Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, happy to be on a major label.
Oh, thank God the season of public radio fund-drives is almost over.


Silent Artists Can't Help Sell a New Business Model for the Music Industry

Sam Beam, aka Iron & Wine, happy to be on a major label.
Oh, thank God the season of public radio fund-drives is almost over. Soon we can finally go back to listening to public radio and KEXP without our favorite programs being interrupted by reporters and DJs barraging us with reminders about why we listen to these stations for our news and music of the day.

In the midst of pledge week, the Recording Academy's Pacific Northwest Chapter hosted their annual Musictech Summit at EMP. Friday's final panel discussion, The Future Of Music Distribution: Does The Cloud Have A Silver Lining, and featured folks from Limewire, Verizon, and a President of the USA (founder Dave Dederer, who now works for Hewlett-Packard) talking about and dancing around how the music industry hopes to get listeners back in the habit of paying for their content, specifically through cloud-based, music-subscriptions services like Rhapsody and Mog.

LimeWire's John Beezer framed the existential crisis like this: "How do you make music feel free while you're actually getting people to pay for it? The cloud-based approach is probably the best way of doing this."

Popular reasons for the rampant illegal downloading of music discussed at the panel included: Because it's still better/easier than the for-profit model; people only pay for the music they like; that music has always felt free; and that fans believe the money exchanged for a record isn't going to the artist, but to a crooked record company that is taking advantage of their favorite band. I've got another one: Nobody's asking them to stop illegally downloading. Not the right people anyway. Not often enough. Not in the right way.

When was the last time you heard an artist take a strong, consistent stand against peer-to-peer downloading? When was the last time you heard an artist explain what their relationship with a record label has allowed them to accomplish? Has any artist pleaded with their fans to support a record label the way John Richards pleads for listeners to support KEXP? No, if you've heard an artist talk about a record label, it's probably because they believe they've been screwed.

And while there have been bad contracts signed, if labels were so malicious, so one-sided in their intent, why would bands continue to go into business with them? Why would a popular indie act like Iron & Wine leave their indie-label home and flee to the majors like they did this week, defecting from Sub Pop to Warner Bros.? Why would the Lonely Forest sign a deal with Atlantic?

Fans don't seem to get that if Radiohead hadn't signed a deal with EMI they probably wouldn't have heard The Bends, and the band wouldn't have been able to move millions of copies of In Rainbows without the aid of a record label. They don't get that even with the incredible, flattening distribution power of the internet, artists discovered online by and large do not use their online fame to work independently: they use it to get a record deal. A suit at one of the majors or a lawyer with the Recording Industry Association of America isn't going to change their minds.

Since Lars Ulrich had the audacity to tell congress that illegal downloading was going to hurt the industry and bands like Metallica, artists get that when it comes to isolating fans, nothing is quite as toxic as taking a firm, consistent stand against filesharing, and few have spoken out against it; certainly not as many as have spoken out against the RIAA's litigious response to the situation.

But before the millions of non-paying customers start chipping in for their music again--perhaps in the ways discussed at Friday's panel--they're going to have to be convinced that their money is going to support the continuation, not the destruction, of the music they love. They're going to have to understand that their favorite artists -- overwhelmingly in business with record labels -- stand to benefit from the legitimate purchase of their music.

A fancy app for Windows Phone 7 isn't going to do that.

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