David RD Gratton

Music needs context - 4 rules for saving the recorded music industry

October 9, 2007

Yahoo's Music's Head Honcho, Ian Rogers, recently posted a blog that has got me all fired up again. Thank's Ian. He's rightly upset at the music industry and he is not going to take it anymore. AMEN.

Let's all stop pussy-footing around the issues and let's make the tough decisions to deal with them. I want to bring up what I think are 4 fundamental rules for succeeding in selling recorded music. First, here are the facts. Music distribution cannot be controlled. If you think otherwise - you are wrong. You should pack up and go home. The world has passed you by and you're either too stupid or lazy to GET IT. Technology has changed the music industry AGAIN, and if you are a music exec you MUST adapt to it. Granted this is hard to do if you happen to be a lawyer. Which brings me to:

RULE #1 for thriving in the new music economy: If your company is headed by or overly influenced by a lawyer, fire him! These people support business strategy - they don't guide it. The fact that so many lawyers are top executives in the record industry is probably the biggest reason the recorded music industry is in the shitter like it is.

Lawyers will simply NEVER get their head around the facts which was originally rule #1, but got moved to rule #2, when I realized we had to get rid of the lawyers first. So, if you want to survive in the next 18 months let alone 50 years - you have to embrace this reality:

RULE #2: You have no control over music distribution.

You don't. ALL RECORDED MUSIC EVER MADE is now sitting on hard drives and flash memory sticks around the globe. The Internet exists. As the world gets more wired with near-free wireless internet access music will eventually flow like water as, Gerd Leonard likes to say. The vast majority of new bands are now offering their music freely on sites like MySpace, Project Opus, and Garage Band to their fans. They want it heard.

The reality of Rule #2 unfortunaltey has a nasty outcome that people really don't want to come to terms with either. Even though we are witnessing it today!

RULE #3: The value of an audio file will approach the cost of delivery. The cost of delivery is our Internet conectivity, which as I mentioned is approaching near zero.

Rule # 3 is the reason the RIAA is suing people. If people can get a song for free, they eventually will. It is already almost as easy and as reliable to browse and download from P2P networks as it is from iTunes or Amazon. When the convenience gap closes between the "illegal - free" versus the "legitimate - $" modes of music distribution, we would be naive to assume that a significant proportion of the population will not use the "free' alternative.

So we sue. Perhaps fear will keep music fans in-line and buying from the legitimate music sources. This "suing-thing" has been going on for 8 years and well the recorded music industry is closer to DEAD today than it was then. Suing music consumers has not changed anything and it WILL NOT save this industry. It's a strategy dreamed up by a lawyer. PLEASE, go see RULE #1.

RULE #4: Know what you are selling. And it ain't audio files. It's music experiences.

Music executives - which are mostly lawyers think they are selling audio files. They would be wrong. Let's remember that audio has for the most part ALWAYS been free for the fan. We listened to radio and got mixed tapes/CDs from friends. Yet, my generation was the largest purchasers of music in the industry's history. We bought music that we generally already had free access to. Why?

  1. Convenience. If we bought the vinyl or the CD, we could listen to my favorite songs on demand.
  2. Social interaction. Back in the eighties and nineties, listening to music was almost always a social interaction. Buying a new album or CD was a reason to invite your friends over. We listened together. We shared the experience.
  3. Packaging. We got something else other than the music. We got stuff like liner notes, and artwork, but more than that, too. KISS ARMY, you know what I'm talking about! Hey, even Led Zeppelin's last album had an album sleeve that changed colour if you added water. It wasn't advertised, I FOUND it, which made it cooler than perhaps it was.
  4. Connection. The social interaction and packaging gave us something else. Connection. We were more connected with the artists work, and subsequently with the artists themselves.

The above provided CONTEXT and CONVENIENCE to our music. It is WHY we bought music.

P2P, MP3s, and the iPod have improved convenience dramatically. How could we have been prepared for it? We had no idea how inconvenient it was to get music until it was at our finger tips. In our stampede for convenience, we have ripped all context out of music. Music files on our hard drives are devoid of context. Social interaction around our music has declined with the iPod's earbuds. We have no tangible stuff around our music. Without context music is missing much of the value. It is more disposable.

We still want context. We just don't want to give up our convenience to get it. Make buying music valuable - not because distribution is controlled, but because you are giving me a music experience. This is what we want and we will BUY it. Ian Rogers at Yahoo! is looking for it, and in doing so he has given a polite finger to the industry's lawyers. If we embrace technology rather than fight it, we can create experiences that will make those KISS ARMY tats seem cheesy in comparison, and those were cool!

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