28 April 2007

Let people download

Something that has piqued my interest lately is how labels are reacting to the fact that people are downloading music rather than buying CDs. Some labels are reacting to this. One of my favourites, Distinctive records (the label for "Way out West", "Hybrid", "General Midi", among others) has embraced music downloads and I've downloaded several albums from there (if only they'd tag the damn mp3s properly). Thankfully, I can play those mp3s on any device as there is no DRM (Digital Rights Management) on the files. iTunes is now offering DRM-free music from EMI, so as an aside I'm glad about that too.

At the Winter Music Conference recently there was a big discussion at how music has gone from buying albums to downloading singles. Labels need to embrace this concept, or die. The kids of these days (it seems like I'm 50 years old writing this) buying music don't really know the concept of buying a whole album from an artist. People only want to buy the songs they want to listen to. More importantly, they want to buy it and listen to it now. The internet and iTunes in particular have made that an expectation.

Some labels have not embraced this whizz-bang concept of digitally downloading music. So when I heard that a label was dying because of "illegal downloads" I was curious. Here is a quote from the filter27 website, where I first saw this posted:

According to Herwig, illegal downloads of Dependent albums outnumber legal purchase by a factor of three or even five to one. "Money was always tight," he says, "and in the future it's only going to get tighter, because even if we were to continue to produce quality CDs, the rate with which they will be purchased legally will continue to decline. Each album released would represent an ever-increasing financial risk."

Herwig also points out that an unnamed Russian warez site recently distributed over 5000 downloads of one of Dependent's releases in just one week while the label only sold about 1000 copies of the same release in physical discs.

"A popular claim often seen on Internet maintains that the P2P culture weakens the majors and bolsters the independent labels. This is, we can assure you, 100% bullshit. Even if there are listeners who download first and buy later, they are clearly in the dwindling minority," says Herwig.

My biggest question was: did they offer digital downloads of their artists' music from their website? I looked around and was not surprised when the downloads I found were samples for albums that were available on CD only. Hey, no surprise there! People obviously want their albums but are not prepared to buy, wait for delivery, only to probably rip them to mp3 anyway when they arrived. The only get-it-now method for receiving the music was to download a torrent of the album. This hurt the label AND the artists.

'Dependent' records get no sympathy from me. They were holding on to an old way of doing business in the music industry. They didn't realise that or were too stubborn to change, and thus are getting all they deserve from their lack of foresight.

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