Music industry: change or die

Contributing to a Guardian debate:
I’ve been meaning to think about and blog about the music business for a while – not least ‘cos I get a right earful from a v important music artist (and his missus!) everytime the subject is raised.
I latched on to a Guardian Comment blog and got involved and realised I was saying some of the things I meant to – so why rewrite – just say again!

You’re right about one thing: it’s complicated!
No one can morally justify ripping off an artist – but labels have a pretty poor record here too. But the record industry has never treated its consumers fairly (ripping them off with excessive pricing, inflexible attitudes to actual ownership eg what do I get when I buy a CD?) so they can hardly be surprised when some bite back in ways that hurt their licence-to-print-money profits.
And I have seen no compelling evidence that file sharing actually reduces record sales. I know it’s difficult to prove a negative, but many record labels may benefit from streaming radio for example with listeners buying music they hear.
The change from record to track buying muddies the water too. Who wants to buy a CD unless you love the lot? Wait for the reviews and buy (or ‘borrow’) the two good tracks. The whole digital approach to music has not been responded to by most labels and their artists.
Persecuting truly innovative ideas like Pandora (we’re banned from listening in the UK yet I bought more new music as a result of Pandora than by reading reviews) is not the way to build a customer relationship with listeners.
Any attempt to cut off those illegally file-sharing from the internet will fail: technically and socially. It’s a waste of time and public money just to support an ailing private business sector.
I don’t have any answers – certainly no magic cure. But the whole industry needs to stop blaming its customers for its shortcomings and get a grip and find models that work in the 21st century and benefit artists and those who love music.

This contribution certainly kept the debate going and I responded with more points:

@hollybaloneytoo You’re right some people have got used to not paying for music but iTunes et al have sold untold millions of tracks – a business that didn’t exist five years ago – millions are buying at 79p. So it’s some, not all of us .. a problem
@SteveFarr Spot on – the artists have got to take control, re-connect. And spot on, Spotify is one of the ‘answers’ but so was (is in the US) Pandora. I think the labels have got to accept that theses models may not earn great revenues in the short term – but might be the way to re-connect.
@SIChore iTunes at least has jumped your argument: I can now download non-DRM, high quality tracks for the same price as the old mp3 quality. What’s not to like? If it’s less that three tracks iTunes, more it’s a CD.
And, although a different topic, the industry’s attitude to niche internet radio stations sucks. Same regressive attitude. Protectionism never makes money in the end.

I thought that it had run its course: but no, so I ended:

What strikes me about this thread is:
a) there are lots of issues in the music business where the business simply hasn’t kept up with technology and changes in its customer base
b) approaching these issues with ‘old’ models – most people seem to agree – isn’t working, or going to work eg making ISPs spent money to cut of their own customers (Doh!)
c) many/most people seem to agree that artists need to be rewarded (handsomely sometimes) for what they give to us
d) it is possible – in spite of all the complications and unknowns for sensible people (us included) to have rationale, wide-ranging conversations about these issues without rancour/violence/whatever
e) the music moguls (a wide-ranging term intended to mean those intermediaries whose only function now seems to act as fleecers of musicians and their audiences) don’t like this conversation because – it seems likely – they may not have a future.
They (e) have the power and money to go on influencing (in their bad old ways) signed artists, unsigned artists and government (which still seems to hanker after some idea of intellectual property rights making the country rich again?). What they – all above – can’t do any longer is control the listener.
We can, and have, stopped buying CDs, expect more for our money (including rights) when we buy music performances, expect to be able to listen/sample for free (or at least just with annoying ads). We can switch ISPs with ease (and subvert their controls – it’s not rocket science to proxy you know!). And we can vote out dumb politicians.
No wonder everyone has their communal knickers in a twist!

Go on – join in here
Or comment here of course.