Music


Here is a story from the Business Guardian about the music industry’s reaction to ‘the artist formerly known as’ ‘Prince’ “giving away” in a bundling deal with the Mail on Sunday newspaper in the UK.

The Entertainment Retailers Association said the giveaway “beggars belief”.

In an appalling and misguided attempt at sabre-rattling, ERA co-chairman Paul Quirk has come out, first appealing to his ‘integrity’ to ‘return the favour’ to those who have supported him:

“It would be an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career,”

…before moving on to bemoan the lack of integrity society at large shows in its treatment of the music industry as an artform:

“It would be yet another example of the damaging covermount culture which is destroying any perception of value around recorded music.

…before finally turning to threaten Prince (but more pointedly other artists) that they would be out of a day job without the retailers:

“The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. And I say that to all the other artists who may be tempted to dally with the Mail on Sunday.”

A three-pronged attack but with very little substance.

The words smack of a music industry (or retailers in particular) who have seen the huge spike in online sales of music through retail platforms such as i-tunes. Distributors and retailers rightly fear online distribution of music, as it gives artists unprecedented access to markets, and provides users with a way of unbundling or disaggregating what we know as an album: what fans may call a coherent collection of music that mark where the band are at a point in time, while others may see it as a way of up-selling a few good songs by bundling it with a bunch of less-than-stellar tracks, a la the block-selling of films by distributors prior to the Paramount Act.

Take a look at some of the figures Chris Anderson gives in his book The Long Tail. Take a look then not at record sales (which the industry explains are taking a dive due to piracy) but at total earnings from copyright bodies. In Japan, JASRAC has posted annual increases in revenue despite drops in CD retail sales.

It makes me question at first whether such executives realise both the creative industry features and digital content characteristics of the goods they are talking about. But surely they know all too well that with the advent of iTunes and the like, artists can make a living out of being ‘artists formerly [or never] available in record stores’.

On a related note, it was reassuring to see an instance of an artist who uses CDs as a way to promote his music and to focus on earning revenue from concerts. Naturally, not all artists make performance-driven music, but for those who do it makes the digital distribution of music (in both its legal and illegal forms) a positive for the performer who can expect to attract more patrons to their concerts, gigs, raves….

Some of the opinion offered on this blog may tend to question the relevancy, if not the sometimes overzealous protection of copyrights by publishers, and those companies who control the rights to the creative work of artists.

Yet copyrights do have an essential role in the business, and the way that studios recoup their own costs before paying royalties to artists, for example, have emerged as a way for studios to reduce their risk. Given the low probability of a new musician’s music becoming a hit, for example, the studio will naturally want to protect their investment first before passing on rents to the artists (described in Richard Cave’s Creative Industries as the “nobody knows” phenomenon).

This opinion piece offers a very alternative view to the established studio system. And while one does have to question the extent to which the author is actually making a living from his music, he does make some interesting points. Particularly worthy of consideration is his take on providing copyrighed content for free distribution.

Yet to what extent can an artist (or a studio) earn a living from giving away their works? While the implementation is somewhat tricky, it comes down to a few points.

  1. The ability to provide different versions of their work. Providing a low bit-rate mp3 file for free gives users a taste of the music and may encourage purists to pay for the higher quality version
  2. As much value as exclusivity has, there is also value in familiarity. Having your work known may be more profitable than keeping it locked up or available only through certain channels. That of course depends on the branding strategy. As a case in point, I turned down buying a box set of The Blue Bar CD compilations in Singapore (mainly because of the S$90 price tag!!) but now can’t find it anywhere. Yet, that fits with the exclusive image of the swanky bar at the Berkeley Hotel in London.
  3. Providing users with something that can’t be replicated. Or at least charging for that which can only be delivered by the artists themselves. For musicians, concerts are a classic example. The more your music has been distributed, the more likely you are to have more interest generated in your music. A live performance is something that can’t be digitally reproduced (yet?).

Story from The Star.

According to the article, the music industry has got their strategy all wrong as far as the internet is concerned.

In the UK, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has released a report recommending that consumers should be allowed to copy/rip CDs they have purchased for use on music players such as iPods.

According to the BBC, the thinktank has called for a ‘private right to copy’, allowing people to copy for their own use CDs that they have purchased, stating that “it is not the music industry’s job to decide what rights consumers have – that is the role of the government” (the above article also has a link to the full report).

The author understands that the Australian Government has currently reviewed/amended copyright legislation. Most consumers tend to believe that they are within their rights to copy music for their own use – it is after all using the same music but simply changing the delivery mode or device. I am sure many consumers of music would be interested to learn just what their rights are when it comes to their use of purchased music, and whether the government is at all concerned with ensuring their rights are protected and preserved.

Anyone could have seen it coming.
With the amount of attention some governments (such as the UK) have been paying to the economic potential of creative industries, it was only a matter of time before the traditional moneymakers came knocking on policymakers’ doors asking for handouts.

The UK music industry is now calling on its government to extend the research and development (R&D) tax-credit scheme to music companies.

Naturally, the industry lobby group appeals to the notion of keeping the local industry at the forefront of the global music scene – something that often appeals to politicians regardless of the industry – and a boost in VAT the government will collect from increased sales.

Government assistance to ailing and beleagured cultural and creative industries in small nations is something that most people would not take to task. But seriously. The UK is one of the largest exporters of cultural goods in the world, and is the UK music industry seriously under threat from lower cost or more innovative producers from foreign lands?

This attempt at lobbying fires a salvo across the bow of policymakers around the world looking to boost investment in R&D and in the creative industries in general: caution needs to be taken when formulating industrial policy and incentive packages. incumbents will always come knocking.