Playing the “Game”

The age of Internet music distribution is upon us. Although currently the majority of music is still sold through “brick and mortar” retail outlets, millions of copies of songs are traded and sold on the Internet. By now all of us are quite aware of some of the issues facing the music industry such as: Intellectual property rights, MP3, Napster, ect. Obviously the impact of the resolution of some of these problems will be felt by the music production community, but the question that I propose today is what impact the music production community may have on the business of music.

The “Game” Board
I’ve always said that the current business model for the music industry is insane. We’re on an island surrounded by water with only one bridge to the consumers, which is guarded at one end by radio and at the other by retail. Both of the gate keepers have very little in common with the desires of the inhabitants of the island, except for the fact that they all wish to profit for themselves. And so the game begins. Like most games, experience develops a strategy for winning, and our current model is very well developed for all the players. The problem with any game is, although many people can play, very few win.
Our business is facing the possibility, or should I say probability of completely changing its business model. The abilities to directly promote, advertise, subscribe, sell, giveaway, or any other scheme you can think of to create a demand from the consumers, are now available. This newfound freedom for the industry has the potential to destroy all of the current rate structures, royalty agreements, and payment structures for us. As dark and dismal as that sounds, I believe that it can be a huge opportunity to correct some of the inequities that currently exist. The transition will most likely be painful for many but hopefully quick.

New Rules
What types of opportunities am I my talking about? The first thing that comes to mind would be participation in performance royalties by the artists and production people involved with the music. The next issue would be less corrupt, verifiable, royalty contracts with record companies. Issues such as: Controlled composition clauses, antiquated breakage discounts, ridiculous free goods percentages, reduced or nonexistent royalty rates for overseas sales, and monstrous withholdings of royalties to cover nonexistent returns should all be reworked. Ownership rights for the artists and content creators are also ripe for revamping. In short, creating a more honest business environment for us.
It’s an interesting evolution, or maybe revolution, that is taking place. Technology is providing the opportunity to create competitive commercial music with a much lower financial investment than ever before. It also provides the opportunity for the artist to personally finance, promote, control, and sell their music directly to a worldwide market. The power this enables an artist to have, is unlike anything previously known to the recording community. The ability to target consumers with a high probability of providing them with a product they will purchase, is now obtainable. Couple of this power with the current negative publicity which the major labels now currently enjoy, and you have leveled the playing field much more for all artists.

Strategy Guide
So what do I mean when I say what is the impact we can have on the Internet? I think that not unlike the changing business models for the music business, we’re about to see the possibility of changing production models for music itself. The ability to interact with the music by the consumer is something that’s never existed before. The possibility exists for the consumer to mix and balance and adapt performances to their individual preferences. The listener has always been a pretty passive element in music production but that maybe changing. The processing power available with the average PC is staggering. The advancement of voice control and improvements with the interfacing of people with computers may change the way people listen to music. I seriously doubt we will be sending 48 tracks or more out to the consumers to mix themselves, but the possibility for a consumer to control environments and basic levels of several elements in a mix, are quite possible. (Personally, I would just as soon never have to make another vocal-up version for the label but that’s another issue, or maybe not!) I recently read a study which said 67% of all college students currently kept all their music collection in their computer! It seems to me that a large portion of our audience may already be capable of this type of manipulation.
The other point, no matter how much I dislike it, is the apparent demise of the album! It appears to me that we’re heading for a market consisting entirely of singles. Consumers are very weary of overpriced albums containing one or two songs that they really want. The ability to choose only the songs, and to only pay for those songs, seems to be where we’re headed. Therefore I wonder how long it will be before we interact more closely with the consumers directly in the studio! Will the fans choose the songs to include a project? How much would they be willing to pay to be that close to the creation of an album?

Play it!
I guess the point I’m trying to make with all of this is it’s time for all of us to get in the game. We need to stand up and contact our legislators to support the production community in this time of change. We need to create new opportunities for ourselves with progressive ideas and products. And like my kids say every day, “Come on Dad, let’s play!

“Big Shot” Country Music Producer/ Engineer