EMI and Sony are Not “The Music Industry”
I was dismayed last night to read an article in the BBC Technology section headlined:
“Music industry dealt piracy blow”
The article goes on to describe how the court ruling to not enforce the mooted “3 strikes” rule “will be a blow to the music and film industry, which wants the strict rules as a deterrent against piracy”.
I was similarly dismayed to see that the story was being portrayed similarly elsewhere. Josh Halliday wrote this article in The Guardian quoting the court as saying that “piracy is “destructive” to the creative industries”. The story is eveywhere. Linuxworld, Yahoo and more.
How many times do we have to go through this? It’s not piracy, it’s sharing and it’s happened for years, and it’s how music spreads. Remember “Home Taping is Killing Music”? More on this later…
“Big” Music does not represent the Music Industries
The record companies in question here – EMI Records, Sony Music, Universal Music, Warner Music and WEA International (as listed in the Irish Times) – represent only a tiny number of people whose copyrights are being allegedly infringed and not the vast swathe of independent artists utilising the openness of new forms of communication to spread their music freely and at no cost.
I plead that these articles are changed to reflect the reality of the situation. I also think that these articles deserve a mention on “Tabloid Watch” with the rather fantastic tagline “Blogging about bad journalism”. To be clear:
There has never been a better time to be an enterprising musician.
Now music is democratised. There are now millions of people in the world making thousands of pounds from their music as opposed to the monopolistic models of the past. Yes radio is still to a great degree, sewn up and consumed with the old ways of doing things, but the great news is that because people can share music online for free, the independent musician can have her music shared amongst many people. It’s more of a meritocracy.
It saves money too. No more pressing a thousand CDs and the cost of sending 100 of those out in a jiffy bag for radio producers and journalists to ignore, miss deadlines and go for the albums whose (paid) pluggers have shared the most coke and jack with. The BBC Introducing Uploader alone must save artists hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by removing the need for a padded envelope, a printed biog, pictures, CD manufacture and postage.
I’m a musician, and I work and play in a number of different guises. Foremost, there’s Hope and Social as you probably know if you’re reading this. There’s also times when I play with Gary Stewart, Jason Feddy, I’ve played on records with Fossil Collective to name but a few. We are most certainly not represented by major labels such as EMI, Sony or for that matter “Indie” labels (to distinguish from Independent labels who are not owned by major labels).
Also, much of our enterprise is completely unaccounted for in the figures quoted by what are essentially lobbying groups such as the BPI, the above mentioned labels and the Featured Artist Coalition. We go under the radar (not for tax purposes, just to be clear, we’re accounting for our sales and performance income, it just doesn’t go through chart-eligible channels. If we sell a CD at a show, if we do a house concert and people buy our entire back-catalogue, if we run an event does that not count as part of the output of the music industries? As far as Big Music is concerned it doesn’t.
Why this is dangerous
Firstly it’s false, this information goes out to the public from such weighty institutions as the Beeb and the Guardian as if it’s fact. It’s not piracy, this is piracy.
Secondly, prosecution and hostility from these voices within the big music industry serves to further alienate people from music, and from artists. This is harmful to the music industries. Have you ever bought anything from someone who’s threatening to sue you? Me neither. Nice work Sony, you have just lost yourself a bunch of sales.
Thirdly, and this is the way it’s always been, the way music buying works is:
Recommendation > Listen > Love > Buy
The form of recommendation can take many forms from a radio-play, a friend’s recommendation, a tweet, a blogger’s “Download This” page… Remember home taping? I do, and it led to me being an avid music fan and music buyer. As a child I’d record the charts to tape and the stuff I loved I would save for, and buy. The stuff I didn’t care for, well I didn’t buy it. Why would I? Why should I? Had I not had the opportunity to listen to that music, I wouldn’t have grown to love it, I wouldn’t have become a fan and I wouldn’t have parted with cash that I may well have spent on my football team’s new kit, ice-cream or guitar strings.
Fourthly, the assertion that those companies represent “The Music Industry” only serves to benefit those companies still trying to hold onto the stranglehold that they once had over the recorded music market. I am part of the music industries and I want representation.
Today, we have a wider range of channels to listen to. Radio still accounts for a great deal of music listening, but now we have Spotify, podcasts*, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Pandora (in the States), and a plethora of other ways to discover and share music we love. In the past, music sharing was sort of untraceable. It’d be tape-to-tape, CD copying, DVDs of MP3s or hard-drive sharing.
The Horse Has Bolted
There’s no way to stop sharing and we shouldn’t be striving to do so. That it takes place on the internet just means that in some ways it’s track-able and identifiable. It’s useless and impossible to enforce anti-sharing laws as it’s always been the case that humankind finds another way. If sharing music online becomes illegal then people will revert to DVD/hard-drive sharing or find untraceable ways of continuing to to share. Maybe we’ll swap CD’s with our friends again? Maybe we’ll borrow from libraries. To blame the internet is to blame the medium. To quote Steve Lawson “It’s like blaming Microsoft Excel for tax fraud”.
Without the back-channels of the blogosphere and twitter, it’d be easy to have this mis-information go un-checked.
As independent musicians, we must counter the lobbying of the majors, or the FAC and help educate politicians, the public and people such as Mr Justice Peter Charleton as to why there’s never been a better time for the music industries, and for enterprise in music. Also, we need to continue to share the idea that music has value and for it to continue we should enter into an exchange with artists. If we love it, buy it, share it, recommend it; and we must lead by example.
I urge you to buy, share and recommend music.
* incidentally BBC podcasts [and most all other podcasts for that matter] don’t result in the radio-type payment for licensed and copyrighted material that gets played on them. Are the BBC suggesting that they should also be taken to court for this? I expect not, it’s a thorny issue copyright.