Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bono's friends: How to save the music industry

This should be interesting. Paul McGuinness, manager of Dutch-for-tax-purposes band U2, has decided to tell us, via the medium of GQ, how to save the music industry.

Let's not dismiss him out of hand, eh? Let's listen to what the man has to say.

How to save the Music Industry
By Paul McGuinness
Actually, you know what. Let's do a spot of dismissing out of hand. Because that heading is just packed-full of assumptions, isn't it? It assumes that there's a Music Industry which needs saving. That's worth saving. That what McGuinness thinks of as the Music Industry - which must include filing tax returns in a way that reduces your contribution to society to the minimum; filling trucks full of equipment and driving them to sports stadia; a record an album, tour an album structure - is desirable and sustainable and in some how "saveable".

Sorry. You were saying, Paul?
Even after three decades managing the world's biggest rock band...
Wow. I think I know a thing or two about music, and I had no idea that Paul McGuinness managed The Rolling Stones as well as U2.

Oh. Really? He meant... Oh.
I have a lifetime hero as far from the world of U2 as you could ever get.
Thinking, thinking. Someone humble and who didn't collapse into lucrative self-parody after the third album?

Or do you mean that person who had Bono's trousers? Presumably, after the court case and all, they're quite estranged.
He was a feisty 19th-century composer of light orchestral music. His name was Ernest Bourget.
Oh. Midmarket composer whose music mostly worked as background and who is remembered nowadays for kicking up a fuss about copyright. McGuinness fills in the tale:
It was Bourget who in 1847, while enjoying a meal in a Paris restaurant, suddenly heard the orchestra playing one of his own compositions. He was startled - of course he had not been paid or asked permission for this. So he resolved the problem himself: he walked out of the restaurant without paying his bill.
Aha. So doing a runner from a restaurant is a noble act - providing it's done in the name of copyright reform. Never mind that - in this story - Bourget hasn't actually ended up financially worse off, at worst losing potential earnings, but he has eaten real food, bought by the restaurant, cooked by people, served by people. All of those have made an actual loss.

Even when talking about 1847, the current music industry can't understand the vital difference between stealing a thing and an unlicensed performance.

Bourget was in the same financial position as when he went into the restaurant; the restaurant wasn't.

Paul McGuinness' big hero is a highly strung thief.
Bourget's action was a milestone in the history of copyright law. The legal wrangling that followed led to the establishment of the first revenue-collection system for composers and musicians. The modern music industry has a lot to thank him for.
While the rest of us might have a few issues.

Interestingly, you'll hear from the upper floors of record labels and collection agencies the claim that if there's no copyright law, there will be no music. And yet, as McGuinness has just demonstrated, there was music before there was copyright law, and some people were doing well enough to dine out on their earnings.

Assuming Bourget wasn't always going to do a runner. Maybe as he was flouncing out the door, he was thinking "that's a bit of luck, I was going to have to do the 'there's a pubic hair in my gravy' routine if they'd not played my song."
I was thinking of Ernest Bourget on a January day two years ago when, in front of some of the world's best-known music managers gathered in a conference hall in the seafront Palais de Festivals in Cannes, I plunged into the raging debate about internet piracy and the future of music.
An industry which has its gatherings in the South Of France while pleading impending poverty might be considered to be taking the piss a little.
I had been invited to speak by the organisers of the Midem Music Convention - the "Davos" of the music industry - where, along the corridors, in the cafes and under the palm trees, the music industry's great and good debated the Big Question that dominates our business today: how are we going to fund its future?
Here's a clue: don't waste your money sending executives on expensive beanos; try investing in bands instead.

Just as a sidebar, the only thing more sickening than someone using the phrase "the great and the good" is when that person is describing a group of which he is a member.
My message was quite simple - and remains so today.
Oh, good. I was afraid it might have been in Latin.
We are living in an era when "free" is decimating the music industry and is starting to do the same to film, TV and books.
Decimating, you say? Just removing one-tenth of the industry, then? That's pretty good news, as a lot of people were predicting it might do some major damage.

Unless you don't actually know what "decimate" means.
Yet for the world's internet service providers, bloated by years of broadband growth, "free music" has become a multi-billion dollar bonanza.
No it hasn't, as their business is hooking people up to the internet. Indeed, the more people download more 'free music' (or paid for, actually), the worse it is for them, as increased traffic costs them.

McGuinness could be suggesting that without the chance to get unlicensed music, nobody would have bothered to get an internet connection, and thus it's this bonanza which has created their customer base.

I'm sure he isn't just assuming this to be the case, and has weighed all the other possible drivers - the iPlayer, YouTube videos of how to cook cakes, the ability to surf while making a phone call, broadband allowing more than one person to check their email at once in a household, working from home, doing school projects, Skype and eBay and Amazon and iTunes and blogging and remotely watching Old Faithful blow - and decided that, nope, if there was no unlicensed music on the net, nobody would bother.
What has gone so wrong?
Well, firstly, Paul, you've made the classic mistake of assuming what matters to you is the vital part of the puzzle, then you've started to tell us your industry has been undermined while telling us about your expense-account jaunt to France... oh, you didn't mean that, did you?
And what can be done now to put it to right?
I'm sure in the original version, 'put it right' did appear correctly as 'cling to the status quo that a very few of us have been doing nicely out of'.

Paul tells us that he was "amazed" when the speech was picked up and bounced around the world. Why does he think that happened?
Well-known artists very seldom speak out on piracy. There are several reasons for this. It isn't seen as cool or attractive to their fans - Lars Ulrich from Metallica was savaged when he criticised Napster. Other famous artists sometimes understandably feel too rich and too successful to be able to speak out on the issue without being embarrassed.
Or perhaps they thought "well, it's been a nice run, but clearly it was never going to go on forever."

But McGuinness thinks there might be another problem: Badgers.

Oh, sorry, bloggers. Not badgers:
Then there is the backlash from the bloggers - those anonymous gremlins who wait to send off their next salvo of bilious four-letter abuse whenever a well-known artist sticks their head above the parapet. When Lily Allen recently posted some thoughtful comments about how illegal file-sharing is hurting new developing acts, she was ravaged by the online mob and withdrew from the debate.
Sure, there are some people online who behave like utter arses - although, here's a funny thing, Paul, most bloggers also suffer from the abuse brigands. Because what you've done there is lazily characterise everyone who writes and engages online as being boorish louts.

The thing that drove Lily Allen to withdraw was not mindless abuse, but the sudden swamping of her simplistic viewpoints by mostly well-reasoned argument.

Likewise, most of the reactions I saw to your simplistic bout of special pleading were measured and, while mocking, an attempt to engage and debate.

Jesus, it must have been a very, very long time since anyone ever told you they disagreed with you if your reaction is to just bellow 'look at these BLOGGERS with their TIRADES'.

Of course, then Bono stepped in:
he wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in January and he pulled no punches. "A decade's worth of music file sharing and swiping has made clear the people it hurts are the creators... and the people this reverse Robin-Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business." Bono is a guy who, when he decides to support a cause, does so with enormous passion. But even he was amazed by the backlash when he was mauled by the online crowd.
Yes, there he was writing something that is controversial - he must have known that the 'look, we're getting nowhere chasing people who own computers, so let's harry the people who own the telegraph poles' line was controversial, right? - Bono's being controversial, and he's amazed that people responded?

Note, by the way, the characterisation of 'disagreement' as a 'backlash'. To be an actual backlash, you'd have had to have had a frontlash, and I don't recall anyone ever saying 'that Bono has the right idea about filesharing' in the front place.

The reaction might have been a lashing, but simply because people are telling you you're wrong doesn't make them wrong.

Something a lot of people are interested in generating a noisy debate online. And Bono and Paul are surprised.

These people really, really don't understand the internet at all, do they?

In fact, it's almost as if they're willfully reveling in their ignorance:
You have to ask how these inchoate, abusive voices are helping shape the debate about the future of music.
You might also ask how a bunch of out-of-touch, middle-aged (mainly) men swilling back cocktails on the shareholders' pound in the South Of France, dismissing any attempt at debate as "incohate" and "abusive" are doing that, too.
I rarely do news interviews but when I spoke to the influential technology news site CNET last autumn I was set on by a horde of bloggers.
You were not "set on", you silly boy. If you go on CNET, you will be responded to. The bloggers weren't setting themselves on you, they were trying to engage with you.

Except I think you mean commenters, rather than bloggers, but - hey - they're on the end of a computer, so they're all the same thing, right?
One of them was called "Anonymous Coward."
Um... Paul...
I'm not worried about criticism from Anonymous Coward.
Um... you do know that nobody is actually called Anonymous Coward, don't you? You're really not smirkingly pointing at Anonymous Coward and snickering that 'hey, even he himself admits what he is'?

Perhaps when McGuinness sees a letter in the paper from 'Name And Address Supplied' he really thinks there's a Mr. Supplied who has shared his views with the paper.

Still, you're not afraid of a placeholder name. So what's the problem?
But I am worried about how many politicians may be influenced by his rantings.
But you said they were incohate and abusive. What politician would be influenced by "rantings" that were obviously so? Unless, you know, they're not ranting at all, and were actually counter-arguments.

And there are a lot of them saying you're wrong, aren't there? It'd be terrible if politicians started to listen to the majority viewpoint rather than the rich one, wouldn't it. No wonder Mr. A. Coward worries you so.
The level of abuse and sheer nastiness of it was extraordinary. Without Anonymous Coward and his blogosphere friends, I think many artists and musicians would be more upfront about the industry's current predicament.
Really? You don't think that most artists - the vast majority - have been so screwed over by record labels nickel and dime-ing them through recoupment, getting them to sign rotten contracts that only a successful few can ever challenge, dumping them after one album, that perhaps they don't speak up because they'll shed no tears for the people who did them down?

Do you really think that artists are afraid of these incohate bloggers?
They might tell the world what they really feel about people who steal their music.
You're telling us - with a straight face - that musicians are worried sick that their livelihoods are going to disappear, but not saying anything in case someone posts a 'you greedy bastard' on their MySpace page?

You may or may not think everyone blogging is a petty bully, but you clearly think that everyone else is as stupid as a burlap sack shoved full of unsold Cactus World News CDs.

Quite a few musicians do make their views known; others make their opposing views known. Many - knowing that even if some cash is raked off the internet it'll go straight back to Warners head offices - probably don't care much either way.

Still, Paul has identified this cowering massive, and has decided to wade in on their behalf.
It is two years on from my Cannes speech. Some things are better in the music world, but unfortunately the main problem is still just as bad as it ever was. Artists cannot get record deals. Revenues are plummeting. Efforts to provide legal and viable ways of making money from music are being stymied by piracy. The latest figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) shown that 95 per cent of all music downloaded is illegally obtained and unpaid for.
Those two categories aren't the same thing, are they? It is possible to pay for something while still obtaining it without licence, and there are a gazillion ways for a legally-owned track to have become yours without changing hands.

You'll also note that McGuinness doesn't offer any further explanation about this eye-catching figure; probably because it's all guesswork. The actual figure of 95% is for "unauthorized" obtaining of music; the same report paints a balancing, sunny picture of increasing digital sales and a healthy $3.7billion digital market worldwide. Odd that McGuinness leaves that bit out.
Indigenous music industries from Spain to Brazil are collapsing.
Well, if by "indigenous music industries" you mean the bits owned by international conglomerates, the same companies which have buggered up their English-language businesses now getting it wrong in Spanish and Portuguese too. (Of course, the dumping of their English-language acts into foreign territories have also helped this struggle by "indigenous" industries.
An independent study endorsed by trade unions says Europe's creative industries could lose more than a million jobs in the next five years.
Interesting - by which I mean sloppy - that McGuinness didn't actually say what this survey was.

It was Building a Digital Economy: The Importance of Saving Jobs in the EU's Creative Industries and, far from being independent, was put together by a consultant group, Tera, for the International Chambers Of Commerce. The ICC are a self-appointed body who spend most of their time trying to shape legislation to favour their business members around the world. For such a group to publish a 'something must be done, probably with laws' report is about as independent as a news report on Myanmar Tonight.
Maybe the message is finally getting through that this isn't just about fewer limos for rich rock stars.
Yes. It's about multinational corporations. We've always understood that.
Of course this isn't crippling bands like U2 and it would be dishonest to claim it was. I've always believed artists and musicians need to take their business as seriously as their music. U2 understood this. They have carefully pursued careers as performers and songwriters, signed good deals and kept control over their life's work.
Also, U2 make a large chunk of their money from property development anyway. So they're good.
Today, control over their work is exactly what young and developing performers are losing. It is not their fault. It is because of piracy and the way the internet has totally devalued their work.
Funny thing is, there's a lot of artists who love the internet because it allows them to keep control over their work - they don't need to do massive deals with record labels; they're not being forced to sell a million copies and are happy being able to sell a few thousand, and organise gigs and sell their own merchandise which keeps them in funds. Rather than seeing the internet as 'devaluing' their work - how crap is an artist who can only find value when their work is in a pocketbook - it's giving them a chance to change their relationship with their audience.

They don't want saving, and they certainly don't want to be taken back into a time when four international businesses would hold sway over who would be heard, and who would be successful.

By now, McGuinness is only down to the end of page one. He decides it's now time for a bit of history. How did we get here?
It is facile to blame record companies.
Yes, can you think of anything more facile than blaming a business for its own failure?
Whoever those old Canutes were, the executives who wanted to defend an old business model rather than embrace a new one, they left the business long ago.
Really?

Let's take, at random, Universal.

Their CEO is Doug Morris, who has held the top spot since 1995. To be fair, Morris is stepping down next year; his replacement will be Lucian Grainge. He's been the CEO of Universal in the UK since 2001.

Over at Sony, Rolf Schmidt-Holtz has held senior positions in the company since the last decade of the old century.

It's funny, that with so many of the comfiest seats in the Music Industry being held by bottoms which sat in place during the Napster wars, that it turns out all the Canutes have "long since left the industry".

(By the way, Paul - Canute wasn't trying to turn the waves back, he was trying to show his acolytes that he couldn't. If the Canutes have left the music industry, it would be the ones who tried to tell their boards there was no way to stop the digital tide coming in, and failed.)
Last year, more than a quarter of all the music purchased globally was sold via the internet and mobile phones. The record companies know they have to monetise the internet or they will not survive.
Yes. I think we remember how excited all the labels were at the prospect of selling online.

Perhaps Paul doesn't realise that the internet has old articles on it? Maybe he thinks we can't check.

He then suggests "free" is the problem:
Today, "free" is still the creative industries' biggest problem.
In America there are no more Tower Records or Virgin records stores and many independent stores are just about hanging on. Consumers now buy CDs in a bookstore such as Barnes & Noble or Borders.
Eh? Surely the decline of the bricks and mortar stores isn't anything to do with free - or not so much - as the undercutting by businesses like Target and Tesco, and online stores like Amazon. Plus a couple of terrible business deals on location and financing of their businesses.

And did he just suggest that Barnes And Noble's lovingly presented racks of CD are a problem rather than an opportunity? "No wonder we're in trouble, people bought our product in a new location." What?

Things are changing, though, says Paul:
Today we take a far more sober view as we see what damage "free" has done to the creative industries, above all to music.
Yes, you won't get anyone like the music company Downtown launching a service like RCRDLBL which gives away free music from across the majors, what with free being so bad and all.

Oh.
Governments around the world today, led by Britain and France are now passing laws that, if effectively implemented, would dramatically limit the traffic of free music, films and TV programmes.
I think - though I'm guessing - that McGuinness is talking about various bits of three strikes legislation. I'm not sure his confidence that they'll be ever effectively used is any more misplaced than the belief that other governments are going to follow Britain and France. Given that many governments are quite happy to let their nationals issue homemade DVDs of shakily-filmed copies of Piranha 3D, I wouldn't be holding my breath.
Numerous commercial strategies have tried to deal with "free." Today, many believe music subscription is the Holy Grail that will bring money flowing back into the business. I agree with them. A per-household monthly payment to Spotify for all the music you want seems to me a great deal. I like the idea of the subscription packages from Sky Songs too. These surely point the way to the future where music is bundled or streamed and paid for by usage rather than by units sold. Why should the price paid not correspond to the number of times the music is "consumed"?
Well, here's an idea: because consumers like to buy things, not rent them. I have a mug on my desk with an amusing picture of a cow on it. Had I been expected to pay a royalty everytime I slurped out of it, it would have remained in the store. I've got a subscription to The Guardian, and would no more expect them to bill me if I read the Sports section one day than I would demand a refund if I didn't get round to the op-ed pages one day.

The greedy little glint in your eye at the thought of not allowing us to own our music, but have to pay a toll every time we want to hear a song marks out the difference between someone who cares about The Industry and someone who cares about music. Having got a copyright law which effectively means you get paid for your days' work over and over again, you're now trying to concoct a situation where your over-extended paydays multiply a thousand times over.

I know you don't like being abused, but I really can't think of a phrase more apt than "you really are a chiseling little yamstain, aren't you?". But that isn't incohate abused. That's abuse that has been thought through. It's raging abuse, but it isn't ranting.

Here's a surprise, though: McGuinness then turns his fire on Rupert Murdoch for being nowhere near gung-ho enough:
Newspapers and magazines are trying to reinvent their businesses to deal with "free." It started with a honeymoon while mainstream titles opened up websites and attracted vast numbers of online readers, dwarfing their physical subscriptions. But the honeymoon has come to a miserable end. Newspaper circulation and advertising revenues have fallen sharply. Rupert Murdoch has re-introduced the "paywall" for some of his flagship newspaper titles such as the Times and the Sunday Times. Murdoch has great influence - his empire straddles all the businesses with stakes in the debate -- from the social network MySpace to the Wall Street Journal to Fox Movie Studios and the broadcaster Sky. I'm disappointed that he didn't take a closer look at the music industry's experience and see the dark side of "free" earlier.
But Murdoch's free stuff was stuff he was happily giving away. And remind me, how much does MySpace charge for sign-ups right now? It's... oh... what's the word again? Oh, free, isn't it?

I love the idea that McGuinness thinks that somehow the music industry is leading Murdoch into a world of paywalls, too.

(Again, just a little fact-check, Paul: newspaper circulations have been falling for decades, and advertising revenues have been tanking because of the recession. You might have heard about that, it was in the papers. Both the free ones, and the paid-for ones.)

McGuinness then dismisses the idea of lawsuits - he never supported them, and they're terrible PR. But, hush, we're finally getting to the point:
So what's the answer to "free"? It starts by challenging a myth - the one that says free content is an inexorable fact of life brought on by the unstoppable advance of technology. It is not. It is in fact part of the commercial agenda of powerful technology and telecoms industries.
This is such a stupid claim that it's hard to believe anyone at GQ let it appear in the magazine.

He's effectively saying that AOL and BT willed Napster into existence.

Yes.

Go on, Paul. AOL - itself a content provider, and once part of a movies-to-TV organisation - and the other ISPs want consumers to steal things. Do explain:
Look at the figures as free music helped drive an explosion of broadband revenues in the past decade. Revenues from the "internet access" (fixed line and mobile) business quadrupled from 2004 to 2009 to $226bn. Passing them on the way down, music industry revenues fell in the same time period from $25bn to $16bn. Free content has helped fuel the vast profits of the technology and telecoms industries.
There's absolutely no way at all those are two totally unrelated facts. During the same period, McDonalds opened 1,000 restuarants, and that must have been fuelled by free music, too, right?

But you'll have some statistics as to actual usage which will prove this, right?
Do people want more bandwidth to speed up their e-mails or to download music and films as rapidly as possible?
Oh. You don't.

It's probably a bit of both, Paul. But watching Hollyoaks on 4OD isn't harming anyone's business. It is actually part of Channel 4's business.
I'm sure the people running ISPs are big music fans. But their free-music bonanza has got to stop. That will happen in two ways: by commercial partnership, with deals such as Sky Songs' unlimited-streaming subscription service; and by ISPs taking proportionate responsible steps to stop customers illegally file sharing on their networks.
Hang about, though: you've been smudging the idea of unlicensed and licensed free stuff - Murdoch had the right to give away the Sunday Times when he was doing so - and yet now, all of a sudden, the idea of record labels and artists sharing for free has vanished from your mix altogether. Where does that fit in? Or have you not thought that bit through yet?

What's that word for a not fully thought through argument? Inchoate, isn't it?

But, hey, Paul's been thinking:
I've done a lot of debating on this issue in the past two years. I have walked the corridors of Brussels, learned about the vast resources of the telecoms industry's lobbying machinery and encountered truly frightening naivety about the basics of copyright and intellectual property rights from politicians who should know better. More than once I have heard elected representatives describe paying for music as a "tax."
Well, if you have no choice but to pay it, then that would be near the right word, wouldn't it? You pay for a record; if you have to pay a portion of your broadband fee to the music industry, that'd be a tax. It could be a flat-rate licence if you'd rather it work that way. But, yes, that would be what it is.
I am convinced that ISPs are not going to help the music and film industry voluntarily.
Why exactly should they? They're also not doing anything to help the battle to save the high street bakers. Besides your unproven claim that people must be using their connections for evil, why would any company be obliged to help another? You're part of the capitalist society, Paul. That's what capitalism is.
Some things have got to come with the force of legislation. President Sarkozy understood that point when he became the first head of state to champion laws to require ISPs to reduce piracy in France. In Britain, the major political parties have understood it, too. Following the passing of new anti-piracy laws in April's Digital Economy Act, Britain and France now have some of the world's best legal environments for rebuilding our battered music business.
But it won't work, Paul. For a man trumpeting his head off about how he knew suing consumers would be a failure a few lines back, why have you suddenly become convinced that a piece of legislation - however appalling - that says 'it's still not on to take music without paying, like what that other law says' is going to make any difference? All it means is the ISPs will also be wasting their time and money in partnership with the record labels.

If your roof is leaking and getting your bed wet, putting another duvet on top of the wet one isn't fixing the roof.
At the heart of the approach France and Britain are taking is the so-called "Graduated Response" by which ISPs would be required to issue warnings to serious offenders to stop illegal file sharing. This is the most sensible legislation to emerge in the past decade to deal with "free." It is immeasurably better than the ugly alternative of suing hundreds of thousands of individuals.
Ah yes, how much less ugly to have the prospect of headlines like 'Unable to revise - because her brother downloaded a U2 song'; 'Grandmother thrown off internet after neighbour hijacked her wi-fi - "I can't talk to my grandkids in Australia" sobs 92 year-old' and all the rest.

At least suing has some sort of court overlooking what's going on.

McGuinness ends with a positive future - every song available all the time on any device, higher quality sound files ("MP3 files sound terrible" he reveals; they don't, of course, as most people are quite happy with them, and those who really care don't use them anyway) and a world where music companies are in the vanguard:
The mindset regarding free music is changing. Managers and artists I meet take the issue far more seriously than they did before. Newspaper editors no longer think the problems of music are from another world - they actually ask our advice on how to address them.
Seriously? Jesus, if you're asking EMI how to cope in the internet age you must be in the quicksands. It's like calling Alan Carr for beauty tips.
It may be that the crisis for music has now got so bad that the issue of "free" is really being properly understood for the first time.
Or rather, what you've done is a desperate bid to try and recast the argument in slightly different terms but still ignored the fundamental issue here.

You can't stop people passing tracks about. You can't stop people taping off the radio, or its 21st century equivalent. You can't do anything to alter the basic fact that the supply of a specific digital track is virtually unlimited, and that the logic of that is that the end user unit price is almost nothing.

And you can applaud Sarkozy until your hands bleed, and stalk the corridors of power forever; you can peer at AT&T's profits and mutter how it isn't fair. But it doesn't change the basic truth.

You're not selling individual packages of music to consumers any more. That business has gone, and every day you spend trying to bring it back is a day wasted, a day further away from the reinvention your business needs.

Embracing Spotify and the likes is good, and positive - you shouldn't try to pretend that it's a music business initiative, because liars aren't attractive, but it's great that you're finally not just hitting every new idea on its head.

But please: stop trying to talk up the idea that we can still be the 1960s; stop trying to create a Presbyterian-style campaign around the idea that most people will not pay for some of their music as being a moral ill. It just makes you sound ridiculous.

Oh, and by the way: while typing this, I've been listening to all the lovely free music on offer on Island Records' website. I think you might know a couple of people down there, Paul - do you want to go and give them your little lecture on how free music devalues everyone and how the music industry is so against it?


50 comments:

Simon Thornton said...

Brilliant post.

Anonymous Coward said...

[speechless]

Anonymous said...

Bravo.

Anonymous said...

The headline to his article probably should have read "Non-musician doesn't talk about music". I mean why is it that these people who repeatedly stress the word "industry" to stress that they are a business can't see the fact that their customers are interested in music. It's like they're utterly blind to the product they're actually trying to sell. His articles is just lots of nonsense about nothing stuck together that basically reads "I'm not happy about the fact that I'm not making money from doing something that has no value to the customer"

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember buying a copy of the Sunday Times a few years ago and it came with a free U2 CD.

There's still a feature about it on U2's own web site: http://www.u2.com/news/article/321

Bad form from U2, killing the music industry like that.

jamie said...

Amazing dissection.

Anonymous said...

Good work. Keep it up.

John Self said...

I think the snide and sarcastic tone of this piece would only make McGuinness - or people like him - think he was right about bloggers.

Sally said...

Actually, what caused Lily Allen to 'withdraw from the debate' was the ridicule she was getting when someone spotted that her blog copied content from other sources - without crediting it and certainly without paying for it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

Great post

Jimboloid said...

Nah. The bs McGuinness is spewing is great. Musicians - artists - that give a damn about their listeners, their fans will shy away from his way. His model will drive them away.

Some already have their own successful business models that work for them and work for their listeners.

We could all use some extra cash, sure, but at some point, getting a bit of extra cash becomes the only point. Greed, Mr.McGuiness, will destroy any empire faster and more thoroughly than any army. Enjoy your crown of shit, Paul, you wear it well.

Anonymous said...

I applaud you, sir!

Seej 500 said...

Excellent counter-argument. I hope someone shows this to McGuinness, or at least mentions it to editors at GQ. Particularly the part about how disagreeing with what the music industry thinks doesn't automatically make you wrong.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to check the meaning of "decimate" - it usually means kill or destroy a large part of something, and (since the 17th century) only very rarely implies acting on a tenth of anything.

while you make some good points, I agree with John_Self - the overly-snide and self-satisfied tone detracts from an otherwise interesting article.

Alison Eales said...

This is an amazing post. Thank you.

Gosunkgi said...

Be interesting to hear his views on the media player software such as Winamp and VLC and how they're the ones responsible by encouraging piracy. Did home taping kill vinyl? No. Didn't see anyone else suing Sony and other parties for selling Walkman and dual tape players either. What did vinyl in? A better standard of product did. Did home taping kill the video tape industry? No, it grew until it was replaced by DVD. CD is the next to go. It's evolution. The CD is quite frankly, overpriced, the ethics of the cost in making them and royalties from their sales going to the artists are well debated elsewhere. Here's the truth Paul. It's really simple. If you make good music, people will buy it. When U2's sales drop, instead of pouncing on the pirates and quite frankly; people who aren't involved such as ISPs; try looking at the music you're making. Maybe U2 haven't made such a thrilling album this time eh? Mind you, if Bono has the money to fly his favourite hat first class on a plane so his nibs can meet the pope in all his finery, he can't be doing that badly.

Paul said...

Amazing post. Yes it's sarcastic (John Self), but that's a justified approach to the contempt McGuiness seems to have for music fans.

Hopefully Music industry types stop being economic girlie men and find other ways to make money off music, before ISP's are forced to block users and ruin the freedom of the internet.

One can only hope :)

kenjonnard said...

i agree, a little bit with both. having worked for little record labels for a while i know how to it can be to stay afloat, and believe me, most indies care only about the music, not counting beans.

the digital format has revolutionised music but in the interim period between the rise of the mp3 and the rise of the social network c. 2001-2006, no-one knew how to deal with it and a lot of little labels went to the wall. trust me, i couldn't give less of a sh1t about majors.

check this out, it might interest some people.

http://wheresthepartyto.wordpress.com/2010/02/07/vive-la-revolution-pt1/

Paul Blanchard said...

Very enjoyable analysis of McGuiness's article. And decimate does refer to destroying a tenth of something, it's even in the name, which means "removal of a tenth". It was a Roman strategy where every 20th man was killed in a regiment for some failure. What it is often used to mean in modern life does not change the definition or origins of the word...
And snide comments are usually indirect or insinuative - this post seemed quite direct to me. It was quite self-satisfying in tone, I suppose. But I rather imagine it was meant to be.

There we go, my daily sturggle to look like an arse on the internet is complete.

VladTheImpaled said...

Absolutely awesome post. Great work!

McGuiness is doing nothing different to any corporate CEO protecting their cash-cow. He may as well be in banking or insurance. The fact is that other than paying for the labor rates of engineers, producers, etc., the cost of recording that next U2 album is pathetically small using today's technologies. And if they are spending more money to do it than they did 5 yrs ago, McGuiness needs to address the efficiency of his own corporation - rather than expect his customers to keep shelling out for their own junkets, innefficiencies, etc. I mean just how many gold plated yachts can you surf behind at the same time, Paul?

Music is free. Its free when some dude on the street corner plays it from his guitar. Its free on the radio. Its free on the Internet. Period. End of story. Now get over it, and move on.

If U2 think that this is not the case, then move aside and let the next generation of artists take their space. Art is about art - not capitalism.

Anonymous said...

Subtle but important point: music industry != recording industry.

Music-industry revenues are up while recording-industry revenues are down. That tells us artists are doing well while middle-men are struggling.

Why should music fans care about middle-men like McGuinness?

Kelly said...

While you make some valid points, the vitriol of your response makes this hard to read for anyone coming into the argument from a previously unbiased standpoint. For someone without a strong opinion on, or knowledge of, the issue, the almost juvenile way you address your opposition is very off-putting.

Anonymous said...

Like a "tax" well U2 won't be paying it then

Anonymous said...

"More than once I have heard elected representatives describe paying for music as a "tax.""

- Well, if you have no choice but to pay it...

... it wouldn't be a tax, as U2 so ably demonstrate.

Anonymous said...

"Why should music fans care about middle-men like McGuinness?"

Because "middle-men like McGuinness" allow musicians to get on with the thing they're most interested in - making music. Otherwise, they'd neither need nor want to hire tour managers, booking agents, drivers, technicians, people to man the merch desk, design the t-shirts, work at getting the music written about or played on the radio, book recording studios, rehearsal rooms and mastering suites, hire lighting rigs, PAs and backline equipment, seek out sympathetic producers and engineers, find distributors for the record, get the record manufactured, get it in the shops, make sure the royalties get collected, etc., etc.

You see, that's what "middle-men" do. In your brave new world, the responsibility for taking care of all those roles - "stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular song", as Joni Mitchell once put it - will lie with the musicians themselves, and it will come at the expense of the creative process. Unless, that is, you think these areas of the industry will thrive via a network of volunteer guitar techs, radio pluggers or mastering engineers. Meanwhile, for every new business model the industry comes up with, whether hair-brained or inspired, some (if not most) of you will still be more interested in finding new ways of getting it all for nothing.

You get the culture you deserve. Try not to choke on it.

Anonymous said...

I would find your arguments more persuasive if they included pictures of you with U2.

Anonymous said...

Awesome!

Alison Eales said...

"Music is free. Its free when some dude on the street corner plays it from his guitar. Its free on the radio."

The dude on the street corner is probably hoping that someone will put some coins in his hat. Royalties for radio play are collected by the PRS and PPL and paid for by advertising/BBC license fee. Just because you don't (directly or otherwise) pay for something doesn't mean it is 'free'.

What I object to as a musician - and what this post nails brilliantly - is the fact that the music industry has a history of making a small number of people offensively rich whilst making it harder for most bands and artists to make a fair living.

amy said...

There were a lot of smart and funny points in this post and am far from a fan of U2, but this doesn't get into the complexity of this situation that digital media has gotten us into. Totally agree with the anonymous at 19/8/10 5:22 PM. Even if the music industry sucked and got greedy and out of hand, the need for those services is there - pretty much everything except disk manufacturing and printing.

It's easy to think in the old days only fat, greedy, evil industry people were making money and now they aren't, so isn't that great? But the gist really is that consumers like getting media for free and people who make their money off infrastructure (those bad ISPs) like to give that to them because they make money off peripheral services. Many (perhaps non evil people, recording engineers, session musicians, office workers, journalists, etc.) are losing their jobs every day due to this fact. Yes there's technology and corporate cluelessness, but there's also the phenomenon that pushed all our (US) industry overseas and made Walmarts pop up everywhere. People don't like paying for stuff - not much or not at all. And when people don't like paying for anything, all labor turns into the slave variety. The insistence that people will pay for good music is just not true when it's so easy not to. There's just something kinda gross about people goofing off in their office jobs or at home with their parents (because there are no jobs) celebrating the loss of other people's jobs so they could get shit for free. Maybe Lily Allen isn't the smartest, I honestly didn't follow that whole story. But I heard some boy on the radio who was a "fan" of hers that made a parody song about her distaste for piracy. He felt she should be thankful he steals her music because sometimes he listens to it around other people and then they like it and (maybe) buy it. Does that argument work for TVs too? I know property is different from intellectual property, but teenagers thinking they have to the right to decide the business model for products or services they want is ridiculous. The range of what can be created for no money is extremely narrow.

iMADEtheBBC said...

Dear Mr. McGuinness, May I please have the money your company 'Record Services' owe me for the charity single they distributed in 2000 and didn't pay ? While you're at it could you ask them to return the stock they mis-distributed ? You must have mislaid the faxes, letters and phone messages.
FOAD

Me x

Anonymous said...

U2 ARE THE BEST X

Not An Anonymous Coward said...

Awesome Post.

Anonymous said...

All this from a man who earns more than all of U2 put together. Oh and did he mention he's also their publisher? So he's not just getting his manager's cut he's also getting a sizeable chunk of their publishing. A fatcat of the highest degree. How many new artists has he invested in over the last few years? The great thing about the internet and advancement in music tech over the last few years it that you don't have to sell body parts to record new music these days, if you're clever enough you can market yourself, and if you're worth your salt you can make plenty of money from live shows. He's also neglected to mention the BILLIONS of songs legally downloaded and paid for on iTunes and the like over the last few years.
I've been to MIDEM many times and the one thing I've noticed over the years is that the industry spent far too much time and money fannying about with new formats that never saw the light of day rather than just getting out and supporting their artists.
Most artists have nothing but disrespect for the major labels because they pump obscene amounts of money into a few artists and do nothing to develop new talent. I don't think that's going to change anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Just noticed I mentioned few years way too many times in that post apologies!

Anonymous said...

Spend 20 years of your life making and releasing music and then comment. Hard out here for a pimp...lols.

Anonymous said...

So, Paul McGuinness is saying libraries are bad. Or have I got that wrong.

And also, If the ISPs are supposed to help the majors, maybe the majors should help the indies.

funky16corners said...

Well done!

simon h b said...

Unless, that is, you think these areas of the industry will thrive via a network of volunteer guitar techs, radio pluggers or mastering engineers.

I think we need to put radio pluggers to one side, briefly, and you're right, that there are non-musician people will still need to be paid. I'm not sure you're totally wide of the mark when you mention "volunteers", though - look at the live music and club scene, where many, many thousands of nights are put together by people who don't do it for a living - and quite often at a loss. Other roles? There's still money around - people are still buying records; radio is still generating royalty payments; there's live and licensing and fan-funding. The shape of how money flows around music is changing, but that doesn't mean that everyone will be working for free.

Remember: just because something is not paid for at the point of use doesn't mean it's not been paid for somewhere along the line.

Radio pluggers, though? Back when there was only snail-mail and telephones, and hundreds of radio stations, the radio pluggers were vital in the process. But they're starting to feel increasingly like the people who used to visit the independent shops every week with the new releases - there's still some work to be done, but they feel a little like the people who used to deliver ice to houses at the start of the last century.

Someone said should musicians be doing a lot of the donkey work rather than focusing on the creative process? I tend to think, well, yes, but that misses the point.

During the last 40 years, if you wanted to build an audience, you pretty much needed a large label - not because they were good, but because they held a stranglehold between themselves on distribution, they could send pluggers to visit all the stations, they set the rules of engagement and they were the game. It's easier to Not Be On A Major now, which means you can, if you wish, run a campaign from your rehearsal room.

But if you don't want to, as soon as you start to be successful, you can buy in services to cover the bits you don't want to do.

For some reason, I'm thinking of how Dave Gahan's then-partner used to run the Depeche Mode information service - even when they were quite a large act - as an example of how this sort of approach can work.

simon h b said...

Unless, that is, you think these areas of the industry will thrive via a network of volunteer guitar techs, radio pluggers or mastering engineers.

I think we need to put radio pluggers to one side, briefly, and you're right, that there are non-musician people will still need to be paid. I'm not sure you're totally wide of the mark when you mention "volunteers", though - look at the live music and club scene, where many, many thousands of nights are put together by people who don't do it for a living - and quite often at a loss. Other roles? There's still money around - people are still buying records; radio is still generating royalty payments; there's live and licensing and fan-funding. The shape of how money flows around music is changing, but that doesn't mean that everyone will be working for free.

Remember: just because something is not paid for at the point of use doesn't mean it's not been paid for somewhere along the line.

Radio pluggers, though? Back when there was only snail-mail and telephones, and hundreds of radio stations, the radio pluggers were vital in the process. But they're starting to feel increasingly like the people who used to visit the independent shops every week with the new releases - there's still some work to be done, but they feel a little like the people who used to deliver ice to houses at the start of the last century.

Someone said should musicians be doing a lot of the donkey work rather than focusing on the creative process? I tend to think, well, yes, but that misses the point.

During the last 40 years, if you wanted to build an audience, you pretty much needed a large label - not because they were good, but because they held a stranglehold between themselves on distribution, they could send pluggers to visit all the stations, they set the rules of engagement and they were the game. It's easier to Not Be On A Major now, which means you can, if you wish, run a campaign from your rehearsal room.

But if you don't want to, as soon as you start to be successful, you can buy in services to cover the bits you don't want to do.

For some reason, I'm thinking of how Dave Gahan's then-partner used to run the Depeche Mode information service - even when they were quite a large act - as an example of how this sort of approach can work.

People don't like paying for stuff - not much or not at all. And when people don't like paying for anything, all labor turns into the slave variety.

I don't know if that's true. Are NHS surgeons slave labour?

The trouble is that everyone blames the consumer: people don't want to pay for things. But given that virtually everyone under the age of 50 in the West could get access to any album without paying, and yet still record labels take millions of pounds suggest that isn't the case.

It helps to stop thinking of record labels as selling music, and consumers as buying music. The labels charge for distributing pieces of plastic about the country; consumers pay for the convenience of being able to hear a song when they want to. People buy digitally because getting digital files without paying is a faff, in the same way that they bought 7" singles because they could control when they'd hear the song instead of waiting for it to turn up on the radio.

Consumer behaviour hasn't changed - they'll still pay for convenience (the Spotify app is sold on the basis of making streaming music to your phone simple, not the music itself; iTunes has a smaller range than the Torrents, but it's one click, and downloaded quickly and so on.)

The trouble is, record label behaviour hasn't changed, either. They're still fighting to try and save an industry that is built around distribution.

simon h b said...

Someone on Twitter, by the way, suggested I was conflicted, welcoming the embrace of Spotify while decrying subscriptions. To be honest, though, on the desktop version I forget that you even could pay for Spotify, and don't see why anyone would.

Oh, and snide and self-satisfied? That'd be house style, that would.

Anonymous said...

What a beat up!

This is exactly why artists dont speak up about piracy because freeloading on-line pirates, their supposed fans, can turn on them like a pack of dogs if they voice any concerns about consumers stealing their music products and depriving them of their rights to earn a decent living. Most musicians are very poor and do not fall into the category of the few blessed that make it big in the industry.

Be honest and buy the media you have downloaded and enjoy free of charge. Support music instead of devaluing it and trampling all over it.

simon h b said...

Most musicians are very poor and do not fall into the category of the few blessed that make it big in the industry.

Yes. It's always been that way, though - the way the music industry has worked for decades is that you have a very, very few acts who make an awful lot of money, and most who scrape by for a couple of years before collapsing under the weight of notional 'debt' thrown on them by the labels. We have never lived in a world where musicians make lots of money.

You're falling in to the same trap as McGuinness - assuming that when someone says 'I can understand you're worried, but the way music is distributed has changed, fundamentally, and forever. It would be great if everyone did say 'yes, I'll pay for the music I listen to'. But they won't. And however much you shake your fist and call them pirates and freeloaders and wish it was otherwise, it isn't.

There will always be some people who hand money over because they're convinced it's the right thing to do.

But they're always going to be in a minority. And however much you try to rig the legal system and tweak the technology, that's always going to be the case.

You have a product - music files - you cannot control the supply of; whether you wish it otherwise or not, that's how it is.

It's not turning on people like a pack of dogs - it's just telling the truth. We don't live in 1983 any more.

Anonymous said...

QUOTE: "There will always be some people who hand money over because they're convinced it's the right thing to do.

But they're always going to be in a minority."

Answer: People who hand over money are convinced it is the right thing to do because it the honest and honourable thing to do to pay for that which you enjoy!

Business is you produce a product that consumers want and they pay for it!

Why is are that artists are raped of their income because people want it free! There is never any excuse for stealing!

Anonymous said...

"There is never any excuse for stealing!"

This is very true and yet large numbers of non-musicians in the music industry have been getting away with stealing from the artists for years and I've never heard people like McGuinness complain about that.

Anonymous said...

Many non-musicians who are free-loading consumers have been stealing from artists also for the past ten years as well - two wrongs definitely do not make a right.

Why is it so hard to pay for stuff you want on your computer and devices - there are many options to buy on-line.

Francis said...

Can't believe that no one has picked up on this little nugget:

"Why should the price paid not correspond to the number of times the music is "consumed"? "

A hilariously naïve comment from the manager of U2 - how much money do you think U2 would have made off their last few albums if they got paid for the number of times the disappointed punters *actually* listened to them before filing them away with a sigh?

This takes us to the crux of the matter that also doesn't get discussed much - "free" is scary to the music industry because if their artists release complete stinkers then people operating in "try before you buy" mode get to see the light BEFORE they have handed over their £10 or whatever a CD costs these days.

Therefore the new age of "free" will reward the artists who release truly outstanding music and the shit bands that no one likes (any more) will either step up to the mark or wither on the vine

FACT - if you make truly outstanding music then illegal filesharing will NEVER harm you.

Tony said...

Let me join in on the hot topic here: Decimate has been defined by the OED without reference to a 10th for over a century.

"What it is often used to mean in modern life does not change the definition"

Erm, that's precisely what happens.

simon h b said...

I have to disagree Tony - a dictionary records how words are used, not necessarily what they mean, and there are some words where it is useful to try and preserve their meaning.

Even using it without the specific reference to a 10th part, it still can only mean a limited but noticeable damage rather than serious, debilitating damage. Which still isn't what McGuinness meant, I don't think. It's hard to say, because he was using language sloppily. Which is why it's important to try and preserve the actual meaning of a word, so when it's used, we know if someone means 'small damage' or 'large damage'.

Anonymous said...

Simon, thank you for this post. You did a great job of analyzing McGuinness' arguments and pointing out the hypocrisy within them.

Also, I visited Allen's myspace, and I didn't see much ravaging going on there. In fact, most commenters agreed with her. If she is that offended by a few negative comments, then she needs to develop a thicker skin.

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