August 26, 2008

Muxtape Mess

In case you haven't noticed, Muxtape has been shut down due to issues with the RIAA - IE if music is being shared without artists / labels being compensated. No compensation= lawsuit city.

There is a new "legal" version of Muxtape called : . You can listen to or a create a mix of 8 songs and listeners can search the site by artist or genre and then stream a mix / your mix.

I believe one of the whole reasons Mutape was a hit (besides people's warm and fuzzy feelings for a good mix) was because music fans had access to weird rare stuff not found in a typical music library. The irony here is that the major labels with "hit" artists are the ones who are filing these law suits yet it really isn't their catalog that receives the most attention on a site like Muxtape. These kinds of sites lean more toward the unreleased and hard to find if not out of print music. The kind of stuff most majors don't / can't make money off of.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy to see artists getting reimbursed for the art they make but will a group who put out one garage 7" back in 1968 from Malaysia see any money from this new and improved "legal" format? To put it simply and honestly, no. There is no way to reimburse these kinds of artists, the exact kind of artists / records that define your average serious record collector's prized collection. In this battle of music fans verse the age old issue of the cost of public performance licensing rights it's hard to say if there will ever be a happy middle ground.

This is where things get really complicated.

We are part of an exciting new generation who doesn't have to swallow the force fed hits the music industry (this goes for Film & TV too) is trying to stuff us with. Thanks to the Internet we have access to the largest variety of material in music history and the catalog is growing by the second making it nearly impossible to monitor and manage.The more variety we are exposed to the more modern day music fans are hungry for obscure material but I don't think the music industry knows how to embrace this reality quite yet. Companies like Amazon and iTunes have a grasp on it but the record companies appear to be floundering under the pressure to keep up with technology and the average consumer while trying to do what all businesses ideally want to do, make money.

Niche music - the never ending divisions of genres to sub genres and so on are much harder to keep track of no less stay on top of. Instead of making money off of a few thousand mega hit artists from around the world the music biz has seen the death of the superstar artist (yes they still exist but none carrying the same sales numbers that these kinds of artist had 15 plus years ago) and are left scratching their heads as to how to cash in on all these splinter groups, the micro-hit artists which sell 1 one millionth of say The Backstreet Boys. These micro-hit artists (Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, Cat Power...) are like herding wild rabbits and as time goes on, they multiply endlessly as more and more people from around the world have access to computers. Music is flooding a cyber market place that doesn't own a saturation point and while there is more compitition than ever to be discovered, a band for the first time in the history of recorded music also has access to potential fans all over the world seconds after posting their music on-line.

So is charging a blanket licensing fee to any and all places that stream music (radio or Internet) the only way to finacially counteract the loss of traditional sales of a full length record in the market place and guarentee an artist a monitary reward for their music? If people aren't buying full length records any more (in physical or web stores) and fans are either cherry picking or stealing single tracks it doesn't come as any shock to me that record companies and artists are trying to protect their bottomline any way they can.

I know there are quite a few people out there who believe music should be free but I am not one these people. As both an artist and a fan I believe listening to music is a privilege and not a right. I believe a musicians' work of art carries a monetary value and they deserve to be given that money for their work.

The problem here is that music companies and artists trying to make a living off their art haven't found the correct business model to keep up with the ever changing landscape of the Internet no less stay on top of how music fans are feeding their music listening / buying habits. Music consumers kick and scream every time a company takes action to protect an artist's right (and the people who helped to develop that artist) to get paid so where is that happy middle ground between the two clashing groups? Does it or can it ever exist? After 20 years in the "business" I feel more unsure about the answer than ever.

Most of you reading this blog have probably already read this book but if you haven't check out The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less, you should right away. It investigates the death of the blockbuster and how the market is trending now using simple terminology.

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