Thursday, December 22, 2005

Legal File Sharing

France has legislated a free pass for people that swap music and movies over the internet. I think that the entertainment industry is trying to hijack the copyright process in order to protect its business model, but government theft of intellectual property is not the answer.

I’ve blogged before about what I think the future of music will look like. I’ll republish it here.


The internet and associated technologies are so much fun to watch since they are the closest thing to free markets that we can really observe. Added to that fact the extremely large customer base and the relative ease of entry allows change to happen so quickly that equilibrium isn't difficult to achieve.

With the advent of iTunes and similar products, the entire face of the music industry is going to change radically, unless the established players are able to hijack the political process to establish protectionist policies. It is interesting to think about how that change might happen over time. Recently Q101 in Chicago changed their radio format, calling it 'Shuffle.' The basic concept is that there are no 'heavy rotation' songs and that they play vintage Metallica alongside 80s The Cure and present day The Hives. I'm not a huge fan of commercial radio, but the format change makes it bearable, whereas before the change you had a 50% chance of hearing one of five songs at any particular time.

This change is only suggestive of where radio and the music industry in general, is heading though. In order to get the true glimpse you have to look at the major internet radio stations like Launch! from Yahoo! You customize your station based on personal preferences choosing the genres that you like and listing favorite artists and songs. Then, as the station plays, you get an opportunity to rate each song as it plays. These choices then influence future selections as the radio station learns what you like to listen to. As commerical Wi-Fi and satelite technologies become more prevalent, it will become easier to connect your car to the internet making such radio stations portable. Perhaps even more likely, they would operate through your wireless device, similar to a streaming iPhone. So instead of a radio, you simply get BlueTooth access to your car's speaker system.

This will also drastically change the way that the music industry markets it's material, possibly even making the industry obsolete. The costs associated with producing an album have been reduced drastically over recent years as computer technology places homegrown studios very near the quality of proffessional studios. Additionally, MP3 players are driving consumers to care more about single songs as opposed to full length albums. This change could push artists to release songs more regularly to maximize name recognition as opposed to spending a year or more producing an album with ten or more songs on it. This model can give artists near real time feedback on their product allowing them to react to what consumers want, this makes each venture less risky and maximizes the ability to experiment with their style.

The push towards a single based market is what excites me the most, since each song released contains less risk, established artists will not need to fallback to safe styles in order to guarantee the return on their investment of time and money. I envision a world where artists can experiment by regularly (weekly, monthly) releasing a song, or re-releasing a song after jamming for a session or two. The internet provides feedback with mind-boggling speed as blogs and whatnot will spread buzz and reviews in near-real time.

The very talented artists would continue to stay fresh as long as their artistic abilities allow them without falling into the record companies trap of reducing artist freedom. I would also hope that it would give up-and-coming bands an market for their goods since the distribution machines of the industry wouldn't be necessary to get airplay. By building up a local following (which hopefully also participates in the online ratings system) new artists would slowly establish an online pressence as their songs are played on the online stations

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