Why is this web of intrigue so damn intriguing? Everything is free! Until recently, you didn't have to sit through propaganda of adverts to see a streaming video on youtube. You certainly didn't have to worry about licensing rights to listen to a song on Last.fm. Now you do.
Last.fm Man Standing
Last.fm used to be a great site. From scrobblers to radio stations to plug-ins for virtually every music player available, sharing your passion for music has never been this convenient. They certainly had the slickest looking player available. Major labels picked up second rate half-baked punk bands who smell like teen spirit from Last.fm. These artists went on to sell millions of units of that stone age technology called compact disks. It seemed like a win-win all around. What went wrong?
The Last.fm Straw
Suddenly, you have to pay to listen to streaming audio. Now, this would not be such a big deal if Internet access outside of Germany, the UK and America were freely available. Only its not. In South Africa, we have the most expensive telecommunications in the world. Certainly, three odd Euros per month is not too much to pay to starving artists.
Only it's not going to starving artists. It's contributing towards Hannah Montana's training bra and Britney Spears's rehab. Not to mention the raise that some CEO who thinks that Josh Groban is the best thing since titty plugs will get for suing the dentures out of some old lady who doesn't even know what P2P is for downloading a rap artist she would kick in the balls if she even knew him or what he was saying about ladies like her in his nursery crimes.
The big 4 labels need to wake up and realise that you can't force your market to buy your product in a format in which you want to provide it. How would you feel if they stopped making coffee mugs with ears and you had to sip hot drinks out of a hot ceramic container without a handle? Simple. You'd stop buying those ceramic containers. How would you feel if the huffing and puffing badass lawyer of ceramic container companies came huffing and puffing down your neck, forcing you to drink hot drinks out of a ceramic container that you can't even hold in your hand? This is not free market capitalism. This is a cartel and it deserves to go bankrupt, just like that little syndicalist experiment called General Motors.
Yet there is more wrong with this than merely Mafia tactics. The big four can carry on syndicating to the likes of Last.fm and Myspace all they like, but they are missing the point. Like NIN, they should embrace this viral marketing medium - the kind of marketing that money can't buy - and cash in on it instead of trying to swim against the streaming. How do you do this?
Connect With Fans, Give Them a Reason to Buy
It's painfully simple. Connect with the fans and give them a reason to buy. Trent Reznor is rolling in the cash. It's not because of his fame - his status as a sex symbol has long since waned. It's because he connects with his fans and he gives them a reason to buy his music. He realises that music is a social phenomenon that is meant to be shared among all and sundry. You can't record the world's greatest album and keep it in a box. Led Zeppelin tried and tested this exact same model during their meteoric rise to fame. They never even released a single, they were loathed by critics and detested by radio, yet they are among the best selling artists of all time. Why? They connected with their fans in a big way and they gave them a reason to buy their records. Pearl Jam and Tool prove that you don't even have to be talented - just connect with your fans and be a little creative with your CD packaging, and it will sell - even if it leaks on P2P networks before being released.
Some Facts About Music
- Music makes a shitload of money. Artists don't. Music publishing - selling your tunes to movie soundtracks or adverts - this makes money. For your record company. Artists are lucky to get a percentage.
- Record companies will always be the bad guys.
Nobody is going to buy an album merely because it has a SonyBMG logo on it. In fact, after their rootkit extortion fiasco, people will put it back and not buy it specifically because it has a SonyBMG logo on it. Record companies are obsolete, as artists no longer need to sell their souls for exposure. It takes a little bit of skill, it takes blood, sweat and tears, it takes a bit of getting the Internet sussed and you're the next big thing - whether the big 4 like it or not.
- You can't stop P2P downloading. It doesn't matter what you do, P2P is here to stay. Copyright is by its nature not applicable to CDs or DVDS, since these are not originals, but copies to begin with. Besides, studies have shown that those who use P2P do discover new music end up buying lots of music. Why would you want to cut off your nose to spite your face?
- Fans don't mind giving money to artists. Radiohead, NIN, you name it. Fans love their musical heroes, but they despise anything that stands between them and their heroes. Anything that could help you to connect with your musical heroes is good. This means P2P good. Anything that distances you from your musical heroes is bad. This means record company bad. This means P2P lawsuit bad. This means DRM bad.
- If it aint broke, don't fix it! Napster didn't need fixing. Last.fm didn't need fixing. CD dynamic range did not need fixing. CDs did not need fixing to piss off the record buying public who could no longer rip their music to their MP3 players thanks to DRM. Smart move, assholes.
- I want my MPfree! An album is by its nature a promotional item. Give it away with magazines, share it freely on P2P networks, allow fans to remix it, crap on it, play frisbee with it, snarf off it, whatever. The point of an album is to promote a band. Preferably a band with a badass live show that you can't replicate - no matter how high your resolution is or how many channels of stereo you want to add. If an 'artist' like Madonna or Britney can't keep a tune, then they should work on showing their tits or something, but they can't be expected to pay their rent with promotional items. They're entertainers, first and foremost. They have to entertain in the flesh and their albums are merely promotional items to promote their shows.
Between the low audio quality of CD to compensate for iPod listening, the lack of freely available good quality albums, the difficulties compared with the former convenient uses of existing infrastructure to share music and the dangerous, unconstitutional assaults that these clowns are conducting to try and force us to buy antique technology, there really is very little reason to still buy music. As a music passionate, I could endorse a live show and buying a t-shirt or even a CD directly from a band, but cut out the middle man whenever and however you can. Unless you really want to sit through more Pop Idols?