Monday, July 01, 2002

My friend Ross Teigen has been thinking about the issue of online music vs. the record companies and he sent this essay, which I guess he'll also be posting on his own site. Ross, while an entertaining guy and terrific builder of guitars, has a point of view decided right of my own. In fact, I always kid him that his move to the swamp, his gun collection and general desire to avoid civilization isn't far from hardcore survivalist dogma. I don't think he disagrees, but he's not so far gone that I can't drop by for hours and hours of interesting conversation. Everybody should know a self-made intellect like Ross.

Anyway, here's what he wrote:


Intellectual Property

The battle rages over online file sharing. The Former Program Currently Known as Napster and it's spawn have caused an inflamed recording industry to respond with lawsuits, injunctions, and political lobbying. An early salvo in the Artist Wars resulted in the neutering of Napster, which is now bound to render royalties for contested shared content. More action is being taken by the troubled artists spearheaded by their record companies. Much court activity will doubtless follow. It may be, however, that the relentless march of technology will render the efforts of these warriors moot.

The question becomes not whether recording artists should be recompensed, but how. Surely an artist is worth his wage, but the collection of that wage is problematic. It is idle to expect technically-savvy freebooting enthusiasts to be deterred by the honor system when new releases hang ripe for the plucking. A convoluted system of filters, legislation, booby-trapped CDs, and torts is doomed to a losing battle. No, it seems likely that our new technological paradigm will dictate a rethinking of artistís recompense. A possible solution presents itself.

First, no technology will reproduce the experience, or value, of, say, Paul McCartney performing Yesterday live. That bastion of income, the live show, remains safe for the life of the artist. It may become a greater proportion of the artistís income in the future, as unrestricted file sharing infringes on royalties. File sharing can be mitigated, to some extent, by lowering the price of CDs significantly. A 50% across-the-board price cut would make the inconvenience of ripping your buddy's CD less attractive. Perhaps, though, the best solution would be to look to the movie industry for inspiration.

As the father of teenage children, I have noticed an interesting occurrence in regard to newly released movies. Their value as sociological currency is closely tied to the release date. A film with a strong pre-release buzz must be seen by it's target audience within a week of it's release to be best enjoyed. It seems as if there is a definite shelf-life for those things deemed au courant by enthusiasts. If the unwritten sell by date is passed, many viewers become uninterested and instead look forward to the next big release. It may be, then, that Eminem, constrained by the thought that his CD sales may be marginalized by file sharing, chooses to release his next album as a performance movie two weeks in advance of CD release. The movie of Marshall performing his new collection of songs could be viewed at movie theaters for $8 a pop, or on pay-per-view TV, or both. For at least two weeks, his devotees would be charged full rate for the Eminem experience. Unlike live shows, of which he could presumably do 30 a month, theaters nationwide often run shows six times daily. At the end of this time, CDs go on sale at a modest $5 per copy. Let the rippers do what they will.

This approach, of course, may mean that the days of an artist getting rich on royalties based on one monster hit song are over. It may be that artist compensation in our society will be adjusted downward. But maybe not. New industry, in the form of specialty theaters carrying niche artists may appear. A thousand flowers may bloom. Where old opportunities disappear, new ones will arise. It is time for the record industry to embrace the future rather than fear it.

Ross Teigen (Teigen Guitars


Interesting thoughts, no? I agree with Ross about the price cut on CDs, especially once CD-R companies get hit with a tax. Of course, this assumes people actually rip CDs themselves. Now that I subscribe to, I find myself listening to the music ont he computer and not ripping CDs, unless I want to hear them in the car.

Also, the extra costs associated with a big visual marketing pitch will be reserved for the Eminem's of the world. This suggests to me a separation of record labels. On the one hand, the big guys will will become like film producers, dumping big money into a few acts and trying to hit big. The other side will be smaller, speciality acts with labels that rely on a personal connection with their audiences as well as multiple avenues of distribution. They Might Be Giants, who embraced web-distribution early, is a good example of such an act.

PS - I'm happy to report that Blogapp is working again.

No comments: