Friday, February 27, 2009

Cat on a Hot Tin Pan Alley Roof

Everywhere you look there's more hurt for the music industry. Rather, more hurt for large recording labels. A recent article from Encore refers to a lawsuit by Eminem's publishing company, FBT Productions, against Universal Music Group in regards to unpaid royalties from digital downloads. The $1.6 million sum is rather unimpressive as far as industry lawsuits go. What matters it the resounding effects of the lawsuit's outcome. The debate is whether digital downloading falls under licensing or distribution royalties. Being that (legal) digital downloading is relatively new there has yet to be any clear definition on the subject, but one of the things you will notice about the above article is how Steve Jobs pops into the picture. Jobs' presence in music lawsuits is ominous yet comforting, much like witnessing a vision of the virgin mother in your taco platter from Burrito Boy. Jobs has been using Apple's sway to control the flow of royalties in the music business for a few years now. Jobs hotly contested a motion to increase iTunes royalties paid to publishing companies by $.06 per song, a number Apple contests would render iTunes a liability rather than an asset. Another important influence he's had is the controlled rate of download at $.99 per song. This is a number that the RIAA has been contesting for years and yet is still a number that Jobs fails to budge upon.

What does this mean? When the hottest artist in the businss, Justin Timberlake, disappoints with first week sales of 700,000 instead of immediate platinum status, it convinces people just how prevalent digital downloading has become. When the RIAA announces that it can no longer support litigation costs against downloaders and has thus decided to drop all such lawsuits it means that circumstances have spun out of the RIAA's control, and that the public has loudly resounded popular music is not worth paying for (a sentiment hotly contested with the mixed results of Radiohead's In Rainbows release). Consider that the recording industry has no control over how much to charge over this new consumption idiom and we see how the traditional music industry model is spiraling out of control. Sadly, the recession-proof entertainment industry is feeling the hurt like the rest of us. After years of legislation and contract models favoring the big business practices of record companies we are now coming to a point where it will become less and less profitable to maintain a major record label. With tools like MySpace, Garage Band, iTunes, ReverbNation, and a host of other digital DIY services you too can become a successful performing artist, and without giving the majority of your earnings to big business. I hope this ushers in a new era of the working artist, where musicians can support themselves by doing what musicians have done best all along: performing to the masses. Look for new and innovative ways musicians choose to market themselves, as it will likely be the means with which new popularity is established.

1 comment:

Zach Wallmark said...

The successes achieved by the music industry during the CD age was an anomaly, not a rule. The fact of the matter is that prices were drastically inflated during the boom years of the compact disc - companies were able to sell these shiny high-tech objects for twice as much as records while it cost them much less per unit to produce. For all the hand wringing about the end of the music industry, I just think we're resetting to more natural levels. (That goes for the rest of the economy as well.) For all the whining the RIAA does about digital music, I don't know a single musician who is resistant to online music and file sharing. These technologies give creative artists (and shitty ones for that matter) access to audiences like no other time in human history. The spigot has been turned off for the majors and, like the newspaper industry in its traditional paper-based form, it will never be the same. This is all great news for artists.