McGill Scholar Proposes New Music Distribution System

10 Mar ’05

Sandy Pearlman, a former producer of the Clash and now a visiting scholar at McGill, proposed at a Canadian Music Week conference a system that would see all music available on the internet at $.05 per song – details here – the idea apparently being that at that price, with the music available through a single robust search engine, volumes would increase revenue to the artists.  What a provocateur.  Quotes:

Pearlman argued that his plan isn’t a revolt against the industry. It’s merely a pricing decision. Apple should simply be charging 5 cents instead of 99 cents a song, he said. This would bring in millions upon millions of more customers. And he believes that the best place to test this would be in Canada, which has laws he regards as being more supportive of artists and accommodating to an initiative such as this.

Yet, Pearlman went further. He said that since this plan puts the onus on a massive Internet presence to distribute all the music in the world, why not have such computer companies as Apple and such major Internet companies as Yahoo simply buy up the world’s four major record labels? Pearlman was careful to add, though, that he doesn’t see his plan killing off demand for CDs.

I think the simple answer to the proposal is that the current distributors, represented by the CRIAs and RIAA’s of the world, will never support the idea because it would put the ‘net – currently the Googles and the Yahoos and the Apples of the world – in control of distribution.  It would be an enormous step towards the disintermediation of the music industry.  And that, it seems to me, is what the copywars are about – who controls distribution – who stands between the artist and the money.  After all, if this is left to the internet (as it inevitably will be, after all this mucking about has faded away), one thing is certain: music will be much, much cheaper, and getting your music out there will be much, much easier.  It’s almost hard to imagine what the recording industry would be needed for ….

Most interesting quotes in the Globe’s article:

The recording industry is against Pearlman’s plan. Richard Pfohl, general council [sic] for the Canadian Recording Industry Association, refuted Pearlman on numerous points at the conference forum, arguing that the plan would violate every international intellectual property law that Canada has signed in the last 100 years. [Note: not to let too much air out of this dramatic little bit of hyperbole, but are these the same intellectual property laws that CRIA has been tatooing as outdated and in dramatic need of overhaul?] It would also obliterate musicians’ choices on how their music could be sold by conscripting them into a 5-cents-a-song system. And it would destroy record companies’ incentive to invest in new acts, Pfohl said. [Note: isn’t this CRIA saying: “it’s not for the internet to tell them what they get paid – that’s our job”?]

Pearlman said that Pfohl misunderstood the idea. Then again, another record-industry type, casually speaking to Pearlman after the talk, had perhaps the most succinct counter suggestion. Why not charge 10 cents, instead of 5, and double the revenue?

Imagine taking your music to the ‘net to managers / producers / etc. anywhere in the world (hey, why not outsource some of it to Bangalore?), all auctioning for the opportunity to work with you, with all production happening digitally on an outsourced basis with creative and managerial input coming from anywhere / everywhere in the world.  With all intermediaries under the intense pricing pressure of the ‘net.

Imagine controlling your own distribution.

Imagine letting the ‘net decide what gets visibility and what doesn’t.

Something like it is coming.  One day at a time…

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