Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Music in the 21st Century

Pretending that things are the same as they've always been can be dangerous. When I think music in the 21st century I think digital. But the music industry is so busy remembering how they made money in the past that they are dragging their feet to join the rest of us in the future. I'm sure that when Henry Ford started pumping out Model T's the people who sold horses and buggies weren't too happy about what it meant for their business. But ignoring new problems does not make them disappear. The music industry has two choices, either adapt and find new ways to make a profit or sit back and watch their share of the market disappear. They are on the losing end of the legal war over digital media and the key is to jump ship while they still can.

The rise of digital music can not be ignored. Napster, Audiogalaxy and Kazaa were some of the first to come pounding on the doors of record companies. They each faced legal problems, but each lawsuit brought the issue of digital rights and the potential of digital music more into the public eye. Along came iPod and iTunes, which helped mp3 players and digital music become part of the mainstream. It was legal and backed by Apple, but there was still the problem of digital rights. Customers asked the question "I purchased it, why am I restricted in how I use it?" Now with Amazon opening up a DRM-free music store, and others including iTunes following suit, the customer can use their music for any of their personal needs without the previous restrictions. All of this spells trouble for the "conventional" music industry.

The move to mp3 can still be profitable for the music industry. It requires a shift in business strategies. All of the music I own is legal. Nearly all of it was purchased because I discovered the band, album or song on the web. If used properly the web can be just another way to promote music. For example, I use the web service Ruckus, which gives college students access to free and legal mp3 downloads. There are a few restrictions, it is only free for college students, the music can't be burned to a CD or put on an mp3 player, and the license for a song must be renewed each month. But none of that bothers me too much. Whenever I find something that I really like on Ruckus, I buy it so I can throw it on my mp3 player and burn it to CD. Friends have always shared tapes and CDs with each other, the music industry counts on that to increase their sales. Why not try and find some way to promote the same type of sharing on the web? When someone purchases an mp3 let them "lend" it out to a limited number of friends for a specified amount of time. Take advantage of the connections people are making online. Web 2.0 is all about social networking. It is about staying connected with others and sharing ideas. The record companies could exploit those channels for their own gain if they put some real thought and effort into it instead of wasting time suing their potential customers. The tear filled eyes of a working single mom are never good for PR. It is time for the music industry to clean up their act and catch up with the rest of the world.

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