Here's Where I Tell You What's Wrong With The Music Industry

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, been meaning to blog about it, and some recent conversations have brought it to the forefront of my mind. Here goes.

Surely no one has missed the fact that the music industry has gone through some changes in the past few years. Things like the iTunes music store have dragged the record labels, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Most of them are onboard by now, but there’s still an undertone of terror visible in their actions; More and more of the CDs they sell have been whammied so they sometimes won’t work on a computer at all. Or, if they do work on a computer, they may install deadly evil mojo on your machine in the process.

The reason for these paranoid practices on the part of the record labels is pretty easy to suss out: For decades, they’ve built their businesses around selling bits of plastic or vinyl. They’ve taken for granted that they’ll be able to continue doing this forever, and that this will always be their most important source of revenue.

So naturally they’re worried about mp3 and similar technologies robbing them of some of their profits. I think it may be instructive to consider what happened around the birth of the recording industry. At that time, many live performers became concerned for their livelihoods, worrying that if people could hear music on demand at any time, they’d no longer bother going to performances, and these live performers would be out of work. Of course, this turned out not to be the case; If anything, recorded music has served to propel any number of performers to a level of fame and fortune that would have been impossible without recordings. I believe that the music industry’s concerns about losing revenues due to illegal digital distribution are similarly unfounded.

For one thing, there is a notion that the people who download lots of music illegally are probably the people who also buy some of the largest amounts of legitimate copies of music. Downloading doesn’t replace their music-purchasing, but rather enhances it by letting them sample music from unfamiliar artists (potentially leading to future purchases) or downloading unavailable-for-purchase bootleg recordings of familiar artists (which increases the “bonding” between a listener and a favorite artist even more).

Perhaps more importantly, the music industry is sitting on the keys to unlocking its own future potential. For instance: Propelling public awareness of artists through cross-promotion. Let’s say you’re a big Nine Inch Nails fan, having heard their music on the radio, maybe gone to a show or two, etc. At some point you point your browser at, look around a bit at some lyrics and whatnot, and then you end up backtracking and surfing on somewhere else; Your interest in NIN didn’t lead to any info about anything non-NIN.

How could this be improved? Well, NIN is currently on Interscope. What if Interscope stipulated that all of its artists needed to provide linkage (in the form of a side-bar, or a dismissable slide-over graphic) to other, similar Interscope artists? Then you might find out about Helmet or Audioslave or, perhaps, some up-and-coming band that you’ve really never heard of. Some would complain that Interscope infringing on their artists websites would be a terrible, terrible thing, but considering all the other shit they pull on the artists in their stables, this would be pretty minor.

A bigger problem is that relationships between artists come and go. As of this writing, for instance, the above-mentioned Helmet is still listed on Interscopes Artists page, despite the fact that one of the latest entries on Helmet’s page mentions that they’ve left Interscope. Oops! So Interscope’s (hypothetical) forced linkage from NIN to Helmet now isn’t helping Interscope any more. But… what if it wasn’t just Interscope? What if the industry as a whole were presenting interesting ways for listeners to find similar artists? That way Interscope would still benefit from a NIN<->Helmet linkage since in the future, visitors to Helmet’s site would still get back to NIN.

Apart from just a plain old list of links between similar bands, things could be user-tailored so that sites would bring to the user’s attention news about upcoming local concerts with relevant artists, eventually including (gasp) unsigned artists as well (which the industry as a whole benefits from promoting since one day, presumably, any decent unsigned artist will be under contract with one of the labels).

Now all someone has to do is convince the music industry that I’m right, and implement a solution for them, giving them an offer that’s so good they can’t say no.