WE Technology, Strategy & Business

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Enlightened World of Music

EMI's latest turnaround on the subject of DRM free music, perhaps partly inspired by Steve Jobs open letter to the world of music, is too little too late at best. DRM stands for digital rights management and has been a serious bone of contention to the entire music community. It is supposed to protect the rights of artists and inherently the labels.

The industry has changed in that music is no longer a commodity that in its current form can be protected. The power of distribution is no longer in the hands of labels. So unless labels reinvent themselves along a different business model, they are dead. Music is now on an equal footing with digital information, which in most cases is free. At least free in the sense that there are no cash transactions involved.

The Internet really has been a double edged sword for the entire music community. It has given them the power of labels through virtually cost free distribution of music, as well as tremendous abilities to find and cater for audiences they would have never being able to serve before. Peer to peer file transfer networks, torrent sites, myspace and last.fm all contributed to an explosion of music and file sharing. The problem in this new world of music distribution is that major labels and artists are no longer able to make the kind of money that they are used to.

Labels really are the pimps of the music industry, whoring out the most popular and willing candidates for their "product" lineup. However, in the Internet age, it is no longer they who discover and spread the rumor of new artists and talent. It is the giant social engine powering the Internet that has replaced them in that role. Musicians and artists have their own responsibility to reinvent themselves in this digital market place and find a new way to make a living. There is little reason these days as an artist to sit around and wait for a big label to sign you on when the risk versus reward payoff is so incredibly negatively skewed.

Musicians are back to square one: they have to be entertainers by playing live shows, instead of recording a CD in a fancy studio and letting the labels to the rest. Being a successful artist these days is not a couch potato business. Rather, it is one where the bus, hotel, or airplane becomes your home. One thing is for sure, at least this should create more music we can all relate to as hard working people.