Madonna’s $120,000,000 deal ( Wall Street Journal story) with Live Nation signals a powerful shift in the music industry that hopefully will lead to a cutting out of the middlemen in favor of the best for the artists and for the music consumer. I don’t follow this industry all that closely but my take on the coming trend is different than most of what I’ve been reading. It seems to me that over the coming decades we will see music thankfully shifting to a less sensational and more “niche genre” focus. We’ll see more emphasis on quality music, and perhaps on quality concerts because the human to human aspect of music will not go away anytime soon, and may even be enhanced as artists move to online communities where they can interact with thousands effectively and somewhat intimately. We’ll see more independent artists who can make an “OK” living thanks to an online global fan base, and this will thankfully come at the expense of the Britney Spears and Madonnas who have been rather spectacular beneficiaries of the giant music marketing empires that made all stars what they are today.
The idea that individuals are the key component in these things is absurd. They matter in the big profit and entertainment equations but the key component is generally the huge support system that starts as a small gathering behind promising talent and then blossoms to a cast of hundreds as the promoters step in to “discover” the new talent.
American Idol’s brilliant model created a huge fan base for the participants as the weeks went on, and many of the top 10 American Idol singers are now doing quite well as actors or singers. This “social networking” approach will become increasingly important in a music world ruled by the fans and not the big players.
Many see as harsh the recent $220,000 fine levied on a Minnesota housewife for online music sharing, but it’s more appropriate to view this action as a significant milestone in the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) strategy to crack down on illegal music and try to push people to legal file downloading. The coverage on this file sharing case is overwhelming and it will be very interesting to see how the online community will absorb this verdict.
CNET’s Declan has a good summary of key points in this RIAA case here, although in one sense it should be easy to understand the verdict because pretty much everybody knows file sharing is illegal! Common use does not make file sharing “fair use”.
Now, one can make a reasonable case that the illegality of file sharing is a trivial offense – something like driving going 58 mph in a 55 mph zone. One can hammer home this point noting that simply making a mix tape for friends is also technically illegal but never enforced by RIAA, and that gray areas about in the law surrounding intellectual property. But only foolish people (ie a lot of people) seem to argue that file sharing is a perfectly legal activity.
So, what is the solution here? RIAA would say it is for everybody to stop illegal downloads and sign up for paid services. Yet RIAA must be spending far more than 220k on this case, and won’t ever get that much from her anyway. Given the difficulties of prosecution and the prevalence of the behavior I think the laws should to be modified to reflect widespread accepted social standards while still protecting copyright holders. However this may just open up a new hornet’s nest of legal complications.