Karma (Police) is a Bitch


This post over on TechCrunch by the irascible Michael Arrington is one of the most succinct, clearly written pieces I’ve yet read on the inevitable future of the music business, with regards to adapting to a digital environment. The idea that overpowering economic forces will eventually kill DRM and drive the average price of downloadable music to essentially negligible prices, forcing labels and artists to explore other revenue streams, is compelling.

As Arrington cites, Radiohead, who aren’t on any record label thankyouverymuch, recently took some steps towards this brave new world by offering their latest CD for download at whatever price you want to pay (seriously) and simultaneously making it available for a hefty sum as a “collector’s edition” style release that includes physical components, like a vinyl version and high quality packaging. Only a band of their status and position could make this sort of move and of that group, only a few have ever shown any interest in changing the model.

They’ll all come around eventually, but for now, Radiohead gets it.


~ by willtuck on October 4, 2007.

6 Responses to “Karma (Police) is a Bitch”

  1. Radiohead can do this sort of thing because they are an established act. They’ve had a record company pushing their albums on the public for more than a decade now. How is a new band supposed to break into the business without some sort of marketing push. Okay, the Internet has made it a lot easier to spread your sound around the world, but it has also made it possible to flood the market with anything and everything. One thing the record industry doesn’t get enough credit for is filtering out the crap. (Yes, a lot of crap gets through, but can you imagine the crap they turn down.)
    Established acts like Radiohead and BNL are making efforts to reduce the cost to the consumer, encourage digital copying and circumvent the record companies. Eventually, these acts will need to make some money. So they can either live off royalties from the stuff they released with a record company backing them up or they can tour.

  2. It’s going to be hard for the RIAA to come around and figure this out. Considering they’re still trying to punish downloaders even though they’ve now admitted that the lawsuits are actually costing them money, I think the old men in suits are unable or unwilling to evolve with the technology. They will have to be near bankrupt before they figure it out.

    I have to at least partly disagree with whatigotsofar here. Yes, Radiohead’s move is possible because they are an established, successful act. But much like blogs and other online phenomena, those who produce a quality product and offer it online will be able to make money off of it. It will be a struggle, but those who really want it will find a way to pull it off.

    And yes, there will be plenty of dreck out there, but they won’t profit or survive. There’s plenty of dreck out there now, from completely manufactured boy bands to Celine Dion, that get pushed by the very record labels who you say are turning away the crap.

    The model willtuck is alluding to here would be exceptionally market-driven and bottom-up, instead of the top-down push from the record companies that fills our radio stations with NSync or Nickelback. Those crappy bands survive because the mass media pushes them on the public, who then accept them because they are told the band is “in” or “cool”. Without that top-down push, some of those people (not all, but some) would actually look for what’s good, and not just take what’s spoon-fed to them. At least I hope that’s what will happen.

  3. Brief note to the struggling artist: Not to get all idealistic on your ass, but if you’re making music to make money, then I’d say your motivation is corrupt in the first place. Music should be something you’d do if you got paid or not, so the fact that anyone can make a few bucks off it is gravy.

    Whatigotsofar: I get your point that it’s relatively risk-free for established, large acts like Radiohead or BNL to take chances with how they distribute their music, and it’s legitimate. But again, it’s those same large acts that can wield the most effect on the current model. Radiohead isn’t doing anything with their latest release that a small town nobody band couldn’t do, they just have the visibility of a larger brand.

    I’d say the record industry should approach this from the perspective that the internet has created a glut of options (see The Paradox of Choice) and they’re going to guide you through it all. Think: record label as filtering service. It’s similar to the artist promotion model they have, but the emphasis would shift from “We have these artists, you should like them” to “There are these artists out there, you might like them (based on what we know about you and your listening habits)”. Couple this with DRM-free low cost high quality downloads, online “Concerts” for when you can’t be there, soundboard recordings of that show you went to and loved, tours for those acts that “bubble up” through Digg-style voting perhaps merchandising through a Café Press-style model, social networking for listeners based on tastes and genres and boom a record label is reborn as something of much more use and much more current. Throughout, labels and artists share revenue. Perhaps different revenue plans are available based on the level of exposure the band would like to take advantage of. The incentive is then shifted to the artists themselves to be the best they can be at what they do. Promotion becomes their responsibility; the “label” isn’t part of it, but the label survives off their efforts.

    The record industry has options and a future. They just have to want to change. Losing tons of money is a helluva motivator.

  4. In respone to mattbear – Maybe I’m just one of those old men in suits (even though I’m pretty young), but I don’t think that acts will be able to make the kind of money they make now, or made ten years ago, without being paid for their records.
    In the past ten years, many acts have found ways to supplement their income through non-musical endevours (clothing is pretty common today).

    You know what, this discussion is going to pretty much just keep going around in a circle because I fail to see the Internet as it currently exists as a means of maintaining an artists popularity in the way record companies push acts unto the public. By “filtering out the crap,” the record companies limit our options. Instead of 1000 acts generating and receiving funds from a billion dollar industry, they’re will be 100,000 acts generating and receiving funds from a billion dollar industry.

    But that’s a pretty simplistic appraisal and estimate of the situation.

    But maybe, if there is less money to be made in music, less people will be in it just for the money, and only people in it for the art will remain.

    Wow, by arguing with myself, I actually made myself feel better about the situation. I need a hobby.

  5. In response to willtuck – Soundboard recordings! That’s the key. Promoters are going to become the new record companies. (They sort of already are, ever heard of ClearChannel?) And this whole destructive process will happen again in a generation or so.

  6. goo blog something to think about

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