To See the Future of the Recording Industry, Look to Pac-Man

23 Comments

In his 2007 novel “Spook Country,” one of William Gibson’s characters sums up the demise of the recording industry to a musician:

“In the early 1920’s, there were still some people in this country who hadn’t yet heard recorded music…Your career as a ‘recording artist’ took place toward the end of a technological window that lasted less than a hundred years, a window during which consumers of recorded music lacked the means of producing that which they consumed. They could buy recordings, but they couldn’t produce them.”

Gibson managed to distill, into a single paragraph, the angst of many a record company exec.

Three major labels — Vivendi’s Universal, Warner Music and EMI — last year started selling DRM-free music online, with Sony BMG widely expected to soon follow suit. And today, Napster said it will soon start selling music downloads as unprotected MP3 files. The industry is hastily reinventing itself as it comes to terms with the uncomfortable realization that companies like Apple and Amazon own their distribution, even as the RIAA tries to put the download genie back in the legal bottle.

Consider a similar chain of events in recent history: The evolution of the video arcade. In the late 1970’s, teenagers flocked to the arcade to play the latest video game. There the machines stood, side-by-side, identical wooden boxes, their only unique feature the garish paint jobs. Most had the same controls (Robotron and Missile Command aside.) For a while, the quarters flowed.

Consumers soon acquired the means of producing that which they consumed. Home computers and game consoles brought the gameplay into the house. The flood of quarters dried up.

Today’s arcade is a different beast: The machines are about the experience, featuring motorcycles, snowmobiles, elaborate headsets, boxing gloves, dancing pads, and so on. The arcade industry reinvented itself, making arcades about the experience rather than the content. Many of these controllers are following the consoles home, as Dance Dance Revolution pads and quiz-show buzzers and Lilliputian guitars.

The recording industry is undergoing a similar transformation. Games like Rock Band, Guitar Hero and Singstar take music beyond just the recording. This was the reasoning behind MTV’s purchase of Harmonix, and the subsequent release of Rock Band this holiday season. Marry this to Internet-connected consoles and storefronts like Microsoft’s XBox Live, and maybe music publishers can find ways to revitalize the musical experience.

And because of the work involved — annotating songs, splitting instrument tracks, and marking those elusive little stars — consumers will be hard-pressed to produce their own experiences. DRM won’t be relevant, because the content it protects is only a fraction of the experience the labels are selling.

23 Comments

Todd

Well, problem here is that almost every person on the planet has zero talent for the most part, musically speaking. I mean most people are like little mechanical monkeys with cymbals, right? Who is going to write the songs? Maybe I am missing your point but there is only one Don Henley or one band we call Radiohead. Noone else can write what songs they have created and we need to protect them. The fact, is that most people cannot produce that which they consume. If the talent has no reason to produce, who writes the songs? You can learn how to operate a keyboard, but can you play it?
I think the industry lives or dies. Music itself has been around for centuries, not a hundred years. The technology went from live performances first, then to recorded material more recently and we still go to see live performances.

Acoostic Zoo Recording Studio

DRM Free music is a great idea. It adds value to purchasing a legit version of your favourite song. Hopefully, there’s a move to distribute Higher quality formats like 16 bit CD format or better for the same price. Now that’s real value adding. Why travel to the music store when you can download it online instantly? I think Online distribution is the future. We spend thousands of dollars on everyday items like bread, coffee etc, People will buy good music, problem is, good music is very subjective.

Uncle Indie You Rock Radio

There are a lot of opinions stated here on this blog. Very good ones, but you are missing some things. Having been directly involved in the Indie movement, the Internet, computer mainframes since 1979, radio, and currently creating a distribution vehicle the likes of which the world can not as of yet comprehend, I can tell you that there are going to be some big changes in the “industry,” that is, the major label faction. They are going to tighten some screws, and trust me, Independent artists and the consumer will be very dumbfounded by what happens next.

Having said that, from the home recording and Independent arena, I can tell you that these poor people are confused. They believe flopping Mp3’s around the Internet is true distribution, I am telling you it is not. I have been unsuccessful in convincing them on a mass scale that this is true, however, through my most recent efforts at my station You Rock Radio, I have broken down some barriers. My recent show is testament to that, but you probably don’t want me plugging, so I won’t.

What I can tell you is this, and this is me talking, it is my prediction. I believe, that in less than 10 years, the demand for QUALITY music will be so great that the major labels will not be able to supply that demand under their current doctrine. The reason is all that you mentioned in your article, which is a shining example of my point. Every electronic gizmo today plays music, and it is the MAIN marketing tool of EVERY new product from Automobiles to Zippo lighters!

Unless the Independent field unites and comes to an organized methodology, they will allow the current regime to finally cap off the market and their lot will be left to boring websites and free downloads. Currently, there is no plan or strategy, and they will pay the cosequences very soon for lack of getting behind something in a united front.

Most of you may not care… Now. But when the current industry once again dictates what you see and hear, with no diplomatic process or choice on your part other than which of “their” choices will you make, then people will understand what they have lost by not putting support behind this up and coming movement of highly talented people. And it will be a sad, sad day indeed.

Support these artists, our future of choice depends on it!

Uncle Indie You Rock Radio

There are a lot of opinions stated here on this blog. Very good ones, but you are missing some things. Having been directly involved in the Indie movement, the Internet, computer mainframes since 1979, radio, and currently creating a distribution vehicle the likes of which the world can not as of yet comprehend, I can tell you that there are going to be some big changes in the “industry,” that is, the major label faction. They are going to tighten some screws, and trust me, Independent artists and the consumer will be very dumbfounded by what happens next.

Having said that, from the home recording and Independent arena, I can tell you that these poor people are confused. They believe flopping Mp3’s around the Internet is true distribution, I am telling you it is not. I have been unsuccessful in convincing them on a mass scale that this is true, however, through my most recent efforts at my station You Rock Radio, I have broken down some barriers. My recent show is testament to that, but you probably don’t want me plugging, so I won’t.

What I can tell you is this, and this is me talking, it is my prediction. I believe, that in less than 10 years, the demand for QUALITY music will be so great that the major labels will not be able to supply that demand under their current doctrine. The reason is all that you mentioned in your article, which is a shining example of my point. Every electronic gizmo today plays music, and it is the MAIN marketing tool of EVERY new product from Automobiles to Zippo lighters!

Unless the Independent field unites and comes to an organized methodology, they will allow the current regime to finally cap off the market and their lot will be left to boring websites and free downloads. Currently, there is no plan or strategy, and they will pay the cosequences very soon for lack of getting behind something in a united front.

Most of you may not care… Now. But when the current industry once again dictates what you see and hear, with no diplomatic process or choice on your part other than which of “their” choices will you make, then people will understand what they have lost by not putting support behind this up and coming movement of highly talented people. And it will be a sad, sad day indeed.

Support these artists, our future of choice depends on it!

Uncle Indie You Rock Radio

There are a lot of opinions stated here on this blog. Very good ones, but you are missing some things. Having been directly involved in the Indie movement, the Internet, computer mainframes since 1979, radio, and currently creating a distribution vehicle the likes of which the world can not as of yet comprehend, I can tell you that there are going to be some big changes in the “industry,” that is, the major label faction. They are going to tighten some screws, and trust me, Independent artists and the consumer will be very dumbfounded by what happens next.

Having said that, from the home recording and Independent arena, I can tell you that these poor people are confused. They believe flopping Mp3’s around the Internet is true distribution, I am telling you it is not. I have been unsuccessful in convincing them on a mass scale that this is true, however, through my most recent efforts at my station You Rock Radio, I have broken down some barriers. My recent show is testament to that, but you probably don’t want me plugging, so I won’t.

What I can tell you is this, and this is me talking, it is my prediction. I believe, that in less than 10 years, the demand for QUALITY music will be so great that the major labels will not be able to supply that demand under their current doctrine. The reason is all that you mentioned in your article, which is a shining example of my point. Every electronic gizmo today plays music, and it is the MAIN marketing tool of EVERY new product from Automobiles to Zippo lighters!

Unless the Independent field unites and comes to an organized methodology, they will allow the current regime to finally cap off the market and their lot will be left to boring websites and free downloads. Currently, there is no plan or strategy, and they will pay the cosequences very soon for lack of getting behind something in a united front.

Most of you may not care… Now. But when the current industry once again dictates what you see and hear, with no diplomatic process or choice on your part other than which of “their” choices will you make, then people will understand what they have lost by not putting support behind this up and coming movement of highly talented people. And it will be a sad, sad day indeed.

Support these artists, our future of choice depends on it!

carethics

As content creators with a focus on new and emerging media, we understand the challenges surrounding the monetization ability of digital content. In this light the debate around protecting content from ‘unauthorised’ downloads / usage has intrigued me right from the beginning both as a consumer as well as a creator.
While iTunes and more recently even sections of Bollywood have been able to sell DRM protected content and reaped moderate benefits, introducing the idea of ‘paid’ digital media to consumers, DRM implementation is still hobbled by lack of universal standards, high costs and overstated efficacy. As a pioneer in Short Form Content (SFC) business in India, we have evaluated DRM specifically in our context (SFC) as opposed to the holy grail of digital content. And we believe, A new medium needs a new idiom. The success of the quirky creative endeavors has been fuelled by a viral internet platform. The content creators allow (via their web sites / channels] users to carry (embed) their work and share it with the rest of the cyber world without paying a penny.

This massive traffic and organized distribution has created new markets and made it easier to access the old ones. For some amateurs there may not be much after a short spate of viewership but a serialized, well marketed amateur video can evolve into a brand. I strongly feel Internet is a beautiful medium to help content travel to various markets and demographics. Instead of locking it down be prepared to re-purpose / re-orient your product to any distribution channels such as Mobile or even Print.

(comments posted by: saurabh@phonethics.in)

michaelportent

Honestly, I hope you’re wrong, David. Merch and Live Events are currently the way artists on major labels make their money. It would be sad to see the artists gain some headway in actually making money off the music, only to lose their ground on the merch and live event sales.

I don’t give a damn about the greedy labels, let them wallow and crumble in a pit of their own making.

David Mullings

As a gamer and someone with connections to the music industry I must second the opinions that the labels have been greedy and have not focused on the ‘experience’ connected to music.

Your videogame analogy was excellent and spot-on.

If the labels were to lower the cost of music, they would be able to sell more because of the value proposition. Consumers cannot help but compare the cost of CDs to the cost of Movies and other media.

Lastly, labels will transform into companies that manage the experience – live events, merchandise, etc.

The Mad Reader

I have dabbled a bit with the “easy-to-use software that makes everyone an instant engineer” and, as JB put it, it is in no way as good as the real stuff. It’s OK for fun mixing and, in my case, turning one-off LPs into a near CD-quality compilations for a family who recently lost their musician-grandfather. They loved it of course, but it was not a masterpiece by any means.

Kaiyzen

Its great to see a tech blog writer actually contribute a point of view that is actually on point for once.

You have are pretty correct that it is about the experience that is being sold and not just the songs. One thing you didnt really touch on that I thought you would is the packaging and artwork aspect. It follows right in line with your arcade games analogy coming in “better packaging” with a motorcycle to ride or whatever. The packaging and artowork aspect that goes along with the songs is what will help a handfull of artists maintain their vision and not just rely on single iTunes purchase and ring tone sales for revenue.

This still doesnt have too much effect on the top tier pop performers.., but those artists that try to focus more on the total experience will always continue to win fans over.

Karl Lehenbauer

You used to be able to play audio at home, but not video. Radio. Records. That was a technological limitation, and that time has passed.

Now that movies cost $20, who wants to pay $20 for a CD? Movie prices dropped from as high as $200 to being rarely over $25, and that industry has thrived.

A lot of the record industry’s woes are self-inflicted — for instance, to raising prices at all times regardless of the ever-decreasing costs of the underlying technology.

mjgraves

Consider also as a parallel the evolution from payphones to cell phones.

Michael

Jose Miguel Cansado

Alistair, very good analogy with video games.
Definitively the music industry is transforming, and the death of DRM just illustrates that.

As you mention improving the experience is part of the game, and we can predict that Live performenaces will now take a bigger role in artist’s agendas.

http://tech-talk.biz/2007/12/25/how-will-music-industry-survive-internet/

http://tech-talk.biz/2008/01/07/music-drm-is-dead/

This post from Seth Godin’s blog provides a lesson- learnt from the music industry

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/music-lessons.html

jb

Um, actually the end user cannot produce music in the same way a good engineer/producer can. Certainly the tools are now more readily available, but the “ear” and “skills” that it takes to record and produce a good sounding record are not something that can be learned easily. I’d say that it’s not dissimilar from the internet lowering the bar to publishing; certainly it makes it easier to gain entry to the mass market, but that doesn’t mean the world will all of a sudden be flooded with good literature.

Crawford

Thanks. Great POV. Makes me think of possibilities I hadn’t considered. Hope the rest of your day is as productive

Dimitrios Matsoulis

I cannot see how the audio experience can be enhanced further. A high-end sound system is about the only way I can think of but unfortunately it is not accessible financially for most people and too esoteric in its nature. In my opinion, music will be the salad on our table but the main plate is going to be served by video and games…
http://electronrun.wordpress.com/

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