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Are we witnessing the death throes of the music industry? – artists start to vote with their feet


As each day passes it’s becoming increasingly hard to avoid thinking the unthinkable, is this really the end of the traditional music business as we know it? People have been trying for years to tell them to change or risk obliteration, all of which has fallen on deaf ears, but now finally it looks as though the artists themselves are taking things into their own hands and voting with their feet. Which is a whole new ball game altogether.

If the major name acts start to avoid using the traditional music biz studio/retail/promotion route to market, then it’s game over. It’s still early days in some ways, but from where we sit it looks as though we are indeed witnessing the end of the old and the start of the new. Which is good news. Anything that recognises the reality of digital media, the need for different monetization policies and stops the madness of suing the fans has to be a good thing. Here’s a round up of some of the more interesting news pieces about the unfolding drama which are worth reading.

The Motley Fool. Strangely enough the month seemed to start ‘well’ for the RIAA when they won the case against a file sharer. But almost immediately the guns came out, lambasting what may turn out to be the biggest Pyrrhic victory since The Alamo. And when the investment community – your funders – starts questioning your business tactics like this, you really have to start worrying.

Yahoo! Things started to go downhill rapidly from there with the widespread dissemination of a belligerent presentation from the head of music at Yahoo!, the number one music site in the world. The long and short of the message to the music biz? Sort yourself out, ditch copy protection and focus on a new business model that delights consumers, rather than annoying them.

Radiohead thinks ahead. The real shocker of the week, however, was the announcement that A list band Radiohead was releasing its new album for whatever price the fans wanted to pay. Sure Prince had ‘given away’ his album previously via a newspaper stunt, but this was something else altogether. Radiohead is a full on superstar band of the *now*, and this is no stunt to gain publicity for a tour, but a simple statement of fact – ‘we do not believe the old system works any more’.

Floodgates Open?. Suddenly, as if awoken from a deep sleep, other artists started to add their name to the list of those seriously considering or actually by-passing the industry structure completely. The Charlatans offering their album for free, Nine Inch Nails announcing that it would start selling music directly to its fans, Oasis and Jamiroquai considering the move to free music, and finally and shockingly, Madonna rumoured to be signing a huge deal with a concert promoter not a record label. Suddenly the tiny crack starts to look like a crater.

 And the Future? Well it seems like the industry may at last be waking up to the realities of their 21st century business. Some, like Rick Rubin at Columbia are even taking a radical stance. There’s certainly no shortage of experts willing to throw in their views, even though not all of these ideas are workable or even sensible.

So is it the end of the old music business? Yep, definitely. There is simply nowhere else for the industry to go. Their back catalogue is effectively dead in the water, and the future fragmented market and increasing resistance to paying for recorded music means that change is inevitable. Whether the traditional music companies make the transition or are sidelined in the brave new world is the interesting question. One thing’s for sure. The longer the music industry stays on the track of suing its fans, the more likely it is that artists and fans will sidestep their influence and start making private deals between themselves.

1 Comment

  • I’m surprised it’s taken so long for artists to wise-up. Didn’t Prince make more money selling music direct to fans, even though he was selling hundreds of thousands of CD’s instead of millions.

    I’d guess it’s the same inertia that makes you renew your car insurance company without checking the competition. If Sting gets $1million transferred to his bank every month is he really going to bother looking at alternatives.

    Now downloading is popular/possible it’s inevitable that the music industry will change. They might as well be selling pianolas for Heavens sake. The same holds true for movies and TV. Even the porn industry will eventually be overtaken by decent quality home-brew!

    If only I could work out the new model for this stuff – I could be the new Simon Cowell.

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