” shows fear.

    I do always thank you for your comments, like I said, I tend to agree with most.

    Sam,

    My “personal animosity” is one that is held by a great number of people, so many that I can hardly claim ownership.

    Your argument, in less I am wrong, is in favor of manufacturing, for one. But, we are never again going to market and sell CD’s like before. Never.

    Then, I see you are taking the position that downloading is wrong and we need to stop. So, you are making the same mistake as the labels. That argument will only lead to a life of preaching to no one. I’m sorry, but there is absolutely no way that illegal downloading will cease. as I said, it will only cost a fortune in lawsuits, which will clog up our legal system and the only way to thrive in that arena is to fiddle with our constitution.

    I’m sorry, but I feel that we need to “roll with the punches”. All of that preaching and suing will take you out of the race. The music world needs to say:

    Ok, people are going to download and we will never be able to shove 20 dollar CD’s (with half filler) down there throat. We could waste all of our resources to try, or we can try to come up with new ways to earn.

    The argument that musicians need labels is fine, for the select few that get that chance, usually by knowing someone or getting very lucky, but for the rest that have dedicated their life to get that chance can assert themselves in a better way.

    I am very open to that discussion. As I said, I have an idea, it may or may not be the way, but I know for a fact that the “morality” argument that we should up the money for that same CD when the good songs are all over in our face, for the good of the artists, is a dead end.

    I certainly hope that you can re-direct your obvious passion into a solution and not a sermon.

    I appreciate you chiming in. Please stick around and share your thoughts.

  • profplume

    (actually, change that first sentence at the end. It’s just not “personal” lol

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