I tend to use the short-hand expression about how the major labels are merely dinosaurs. Yet perhaps this post lets me pause and be more precise than my stegosaurus speech to the mammalian choir.
I do not begrudge artists and labels the opportunity to try to profit from creative work.
I favor open source/CC/GNU/PD, but do not insist upon the abolition of copyright. I prefer voluntary sharing to arcane arguments about whether intellectual property rights are “good” or “bad”.
My issue with labels is that their business model in recent years depended on three things:
1. a stranglehold on the means of distribution of music; 2. adhesive contracts which required artists to take on the risks of production without a commensurate royalty rate for success; and 3. a CD pricing model which inevitably tends to support structural inefficiency. These things are history now, long live the past–in memory only.
My issue with artists is much more muted. The financial ability for indie distribution has been in place for a decade now, and yet too many kids still want to be “discovered” and placed on adhesive, unfavorable contracts. I think that any small business owner either gets business chops or hires them. The romantic notion that musicians do not have to do this is part of the problem. I consider the argument that musicians can forego business as unfortunate–like arguing that surgeons can forego the operating theater and a medical license.
My notion is that ad-based music distribution is likely to be a sustainable way to sell music, and that one way or another someone is going to meet this need at a more affordable price. The only thing an artist needs is demand for her or his music. What myspace has taught us is that the artist can create her or his demand, without the need for a record company expense budget (that the artist in effect finances at unfavorable interest rates).
I also believe that a digital download business can be sustainable, and that a B2B licensing business, with heavy consumer CC releases, is sustainable. I imagine a few artists could create subscription services of 1,500 fans.
I think that specialty labels which use the artisan approach, as in the case of Pittsburgh’s Sort Of Records “crafted” releases, will fill a neat micro-niche not that far removed from having an etsy.com shop.
Yet I find myself in line with Victor’s statement that in many ways the traditional record industry is not so much as a problem to be reformed as irrelevant to my interest in music. I don’t mean this in a haughty, superior way–I buy a big label release from time to time, as I would buy a gingerbread man from a bakery even if I don’t need daily bread.
I don’t worry whether a professional record industry will survive, for the simple reason that I can now find hundreds, if not thousands of releases on netlabels which appeal to me.
I believe that the only piece missing in this “velvet revolution” is the spread of the word. I once thought we needed gifted-writer tastemakers. In recent weeks, I am evolving my thinking, to think we must all simply become the tastemakers.
Am I opposed to people making money from music? Of course not. It’d be a silly thing to insist that artists must surrender a right, just because big record companies tried to take it away.
Yet my friends all over the world and I, and thousands upon thousands of unmet friends, are making music in a new way. We start our own netlabels. We share music under CC licenses. We visit one another’s weblogs, and download at will.
I compare the 214 or so songs in my definitely-not-Apple mp3 player right this minute with my old LP collection. My current collection is perhaps an older fellow’s collection–but it is also indisputably more fun. It’s also much more niche, much more varied, and much less filler-afflicted on the album-length releases. It’s made in the main by home musicians, pursuing interesting ideas for friends to share.
What I propose is not anarchy or piracy or some radical notion. What I propose is merely what happens when music enters every home, not as product, but as a process of creation, and a shared experience.