irregular burbling

« Happy Birthday Mum! | Main | P2P Power Generation »

Are they finally getting it?

August 19, 2003

According to this piece in the Guardian, the Rolling Stones have just licensed their entire back catalogue to be distributed online at about 47p a pop! This is great news since it means that legal digital musical distribution is starting to gain critical mass. Hopefully the stones should see sales of their songs that are hard to find on physical media makng them plenty of wedge, and other artists or even labels might follow.

I think this is the big money-spinner for the labels in terms of digital music downloads. If a label opens its back catalogue to paid-for downloads, then the label is going to make money from people buying the more obscure or elderly stuff that they can't find anywhere else.

For example, I make a lot of use of P2P file-sharing networks, but not to download the latest records ('cos most new releases are unmitigated shite). I tend to download old stuff by, say, the Salsoul Orchestra or other old breaks. Now, if I was to buy those on vinyl, I'd have to go trawling round second-hand record shops all over the place and I still may well not find them. Even if I did, the label wouldn't make any money out of it because it's second hand. It's not cost-effective for them to re-press the records 'cos that costs and sales wouldn't cover it.

However, contrast this with the digital distribution channel where the cost of publishing is practically zero after the first copy has been made. If I knew I could get a guaranteed high-quality copy of "Magic Bird of Fire" direct from the label, then I'd happily pay a quid for it. May not sound like much, but it's a quid more than they would have made without the download. I've saved time and money, and they've made a quid for almost nothing. Everyone's a winner.

I just hope that the recording industry finally picks the ball up on this and gives us what we want, music downloads, rather than suing us (their own customer base)! Thing is, I don't reckon they will. This fight against musical download services isn't about protecting profits or securing artist's copyright. It's about maintining control of the means of distribution.

You see, that's what has made the major labels fat: if an up-and-coming artist wanted their music to be nationally publicised and distributed at a national (let alone global) level, they had to go through the majors and agree to whatever terms the majors put on that publicity and distribution. We've all heard how one-sided and exploitative recording contracts can be. We know that the artist will see about what, five percent of the price paid for their CDs, which is why music industry bleatings over filesharers ripping artists off seem so ludicrous.

However, an artist can now distribute and publicise their own music globally over the net, and if that takes on then people are going to start asking just what the function of the major record labels is. If you factor in the fact that a talented artist can now make music in their bedroom rather than paying for expensive studio time (often advanced by the labels against any future sales the artist makes), then you can see why the major labels are worried about falling off the gravy train.

But this is where the labels can make money, as I said, from their back catalogue. They're just going to have to come to terms with the fact that advances in technology have democratised music production and distribution and that their future lies in using their major asset: millions and millions of track which are currently unavailable but for which people would pay.

Posted by Jonah at August 19, 2003 10:43 AM