Something big is coming to the music industry. The
smart ones have already worked it out, and it scares the crap out of
them. The really smart ones are getting ready.
When I was young, my parents owned a radio station in
Bega. It was great for us kids because all we had to do to listen to
music was head down to the station and hang about in the record
library. We could take a few records home and tape them too if we
I discovered some pretty incredible music for a country
radio station. Kraftwerk, Devo, Run DMC and more poppy stuff like
Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Culture Club.
This is probably how I got into weird music--by having the
opportunity to listen to anything I wanted without having to pay for
the privelege. When my parents sold the station, I had to buy music
and much of the new music I discovered was coming from radio. I went
through a pretty dire patch of crap music.
Later in life I was dragged to a rave by
some friends. It changed my life. Once again I discovered that weird,
pulsing, electronic sound I'd glimpsed in my youth.
Now the problem became how to find the music. Fortunately, the
record stores selling this style of music anticipated the need to
listen and had banks of headphones to listen before you buy.
Still, there's only so much time you want to spend standing in a
record shop trying every weird and wonderful piece of music you can
lay your hands looking for "the one".
You don't own music
The thing that's about to completely change the music industry isn't really a technology. It's a mindset. Sure it's driven by stuff like mp3, cable internet access and the like, but it's
really a mindset.
In the very near future, the concept of owning a piece of music is going to disappear. Buying a piece of vinyl, magnetic tape or CD as the
storage medium of music is going to disappear.
Why bother buying a record when you have every piece of music every
made available through a high speed network connection? Particularly
when all you pay for that connection is a flat monthly fee?
Now consider the changes that brings to the way we listen to music. Instead of being generally restricted to just the music we "own", we're free to explore the entire cornucopia that is music. Occasionally I feel like listening to
schmaltzy classical music, but I don't own any Strauss CDs. I'd love
to give everything Laibach have ever made at least one run through,
but I'm not sure I'd want to pay big money for it.
The empire strikes back?
Now the smart ones amongst you have just started thinking about
where this leaves record companies. The role of the record company,
outside marketing, is as a venture capitalist of music.
Record companies put up the bucks to get the physical pieces of music made and distributed. Without that barrier to entry, who needs a record company? Well the Spice Girls and Brittney Spears, certainly need them. But artists
creating funky music for the love of it? Established artists like
Prince or Public Enemy? I don't think so.
The smart ones, and I think Sony are there about
now, saw this coming a long way off. The way they're hoping to
reintermediate themselves is to be the network software or hardware
supplier for this new form of music distribution. Witness how Sony
Music has supported SDMA and bagged out mp3 while Sony Electronics has
produced a portable mp3 player. Some of them get it.
Of course the dumb ones aren't going to like it one bit. They'll
go out kicking and screaming: lobbying governments to prosecute people
making mp3 players and make copyright laws even more favourable to
them, telling people they're harming artists by getting their music
directly from them and so on. Should be fun to watch!
So where do you think it's headed? How are we going to do this?