It’s been on-going for years now, and the file-sharing debate still seems to be at a stalemate. I came across this article this morning about Lars Ulrich being sued by Warner Bros. for publicly stating that he ‘illegally’ downloaded HIS OWN ALBUM Death Magnetic on an undisclosed file-sharing network, hypothetically that is.
If that were true, imagine how completely and utterly ridiculous it would be. If you can’t even copy your own work, then why even call it your own work at all?
The major record companies are really hammering down an ideal of exclusive copyright ownership on what they distribute, and suing the pants off (unsuccessfully) everyone that they can catch. The reality is, in my opinion, that they are merely middlemen, re-sellers. They are trying to maintain and exert control over their industry model by using legal means. Hey, if you want to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars getting absolutely nowhere, then be my guest. You just end up costing yourselves both money and integrity in the process.
The labels still make profit on album sales, both digital and physical. Despite file-sharing being in existence. For example, I, for one, am a purchaser(among other things) of music. Despite it’s wide-spread cost-free availability online. Why might you ask? Because I like albums. I enjoy the artwork and the clarity of listening to CD’s. I plan to build a high quality entertainment system for my home, to play my CD collection when I want to hear or ‘experience’ my favourite albums.
However, through online music, I have experienced many new and different artists that I would not have come across otherwise, and have managed to turn others onto as well (I’m sure this has translated into a few album sales). Especially those artists from foreign nations with limited distribution in North America, they benefit greatly from simple/fast/easy online distribution. Now, not all artists warrant an album purchase in my opinion, but some of them do. Those that I thoroughly enjoy, I purchase their album, much as I would’ve done a decade ago before file-sharing existed. However in this scenario, I can decide for myself whether or not a piece of art is worth the purchasing cost, prior to purchasing instead of after the fact. I don’t do this out of some sort of social duty, I do it because I love music and I want to support the band to continue being creative, and own a piece of art. Which is what music is, art. People sometimes forget that.
The major record labels seem to think that, because of their past presence in the music industry, they are the ones being given the runaround with file-sharing. However, I object. They have been giving the artist and the consumer the runaround for over 50 years, by over-charging the consumer, and binding artists in lengthy legal agreements and expecting a quota of output, regardless of the quality of work. I’m sure there are users merely snatching tracks online and not purchasing much. But in all likeliness, these people aren’t real music fans, and wouldn’t purchase CD’s regardless. Sort of like the person who’s house you visit and when looking through their CD collection, only see about 10 discs, most of which have titles like “Greatest hits of the 80’s” or what-have-you. I think the labels need to ease their worries about this particular demographic.
I think the quality of art really suffers when the artist feels obligated to produce it. When you are on a deadline to produce a piece of work, you must meet this deadline by any means necessary when contractually obligated, no matter what content you produce.
For a long time, I’ve been thinking about different ways of working together in the music business for the artist and the labels, because there is an obvious need for both. Some artists have no clue how to market themselves, and most label reps couldn’t write a good song if their first-born’s life depended on it. But I feel it comes down to a first-come, first-serve sort of mentality. One album deals. Every time an artist puts out a record and completes the promotion cycle, they should re-negotiate for their follow-up conceptual release.
There are innumerable amounts of independent music artists in the world that deserve their work to be shown. This is the label’s role. They are the marketing machine for the artists, not the owners of the works. The artist is the owner of the work. The labels can continue to make profits as they do now, but they do not deserve the exclusive intellectual copyright ownership of anything they did not conceive themselves. Artists should be aware of the state of ownership rights of their own intellectual property, and claim complete control in all cases.
Some artists will even smarten up to the labels role in all this and go a DIY route, ala Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. Both bands understand the music marketing model, and largely due to their longevity and fan-base, enjoy large profits from nearly everything they produce nowadays. They’re the ones who have gotten it right. Younger acts will obviously experience slower profit growth than the ones stated above, but over time profits will grow. They need to treat themselves not only as artists, but as a business. Invest money into yourself, make sound business decisions and reap the benefits.
This debate seems never-ending, but I stress the importance of common sense on the issue. Labels can help young acts break through, and make profit together. However, they must have processes in place for discovering new talent, because there are kids everywhere who are chomping at the bit to follow their dreams of becoming professional musicians. Maybe it’s the fact that certain entities in the music industry have become simply too big. And need to be replaced by a smaller, more ‘on-the-pulse’ group willing to take a chance and create a new industry model. The music industry needs to evolve, but unfortunately it seems to be taking an unnecessary amount of time and money.