[JPL] The Future is Now

Jazz Promo Services jazzpromo at earthlink.net
Fri Oct 13 17:03:39 EDT 2006


http://www.metroland.net/rapp_this.html

The Future is Now


Last week, I attended the Future of Music Coalition¹s annual Policy Summit,
which was held in Montreal. While it¹ll be weeks before I completely absorb
everything I heard, here are my initial impressions.

The organization is dedicated to helping guide the reshaping of the music
industry to insure the creation of a ³musician middle class,² a framework
where successful and resourceful musicians can make a comfortable living,
instead of what we have now, where a minute few musicians get stinking rich,
the rest of the musicians live hand-to-mouth, and the middle class is
occupied largely by functionaries who run ³the music business.²

Over three days, we heard theorists giving ³big-picture² views about what
was happening, would-be new economy players jockeying for position, industry
shills and dinosaurs trying to rationalize their existence, and ponderous
³visionaries² explaining their next big things.

It was largely accepted that we were in the midst of the biggest change in
the music industry since the advent of recorded music. With digital
technology, the business of music is no longer based on a production model,
but rather a rights-management model. The consumer, aided by computers and
the Internet, is now the distributor and manufacturer of music. All of the
squirming we see going on is the result of a failing industry trying to
maintain a 19th-century business model in the face of 21st-century
technology, and that¹s just not gonna work. As one panelist said, what needs
to be constructed is a way for transactions between the creator and the
consumer to be mutually satisfying, and meantime, anybody else in the middle
of those transactions needs to justify their existence.

The current state of things, with all of these differing encoding formats
and modes of ownership, and schemes to protect digital files from rampant
copying was recognized as temporary and transitional. One industry lawyer
stated that DRM (digital rights management, the stuff most download services
add to downloadable files to limit consumers¹ ability to copy and transfer
music) was ³pro-consumer², an observation that would make George Orwell
blush. 

The consensus was that the market would eventually dispense of DRM, one way
or another, as consumers would continue to reject restricted files, and as
the always slow-to-learn industry figures out that the continued growth of
the illegal P2P free networks is caused not only because the music there is
free cost-wise, but also because the music on P2P networks comes without DRM
restrictions.

But how¹s it going to work? The big choice appears to be between
subscription models, where vast libraries of music are always available to
subscribers, and a download model. Subscription advocates say that with the
expansion of broadband and, especially, wireless and mobile technology,
³ownership² of music becomes irrelevant, because everything is always
available. Download-model advocates have this mantra, that ³people like to
own things,² so that the downloading of digital files will continue to be
the only viable model.

I used to lean on the ³owning things² argument heavily, but I¹m starting to
rethink it. For one thing, I noticed that the only people saying it were
roughly my age, graying geezers still harboring a fetishistic jag for vinyl
records, people who could be summed up as ³music fags.² I don¹t know if it
makes sense anymore. Is owning a digital file really owning a ³thing?² It¹s
really nothing more than a title in a playlist, and when you push the button
there¹s no salient difference whether the sound you hear is coming from your
hard drive or from cyberspace. Most people‹most sane people‹won¹t care where
the music comes from, as long as it¹s there on demand.

David Byrne showed up and gave a charmingly frazzled talk about whether
record companies were necessary. He really didn¹t provide any information
everybody didn¹t already know, but it¹s always nice to be in a room with
David Byrne.

The saddest panel was a trio of old-school multi-platinum record producers,
Bob Ezrin, Sandy Pearlman and Don DeVito. Talk about the people in the
middle trying to justify their existence. We heard that too much music is
available, that music has become devalued because it¹s too ubiquitous, that
artists¹ newly acquired ability to create competitive recordings in their
basement was mere ³pretending², etc., etc.

So there are too many people making music, and too much music being listened
to? Are you kidding me? Sorry guys, you¹ve made some of my favorite
recordings, and I respect what you¹ve done. But you¹re gonna have to state
your case a little better than this to justify your bloated production
budgets, your overpriced studios, and your four-point positions out of
artists¹ royalties. The train¹s leaving the station, and you¹re either on or
off. And right now you¹re off.

‹Paul C. Rapp


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