Saturday, 23 February 2008

I want to pay for music

The music industry is dead. Long live the music business.

Just reading about the plans the UK government and the music industry are hatching around kicking people off the interweb if they persistently download music.

What a crap idea.

I've downloaded (ahem) one or two albums in my time. I've also bought a stack load of CDs and, back in the day, quite a bunch of records. And I don't mind paying for music I like. And as you've hopefully observed, I like to repackage and make some of it available to you through this blog.

Must admit, I think CDs are a bit of a legacy technology, you aren't gonna catch me buying too many more of those. I remember seeing the pitch for CDs on Tomorrows World in the eighties. I never quite believed you could eat off them, with a knife and fork, then wipe them clean, and they'd never scratch, and last forever. Don't try this at home, kids! I now burn CDs just for the car, and expert them to last four or five plays before they are scratched...

Trouble is there's just so much damn music out there. And I like to dip my toes in the water and try it before I buy it. There's definitely a bunch of music I have in my collection that I've never listened to, or perhaps like just one track off an album. I'm sure I'm not really unusual in that.

I don't think I'm a particularly rare case with my music habits in general. I used to spend lunchtimes browsing in record shops and listening to the odd few things, and sometimes I'd spend half a weeks wages on music that just wasn't worth it. Now I browse other peoples record collections over the web,or sometimes, just copy their hard drives (stop that, p2p traffic police, if you can! mwha ha ha) This is made a bunch easier by the fact the DRM experiment has failed. Add a bit of Pandora, or LastFM and you can see the world has changed

The underlying problem the UK government is trying to address is that, just as in the telco world, distribution has gone over the top. No longer need I rely on supply chains that ship physical media (or put SS7 equipment in the network), and the big business that is required to enable that. Now I can just go online, and download music faster than I can feasibly play it. And what a joy it is. The amount of music I discover through this is just fantastic. The music industry is disrupted, and, I reckon, is beyond saving as it stands. Sorry guys! Game Over!

As an aside, my favourite example of disrupted industries is the canals in the UK. While they first started appearing in Roman times, during the industrial revolution there was a pressing need to ship goods and materials around the country, and so massive capital investments were made digging ditches around hills, through cities and even over rivers and filling them with water. An Act of Parliament was required for each canal! The canal industry went through the periods of innovation, competition, and consolidation that we see in much accelerated form with broadband ISPs these days. Still, it didn't take long really till railways and roads took over, and only a few of the canal companies managed to reinvent themselves within that new paradigm. Now we pretty much just use the canals for leisure porpoises.

As the cost of music production is tending towards zero, and the cost of distribution too, I am not really very inclined to pay for those two features of that industry. But I do believe that artists should be rewarded for their creativity, and, moreover, I believe that I should be encouraged, nay, incentivised to share my extensive music collection so that others will pay too. It's a bit daft that it's supposed to be all locked away, and clearly the yoof today don't understand that old way of things.

What we need is a new model of distribution, where having the bits stored on physical media - be that on a hard drive, in the cloud, on a CD that can be copied, or whatever is not what I pay for. What I want to pay for is PLAYING music, not STORING it.

The reason the DRM experiment has failed so miserably is because it got in my way. It didn't make it easier for me to discover or share new music, rather the opposite, it made it harder. There's a reason I have never bought anything from the I-Tunes Music store (a reason other than the fact I consider I-Tunes pretty sucky bloat-ware).

I'm dead sad that weed share died as it was a most interesting experiment, with the lofty goals of democratising distribution, and enabling new players to compete in that end of the market. Sadly it was build around Windows Media DRM - more for tracking than protection purposes, and is now dead. Killed, effectively, by Microsoft (though there are rumours that maybe the Weed founders are getting paid by licensing patents to the Zune; not much good for those whose DRMd tracks won't play now)

I, for one, would happily pay a notional "broadband music tax", and allow a small utility to track every single piece of music that I play, on or offline, so that the artist, and their support network can be rewarded appropriately. I appreciate that the infrastructure to support this is kinda tricky, but it's the sort of thing the MCPS-PRS should be pushing for. In my opinion. Not watching what I download and killing my connection if I'm naughty. That's just arse about tit, quite frankly.

What do you think? Are you happy paying for the right to store music? Do you ever regret paying for that? Do you ever share music with your friends and barely feel guilty about it at all? Would you pay a "music license" and allow your usage to be tracked?

If you make music (and let's assume you're not a top ten artist) are you comfortable with the current options available to you for distribution? Or Do you prefer your music to just spread so that you get more folk through the door at gigs?


simonmcmanus said...

I also would like to be able to pay for music, but here is the thing.

I am not going to pay for an inferior product. DRMed MP3s are of little use to me. I want to play music on multiple devices (more that 5) and exchange it with my friends. Currently the easiest way to do that is by illegal download.

Lets hope amazon can help transform the music industry with their DRMless MP3 service.

I like your pay as you play idea but implementation would be a nightmare.

Tim Stevens said...

DRM is evil when it gets in my way, and when it's not protecting MY rights. Which in it's common implementation, it doesn't.

If it protects my rights to share and copy and backup then it's probably OK.

As I say, I'd far rather DRM or somesuch was a tracking mechanism, rather than a protection mechanism. And yes, implementation will be a nightmare, but if I carry the same risk as not paying my TV license, then I'd probably buy in and let the spyware watch my activity - especially if it means I know the artists I like are getting rewarded. I can see the Kindle going this way, especially with the coolness that is the Whispernet. Put a sim card in an iPod, and let it dial home, and include that in the "music tax"

Frankly I don't want to pay for lossy MP3s (or WMAs, or OGGs), with or without DRM. I'd like to download lossless (probably FLAC) tunes, and then compress down if I want. And then track plays through some form of ID3 tagging.

Remember, so far, everything on the internet, and that includes the illegal downloads of music, is an experiment.

fabc said...

I believe that selling bits to the masses will hardly ever be a viable source of revenue.

And paying a tax or a token every time i listen to a track is not feasible. And it can be by-passed anyway. I already see people not wanting to disclose their way of listening to music (not an issue for me though as i pay almost everything with my credit card).

I believe the trick is somewhere else: gigs, merchandising and the like. The CD or whatever else should be something worthwhile owning, or a gig worthwhile going. Then charge appropriately to cover creativity, costs of production and so on.

Tim Stevens said...

Hey Fab,

Pay for gigs whatever you believe is fair. There really is a scarcity of supply involved to watch your favourite artist perform, they can only be in one place at a time.

But you're missing my point about music tax. What I'm suggesting is that I pay a fixed monthly fee for all the music I listen to, and that the fee is divvied up appropriately to the artists responsible for the music I actually play. So that they are rewarded equitably. Ok, right now this seems heretical, and hard to manage, but I believe the world could build the technology and the infrastructure to manage this on an nearly fair basis. Don't you work for a telco too? Feasible Shmeasable.

The devil of course is in the detail, but right now neither artist not consumer gets a fair deal out of a system which sucks out money for distribution, not creativity and production, and that needs fixing.

Robbie said...


If nothing else, the way we listen to music is changing, and from what I gather talking to people, they're happy to pay.

There is a demand, where is the supply?

Tim Stevens

Tim Stevens
Be Silent