The recording industry is dreaming if they think that a recent court ruling in the United States against Napster means the end of free internet music. If Napster dies, other incarnations will appear. The demand for programs that transfer near-CD quality music from one computer to another over the internet is here to stay.
The music industry is talking tough: “It’s time for Napster to stand down and build their business the old-fashioned way”, said the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. But the gig is far from up for the free transfer of music.
Other internet services like Scour and Gnutella will pop up like dandelions in the internet virtual lawn. They’re tough and hard to get rid of. “We’ll find a way to get around it,” said one young programmer, “People who want music will always be one step ahead of people trying to stop them”
The recording industry has built it’s business the old-fashioned way — by exploiting musicians. The battles between the recording industry and musicians are epic. For the industry, the important thing is to make money, lots of money, and give as little as possible to ungrateful musicians. For everyone but crass musicians, the issue is artistic integrity — control of the process and final product.
If music sales are down, and there is no convincing evidence that there is any connection to Napster, the recording industry only has itself to blame. They are not producing a product that people want to buy. The music industry has stifled new music, not encouraged it. As a result of the need of the industry to crank out hit after hit, musicians are required to do the same thing over and over.
The music industry is responsible for today’s moribund rock and roll. They have a relatively small stable of musicians who are willing to sell their souls for the lure of big money. For example, we have the uninspiring spectacle of the geriatric Rolling Stones doing the same old thing.
The irony of the music industry is that their complaints involve the very things that commerce is supposed to cherish — the unfettered right to move information, goods and services globally. Industry likes the free, unregulated flow of ideas, information, and goods without the interference of government. Except when affects their bottom line.
Napster didn’t begin as a business. It was started by teenager Shawn Fanning as way of sharing music with others over the internet using a compressed music file called MPEG-1 layer 3. The name itself has been compressed to MP3. All Shaun wanted to do is share music with others. And did he ever — last month, 3 billion songs were swapped for free.
Nature abhors a vacuum but capitalism hates to see something given away when you can make a buck from it. You can’t make money off the free exchange of goods.
The free exchange of music over the internet is a disaster for an industry that lives off the talents of musicians. And, regrettably, if the free distribution of music might mean that many musicians will not get their relative pittance. But musician have something that media giants don’t — the talent to play music that people want to hear.
It’s not the disaster for musicians that it is for the recording industry. Musicians can still make money by directly playing to its audience through concerts and gigs. The recent internet technology will shift power back into the hands of musicians.
And it might just allow for emerging musicians to gain an audience through the internet. I see it working this way. A band gives their new music away on the internet as a preview to a concert. Fans become familiar with downloaded recordings and want to see the real thing. When the musicians appear live, they are playing new and fresh, but familiar music.
Instead of going on tour to promote their latest CD, bands will release music in advance to promote their concert. The days are numbered for musicians who hole up in a studio as a sole means of livelihood. I’m ready for new, talented musicians to regain control of popular music.