Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Peter Jenner is a wise man

Thanks to Michael M for the link to Music Ally's coverage of Peter Jenner at the Westminster eForum. Jenner is the emeritus president of the International Music Managers' Forum - you might also remember from his other work managing The Clash and T Rex and... well, everybody else, more or less.

He's not convinced the record industry have really thought through their reaction to digital music:

“It seems to me that in the online world, the marginal cost of a digital file is essentially zero,” he says, making it an “inescapable reality” that the digital world is pushing the price of music towards zero.

“If we rely on a copyright law – i.e. a right to copy law – we’re clearly barking down a historical blind alley.” He says the comparison is making airline legislation based on the rail network. “There aren’t many signals in the sky…”

Jenner's central argument is that, with the record companies getting it wrong, now is the time to return control of music to the people who make music:
[He says] pressure for – for example – copyright extension is coming from the industry rather than from creators. They’re not worrying about whether their grandchildren will benefit from a song when they’re writing and/or recording it.

His solution, though, is probably just as unworkable - in effect, a levy on internet connection:
“If we can get £1 a month from every person in this island for music, that would give us £60 million a month,” Jenner concludes, suggesting that this would come close to the current value of the industry here in the UK. “It is not a huge challenge.”

Righto - it would be fairly easy to organise collection. But given that right now the music industry is worth about sixty million quid a month, and not everyone is paying, why should everybody suddenly have to chip in a quid?

Just philosophically - why? My Dad used to listen to Radio 2 and would sometimes see a band on the TV. But his musical consumption was already all paid for - the PRS payments took care of it. Why should he pay a pound?

I buy lots of music, certainly more than a pound a month's worth. But I'll be damned if I want to chip in money which will end up going to supporting, say, Robbie Williams or Katie Price.

Which leads us on to the other question: how do you split up this sixty million pounds? Or forty million, by the time the administration costs of just collecting the the money has gone. If I stick up a YouTube video of myself humming, do I get a share? And if I don't, why don't I?

Because if this money is going to reward people for the music they make being used online, then who decides when you move from being someone humming on a YouTube video to being a musician worthy of a slice of this pie? Is it if I sing instead of hum? Do I have to sing my own song? But then the Sugababes won't qualify for any of the money?

And if you do admit that anyone who does something musical online gets a slice, then frankly, that forty million isn't going to go far. And that's before you get filmmakers asking why they're not getting a bit. And vloggers. And... well, you get the point.

So the risk for those involved in music is that, by breaking the link between the music and the payment, you don't increase the amount of cash in circulation, but you do expand the number of people trying to get their beaks wet.

Jenner knows what won't work. I'm not sure he quite has a plan for what will.