In case you live in an Internet-less black hole, there’s some big news going around today about Minnesota woman Jammie Thomas being found guilty of copyright infringement for sharing music via Kazaa; Thomas now has to pay $220,000 in damages to the record labels that sued her. Companies suing their customers… that strikes me as a GREAT way to drum up business in a failing industry. Great job, guys, this will surely help your public image.

Now, before I go on a rant, I would like to say this: I am not a record label hater. I fully understand the need for marketing dollars to help a band gain exposure, pay publicists, tour support, advances, yadda yadda yadda. I get it, and I am not of the “all record labels are evil” ilk.

However, those in the record industry (please note the distinction between record industry and music industry), and in particular the major labels, need to take a collective step back and realize the following:


The recorded music business is not going to die. Whether it shifts towards pay downloads (i.e. iTunes), a subscription service like cable, or some other model, I do believe that there will be some form of monetization for recorded music.

The problem lies in the way the current major label model works, and the incompatibility of that model with the way it looks like music will be sold in the future. The labels are holding on to this antiquated idea of the mainstream, where millions of potential listeners are marketed to via the carpet-bombing technique; market to everyone all at once, all the time, via as many methods as possible. The fact of the matter is that computers and the Internet make this model irrelevant because people no longer depend on mainstream outlets for their music (or at least they are depending on these outlets less and less). For starters, everyone with access to a computer has the ability to make very inexpensive recordings of surprising quality using cheap programs like Garageband, meaning the marketplace is flooded with many more different kinds of music than ever before. What this means on the user end is that music fans can now seek out their own favorite sun-sub-sub-genre. Trickle this down to the record labels, and you’ve got a problem; if the marketplace is so divided, each individual act/release is not going to do as well as before.

The major label business model is based on selling a shitload of units of a few releases with the rest acting as loss leaders, but with the proverbial pie being spread across more acts and genres these kind of numbers just aren’t possible. Add to that the fact that music has become more of a background activity in favor of more immediate stimulation like TV and video games, and it’s undeniable that less people are actively (please note the distinction) consuming music than before. Combine these two factors and it becomes clear that the sales expectations of major labels are just way too high.

Record labels can work on a small, more compact level, and this is what the majors need to realize. No longer is the record business going to be extravagant; it’s going to be a modest living — very comfortable if you’re very successful — just like any other normal business. The honeymoon days of getting rich off of huge worldwide rockstars and lavish spending are over. No more FedExing letters willy-nilly when normal mail will suffice. No more $100,000 producer deals. No more $5,000/day studio rentals. No more stupid packaging deductions (please, show me the package that an mp3 comes in for chrissakes). No more $500/hr lawyer bills; this neat thing called Microsoft Word — combined with the Internet — makes it easy to get standard contracts. No more huge budget music videos (deducted from the artist’s royalties!!). No more paying off radio programmers. Sure, money will be spent on all of these things, but it will have to be way, way, way less than the current major label model demands.

I hope those currently employed at these labels (and I say this full-well aware that I may soon be employed by one) aren’t just taking the sinking ship along for the ride, milking the cow while still possible. This business is still viable… it just needs serious change. And suing your customers is not going to help anyone.


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