Internet has democratized the music business in ways that
were unimaginable 15 years ago. Time was when, to be even
marginally successful, a band had to press up CDs (or vinyl
or cassettes) and then somehow get them into stores and get
the music on the radio. These were horrible bottlenecks, largely
controlled by major labels and Big Media. The Internet has
effectively removed these bottlenecks; music can be sold directly
to consumers over the Internet, and corporate radio is fast
becoming irrelevant to breaking music.
But there’s a fundamental problem that remains: getting noticed
in the first place. It’s easy now to make your music accessible,
but how do you get people to listen to it and buy it? This
is where the real innovation is happening right now.
Eight years ago I worked with Count the Stars, a Delmar band
just out of high school with a CD and more desire to make
it than I’ve ever seen. In the pre-MySpace/ Facebook days,
the members of the band tirelessly worked what was available
on the Web, including finding and joining online chat groups
dedicated to other bands they liked, introducing themselves
and inviting the other participants to visit the Count the
Stars Web site. By the time the band got in their van and
hit the road, there was a small but nationwide fan base waiting
for them. These guys were pioneers and got rewarded for their
efforts with a deal with powerhouse indie label Victory Records.
Just last week, Collar City Records honcho/Kamikaze Hearts
action man Matthew Loiacono unveiled another amazing marketing
strategy for his new album, entitled Kentucky. Matthew’s
having a contest he’s calling “Why Kentucky?”—first you go
to his Web site heartstack.org/Kentucky and download the album
for free. Then you try to figure out why the heck he
named the album Kentucky. There’s a prize for the first
correct answer (apparently there’s a real reason for the name)
and another for the “most awesome, yet incorrect” answer.
The idea, obviously, is to get people to listen to the music,
whether they actually buy it or not, with the idea of attracting
fans and the hope that people are going to like the free download
enough to want to buy the sonically superior CD that will
be available in a couple of weeks. Is it gonna work? Time
will tell. But at least Matthew, like Radiohead and Trent
Reznor before him, is recognizing the reality that the Internet
has transformed how people consider music, and forever changed
the paradigm of “I buy I own” with regard to music.
In other news, MySpace last week announced some big deal with
three of the four major record companies, apparently some
kind of effort to unseat iTunes as the Big Kahuna of music
sales. The press release says this:
product vision for MySpace Music is to build on the existing
traffic, credibility, and popularity of the MySpace Music
platform by creating a fully integrated 360 degree global
music solution. MySpace Music will feature the network’s first
integrated e-commerce solution and evolve the user’s ability
to discover, share, and socialize by adding commerce and music
management tools. The new offering will seamlessly transform
the MySpace Music experience into a groundbreaking mix of
community, commerce, and discovery.”
Sweet Jesus I love the music business! I had my heart set
on a 180-degree global music solution, and lookie here, they’re
going whole hog!!! Oh well. I think what our corporate friends
here are trying to tell us is that they want to sell us stuff!
Lots of stuff!
As nice as MySpace has been for everybody, let’s not lose
sight of the fact that it’s owned by News Corp., so something
like this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Commentators have
already chimed in complaining that the MySpace Music “plan,”
whatever it is, isn’t going to be good for indie labels and
bands, but that’s really yet to be seen. It’s either going
to be a big deal, or yet another example of the kind of Web
2.0 madness we’ve seen all too often that’s hype, smoke and
mirrors today, and a whole bunch of nuttin’ tomorrow. I’m
not holding my breath.
Meantime, in lawsuits brought by the RIAA against kids and
their computers, two courts recently ruled on the pivotal
question of whether simply making music available for download
from the share file of a P2P program is infringement under
the Copyright Act. One court said yes, it’s infringement;
the other said well, no, it’s not. Oops. What this means is
that the RIAA can continue its reign of terror—these suits
thrive on uncertainty—at least until some appeals courts start
weighing in on the issue.
And I’m not holding my breath on this one, either.
Rapp is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany
and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law
at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the
Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop. Contact info can
be found at www.paul rapp.com. Comments about this article
can be posted at rapponthis .blogspot.com.