Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Question of the Day - May 13, 2009


Jose Lopez, Jr. asks:

I thought it would be interesting to hear more on this idea of most people acquiring their music through downloading websites instead of paying for albums. I personally can't afford to keep up with the albums because I enjoy a wide variety of music. So overall what are your thoughts on the effects of piracy on the industry, the effectiveness of current media outlets, and fan purchase behaviors and attitudes towards artists/labels? Will we ever see love for the artists again, where fans will buy albums? With technology advancing by the day, it does not look like people will resort back to paying for music.

Hartmann responds:

The double edged sword of the Internet has cut the postmodern record business to its knees. It is also the instrument that will carve the future economic model for music. The business of selling CDs reached its zenith at the height of the Hip Hop era. The traditional record labels had consolidated from hundreds to the big four. Virtually all record distribution for the major labels, and most of the so called indie labels, was conducted by the various distribution arms of Universal Music Group, Sony, EMI and Warner Bros. The system was incredibly profitable for a number of reasons. First and foremost was the usurious nature of recording contracts which grossly favored the companies and abused the artists. The 360 degree contracts offered today are even worse. Second was the domination of broadcast radio by "payola" driven systems. During the modern record era the playing of 45 RPM singles on AM radio was actually accomplished by the outright cash purchase of airplay rotation. Government investigation drove this practice underground. During the postmodern era the "independant" promotion system continued the practice of major labels paying for airplay on the records they deemed "priorities." Well connected promotion men recieved large payments from the labels and guaranteed to deliver blocks of radio stations to play the subject record. Continued governmental pressure drove this activity even deeper and the practice of buying airplay through third party "tip sheets" dominated the record business. The labels bought advertising space in the tip sheets, and the publishers paid radio to support the advertised product. All of these methods were financed by record labels and limited the competition to the product the labels "decided" to push on the public. In a vain effort to maintain the survival of this system, the big four rejected Napster and sued their customers for using peer to peer file sharing technology. This exposed their greed and ultimately sealed their fate. Every semester I ask my students, "Who downloads for free?" and every hand goes up. I follow with, "Who knows that is stealing?" and every hand goes up. Then I ask, "Who is quitting?" and no hands go up. The fact is that the giant record companies have a very poor image among the youth. They have alienated their customer base and are doomed to crash and burn. I feel that this is a good thing. The Phoenix always rises from the ashes. A new system must be constructed that puts the ownership of masters, publishing copyrights and the high profits from album sales in the hands of the Artists and their management. Since the act of buying a CD is voluntary and not a necessity, one must ask the question, "Why would a fan pay for a CD when he can download an MP3 file for free?" They answer is, only of he loves the act. Falling in love with an act most often occurs at a live concert where the bonding experience is most intense. That is also the most likely purchase point for music and merchandise. Artists in The Music Renaissance must regard the Internet as 'free radio" and consider it a promotional vehicle infinitely more powerful than AM and FM radio combined. Music should be given away for free by emerging artists in order to create a fan base. If they have talent and build a following, the fans will support them at the box office and the merch table. The first level of success is survival. If an act can reach that plateau, which means no day job, they have already won the first battle. Winning the war will require spreading the fan base from the local, regional, statewide and inter-state venues to national and global markets. If you can't make it at home, you can't make it anywhere. If you can make it at home, you can make it everywhere. Artists must dominate their local music markets where they can sleep at home, conserve all income streams and reach the survival level sooner. The rest will follow. The fans will only pay if they care. If you have talent music lovers will pay and they will text their friends to jump on your band wagon. They watch all those "talent" shows on TV and they know when they are stealing and when they are helping an artist survive. If it isn't good live, dump it. The Holodigm is a refuge for contemporary artists seeking to build careers in the digital age.

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