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The music industry… past, present and future

I'm no expert but I think the music industry started when Edison
recorded the first vocal performance by an opera singer. But that's
technology. The industry as we know it has always been about control.
Control of distribution, the talent and promotion (i.e. the way people
hear new music).

This all worked very well when the promotion channels were few and
highly subscribed. Two or three regional radio stations, three or four
television channels and talent eager to sign the next ten years of
life away for the opportunity make it big in the next year. This all
added up to maximum profits at minimal cost and high efficiency in
distribution and promotion.

The excellent book "The Long Tail" proves that with more diverse media
promotion options (take MySpace by itself) and the ability for talent
to self distribute, the industry is facing a sharply down turning
future.

A few things that have contributed to the change of affairs for the
industry is the miscalculation that the MP3 file format represented an
opportunity to resell and expand their market when in fact Mp3s are a
poor cousin to Cd's just as cassettes where a poor cousin to LP's… you
have to ask how many Cd's would they have sold if they offered the MP3
versions for an extra dollar or two and included them on the CD? How
much goodwill would they have generated?

Another bad choice in my mind was to not get in quickly with an MP3
based album format including digital sleeve and liner notes. In the
mid 90s I remember seeing a digital album format done by a mob from
South Africa… it was really cool and could easily have been integrated
into the popular players of the day. On this point I think they really
missed the boat.

Now onto a touchy subject… singles. Most musicians hate singles.
Albums capture a body of work. A time in the bands life. They help
songs grow on you. Take Led Zep 4. Rock and Roll grabs you. Levee
breaks pounds. Stairway.. well. But how many punters have all of these
in their play lists, yet in context they say so much about the music
of that album.

Lastly lets look at copy protection (including DRM). A dirty subject.
Yes, only because of how it was used. Either to stop the CD to MP3
onslaught, or to try and get people to pay yet again for a CD they
only bought a few years ago by re-releasing in MP3 at no greater gain
in fidelity. Its such a temptation to use technology to force
customers to pay again.

Maybe DRM enabled music would be entirely dominant if the music
industry wasn't completely arrogant in its use. Firstly, if DRM
enabled versions were transparent to use (i.e. self registering) and
easily accessible (i.e. on the CD alongside the Redbook audio
versions) the whole confrontational mp3 thing could have been avoided.

Secondly DRM can be set with softer, kinder policing settings so that
people could copy their music to as many devices as they would
reasonably own and only stop massive copying when 30 or 40 copies
start appearing at diverse and disparate locations… such tolerance or
as we call it at Uniloc "throttling" is a no-brainer.

Phew. Sorry to be so long winded but its an important subject to me.
The future? Every day it looks less and less likely that the record
industry as we know it today will be there.

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