Friday, April 23, 2010

The RIAA say new models will never work

I'm never sure whether the RIAA is actually as ignorant as some of their public statements would suggest, or if they're just happily pumping out any old nonsense that supports their ultimate aim of trying to apply a physical-product business plan to a digital marketplace.

Take Neil Turkewitz's recent blog, for example. Neil is the interational EVP of the RIAA, no less, and he's worried that changing the way the music industry works must fail:

The suggestion is there are ample alternative mechanisms for generating revenues from music -- money from touring, selling merchandise like t-shirts, licensing music for commercials.

It's not a "suggestion", Neil, people are already doing it. But do carry on.
Completely ignored are the pleas for enhanced copyright protection from artists and unions.

Yes, those pleas are completely ignored. You never hear anything about them, do you? There aren't numerous pieces of legislation around the globe directly dictated trying to "enhance" copyright "protection". (Isn't the protection business the one that Capone was in?)
Even more importantly, the reality of the marketplace is ignored in favor of theory.

And it's bad to ignore the reality of the marketplace, isn't it? Unless, apparently, you're ignoring the message from the marketplace that the monetary value of a file of recorded music is tending towards zero. If the market sends that message, then you have to set about rigging the market.
While touring and merchandise sales will work for some bands -- most notably big bands that “made it” in the 80’s, 90’s or earlier (and built on the back of touring support from music labels) -- it is exceedingly challenging for other bands to generate sufficient income just from touring, and touring support from the labels is rapidly disappearing.

Hang about - you're complaining about the heritage bands making money selling t-shirts because their labels helped them out with touring costs which they then recouped anyway?
And of course, without brand/name recognition, merchandise sales are commercially irrelevant.

What does "commercially irrelevant" actually mean? That a band who only sells a few thousand t-shirts at a profit aren't going to challenge Microsoft on the sales list?

Isn't what's important is whether someone who chooses to make music their career can afford to do so? Worrying about "commercial relevancy" is an industry perspective, not a real issue.
One last question: how is generating revenue from licensing of music to sell other products more socially useful than the sale of music itself?

When you say "products", you're presumably excluding "small circles of plastic" from that list - although that's what the major labels business was.

It's a fair question - although just before Neil then attempts to make a case that the music industry is more socially useful than "the sale of music", you could also ask how the sale of music is more socially useful than making music for the joy or the art of it, or supporting EMI is more socially useful than selling phones or pants.
It seems to me that this is the worst of all worlds, one in which all artistry will not be rewarded -- and one in which only music that works well in selling diapers and cars will be commercially produced.

The key word being "commercially" - for the last forty years, only such music as fitted with the business plans of record labels has been commercially produced; it's not so much of a shift from 'songs that won't upset Sony HQ' to 'songs which will help sell the Yaris'. As before, music will continue to thrive away from this focus, and thanks to the wonders of a connected world, that music will find its audience much more easily.
Is this supposed to sustain the diversity of music that we want? Would we have Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols under this kind of system for compensating artists?

I suspect Dylan, Cohen, Smith and the Pistols would find it difficult to get a demo accepted by the RIAA four these days anyway. Certainly, if their antecedents are getting deals now, it's hard to spot them behind the sea of Mileys and Bow Wows and Pixie Lotts.
Not remotely.

Well, we probably would - you can imagine Smith taking a route similar to that of Amanda Palmer, sticking her stuff out for herself. What we might not see is visceral, challenging artists being toned down as part of a deal to gain access to a music industry operated as a cartel by a handful of multinational companies.
Exactly what kind of product licensing would have sustained the Smiths or Nirvana?

Sub Pop probably wouldn't have needed product licensing to sustain Nirvana, and Nirvana would probably have not had to sign to Geffen. And Mozzer could probably have kept going on t-shirt sales alone.
Was there anything on Springsteen's first record that would have drawn the attention of advertising companies?

This really is a stupid statement. When Bruce's first album was released, the advertising market was totally different - producing information-based adverts ("this fridge keeps your milk cool") aimed at older, more valuable consumers who wouldn't have responded as well to a rock soundtrack. Jingles ruled the day.

These days, advertising has shifted to selling to younger consumers, and tend more to the affinity, feeling good sell than the "drink this and be better" approach. The advertising industry, for all its sins, has at least accepted the world is different, and changed how it works - there might be a lesson for the music industry there.

So, no, in the 1970s, Rice Krispies might not have approached Bruce to license a track. It's not beyond the imagination that he might have been asked by Nike for a lend if he'd appeared in the 2010. There's no end of artists on their first album who have turned up on adverts in the last few years.
In fact, we never would have had Elvis (either one)!

Didn't Elvis have to make the films because he couldn't sustain himself on music alone? And how many great acts have we lost because of the traditional structure of the music industry - all those acts who split up because their labels dumped them after one album; all those acts who never got a big deal and found attempts to thrive on an indie got crushed by the cartelly-activities of the RIAA companies? Why would it be bad to lose Presley, but not an outrage that Clare Grogan's solo album is locked away forever in a record company vault?

I'm sure Neil must know that saying "well, nobody in the 1970s would have licensed a Springsteen track for an advert" isn't even an argument. It makes you wonder why he would say such a thing as if it was some sort of debate-ender.


Anonymous said...

"So, no, in the 1970s, Rice Krispies might not have approached Bruce to license a track"

Why not?
They asked Brian Jones (co-writer) and the Rolling Stones (performers) for a jingle in the 1960s.

Rob said...

Seriously though - have you HEARD Clare Grogan's "Love Bomb"? If the single is anything to go by then I think it's an act of social protection that the album remains locked in a vault!

Anonymous said...

"the reality of the marketplace is ignored in favor of theory"

Doesn't basic economics mean that the "reality of the marketplace", as he describes it, is dictated by the consumer? It's pretty much the nature of supply and demand.

They really are living in a hand-over-their-ears-lalalala-I-can't-hear-you world of their own now.

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