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The Music Industry versus The Internet

When self-appointed guardians of the Internet and rights holders argue about the fall and the future of the music industry, you can put all of the talking points into two buckets:

Guardians of the Internet
Open, free, free culture, remix, sharing, do no evil, censorship, don’t break the Internet, innovation, value creation, music-will-be-like-water (don’t worry), scale, disintermediation, alternative income sources, patronage, greedy and shortsighted labels, etc..

Rights holders (artists, labels, publishers)
Copyrights, permissions, illegal sharing, stealing, royalties, negligible royalties, transfer of wealth, ad-supported sharing, free-loading, livable wages, the necessity of labels and publishers as investors, etc..

Like groundhog day, the debate keeps re-occurring.  However summer came and went sometime in 2011.  

Convenience is going to kill off file sharing; it’s the only thing that ever could.  In a few short years, downloading MP3s will seem so yesterday; like a heavy task that only meatheads do.

Meanwhile, the web is already ‘broken’.  Depending on which web we’re talking about: the world-wide-web-of-China, Facebook, iOS apps, Android apps, or the so-called “open” web – which is only compatible with certain browsers…supporting Flash or not?  And then there’s the private Comcast Internet, the Verizon Internet (think tiered access, throttling, and preference-based-billing), and eventually every major religion will have an ‘internet’.

If you ask me, ending file sharing versus saving the ‘open’ Internet is a so-yesterday argument.  Unfortunately or fortunately (depending on your view of the world), the marketplace is obsoleting the debate.

Artists, labels and rights holders, tell the nerds the Internet is already broken.  The web is balkanizing around huge ecosystems run by giant companies and paranoid governments.  Meanwhile techies might want to suggest to artists that they should stop hunting file-sharing-dinosaurs; extinction is coming.  

Music attracts and sells things that are far more profitable than…music.  From advertising to electronics to cloud computing services, the presence of your brand, images, lyrics, songs and soft endorsements generates far more traffic, goodwill and profit for the Apple’s and the Google’s of the world than your music revenue does.  

In the not-so-distant future, if creators and rightsholders (versus Internet Corporation X) want to fully profit from the exploitation of their brands, likenesses and works, my advice is:

  • Stay out of the file sharing rat hole.
  • Collective licensing seems like a great idea.  Obtaining cash and equity in exchange for blanket licenses is something the larger labels have turned into a profitable art form.
  • Ignore the “break the Internet” arguments and continue to expect and demand the capacity to withdraw or withhold your stream of stuff from sites and services that don’t pay.  
  • Why are you paying for distribution?  This is backwards.  Without your music their products are simply narrow and boring.  Perhaps it’s time to consider disconnecting your works from the anonymous ‘long tail’ that costs more to distribute than it generates in revenue.  It’s time to expect more from your distributor.
  • Don’t buy the crippling royalty rates story the next time around.  There are companies that sell other highly-profitable stuff that will gladly stream music.

The list above are just some of the things that seem more important than worrying about the kids that are filling their hard drives with soon-to-be-deleted MP3s.


Reader Comments (7)

This might elaborate on what you are saying.

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July 3 | Unregistered Commentermrcanard

Great article, "Perhaps it’s time to consider disconnecting your works from the anonymous ‘long tail’ that costs more to distribute than it generates in revenue. It’s time to expect more from your distributor." is a great advice, don't work with distributors that ask for money to sell/distribute your merchandise, they are not motivated to sell your stuff, they already have an income, YOUR MONEY, only work with distributors that take only a cut from the sales, that way it's a fair deal, the more they sale of you the more money both of you make!

Thanks and good luck!

July 4 | Unregistered CommenterSergiu

Most important thing for a prospective musician to realize is that the 'brass ring' is quickly vanishing.

The chance, as remote as it was in the past, to become a superstar, has gone away. The playing field is being leveled at a much lower level.

The best one can hope for now is the lifetime grind of being low to mid level musician ... It's not a pretty picture. Scrambling for gigs to pay the rent, no employer provided health insurance, no retirement package, shitty dressing rooms, second rate motels, broken down vehicles, audiences that don't really give a crap about what you do ...

Eventually, with the incentive (the dream) gone, that job as the home town sewer cleaner will look a lot more attractive than busting your ass to hone your musical chops for a future that offers nothing.

Music will suffer... but, that's the way it is. There's no going back. The real thing that needs to change is the backward thinking of musicians who look to to past and sadly believe that what happened then can happen for them in the future.

Best hopet today ... one viral video as your 'career's' swan song.

July 4 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

Great article Bruce!

I've never bothered railing against file sharing. Whether or not it does more harm than good, it's outside of my control. Honestly, I'm flattered that anyone would bother. :)

As for distributors, I'm happy to pay CD Baby a one-time fee plus 9% to get my music to iTunes, which still provides the vast majority of my digital revenue. I appreciate the spirit of your argument though.

Sounds like a bit of good news for the industry but I am concerned with songwriter's making a living doing their art. Also, the perceived value of that art. I am saddened that society expects so many art forms to be free as if there was no cost in creating that art. I mean, try and tell someone that a VanGough painting should be free. I understand that the industry needs to be more innovatinve to use technology changes to their advantage but a little awareness wouldn't hurt the "free culture". I like what you have to say in this article though and hopefully the future music business landscape will be brighter than the present.

July 5 | Unregistered CommenterSara O.

I am with you on all points specifically distributors but if the majority are buying from iTunes its a good idea to have your music on iTunes...mostly for people hooked to iPhones, iPads, etc.

You have to play the game to a certain extent even though we have the ability to drive traffic to our own websites and sell direct to fans. This is the strategy I recommend to others and use myself but I still drop the money to get it on the major stores knowing I might lose. I seem to prefer Bandcamp to everything else I have tried

The industry is slowly working its way into controlling the Internet and I have certain fears for the future but remain hopeful that both sides of the fence find a balance. Until then we keep it moving.

Soo, cancel your distributors, no music on streaming sites, and somehow convince a major brand to publish, market and distribute your music for you? Genius! If you're already Jay-Z.

July 11 | Unregistered CommenterSharkBitesDog

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