Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shuffling Roles: The challenge of music culture to the music industry

Insight Discussion about Downloading Music June 3, 2008

Insight's roundtable discussion on the effect of new technologies on the music industry fails to ask the bigger question of the effects of new technologies on music cultures. The banter stays pretty close to the point of sale until Jordan Front-Hodson starts talking about his experience.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jordan, what would make you pay?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: First of all, I would just like to say that iTunes and another thing I use called beatport, which is you pay for the money, but the music I listen to is there's not a lot of it on iTunes so I go to beatport, but it's also annoying to pay 'cause you have to use a credit card and for under-18s, I think you can't get a credit card. You have to call up your parents because they have a credit card and stuff so it's incredibly annoying to call up your parents if you can't get on to them, so that's usually why I go.

JENNY BROCKIE: So Clive, Jordan's your son so it's your credit card.

CLIVE FROST-HODSON, SHOCK MUSIC PUBLISHING: "Yeah, I'm sorry, I'll call you back."

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Yeah, but that's another thing. It's really annoying because it's dependent on your parents, kind of thing because...

JENNY BROCKIE: So it's made too hard for you, is what you're saying?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Yeah, so yeah, that's basically and the reason why...

JENNY BROCKIE: But what will you pay for? What sort of things - outside the actual tracks - I mean do you spend money on music? Do you go to gigs? Do you buy merchandise?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Um, yeah, I do, this is the hoodie that I have now is of hard style, that's what I listen to, it's kind of, it's a style of music and it's a shuffling jumper which is a dance style, so yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how much did that cost, just out of interest?


JENNY BROCKIE: OK, so some of that money's going somewhere.

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: Yeah, and I also...

JENNY BROCKIE: The Audreys are getting a really good idea going here I think.

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: And also there's other things, because there's things for shuffling - there's like suspenders and fat pants which are also kind of thing.

JENNY BROCKIE: And have you bought all that?

JORDAN FROST-HODSON: So, I've got suspenders but I don't have fat pants because they cost US$200.

JENNY BROCKIE: So it might not just be about the music?

CLIVE FROST-HODSON: Can I just say I think one of the biggest problems for the record industry is the fact that there is a complete shift from albums to single tracks and what you have is an industry that cannot survive on single track alone. Not everyone's going to like an album, but because the shift has happened where a particular track is what is appealing to that downloader, they will download that track and they really - unless they're introduced by word of mouth - and that's exactly what the Internet is about - the word of mouth - then what we're going to have is this single business happening the whole time. The record industry cannot survive on selling singles. That's the big problem.

KEVIN BERMEISTER: I think the Jordan just mentioned a very, very important point here which is often overlooked and that's where the content industries really need the help of the ISPs because billing models - for example, credit card, which is a very big barrier to entry when you're buying a 99-cent track, have to be accommodated more frequently and ISPs have the ideal position to essentially bill either subscription on a monthly basis to their existing customers, to a household, or even on a per-track model through the bill-to-ISP model, that's something that has to be embraced and it's a real gating effect on the Internet right now.

Kevin Bermeister misses the point when he speaks of the barrier of entry being a credit card (although Jordon's desire for privacy is notable and worthy of thought.)

What's really interesting about Jordan's comments is first, that he introduces the idea that the major labels aren't of much interest to him. Beatport is a specialist download service that sells "MP3, MP4 and WAV formats on a pay per download basis from an impressive library of the world's leading independent labels" and as a business they target DJS--people who are not only going to listen, they're going to use the music they download.

Secondly, he introduces the idea that music producers don't entirely dominate the music culture he participates in. He talks about how specific articles of clothing are relevant to his world--the music culture he considers himself apart of isn't only about the music. That no one saw this as relevant, except to bring up the often trundled out idea that recording artists can make money off of t-shirt sales and performance, is missing the big picture issue of how participation by both market and non-market actors in music cultures is changing the nature of the game. It's not only that the playing field has been enlarged and you have to compete with more people and more product, its also that the playing field has been radically altered. What they see as a market, Jordan sees as a culture.

The problem with the way this discussion was framed as how should industry respond is that it misses the relationship of the music industries to grassroots music cultures. It only sees artists and artistry as people who are attempting with various degrees of success and failure to earn a living off the music they make. But one of the effects of digital technologies has been that more people are making music and more people are able to interact with people in small communities of interest. So when one recording artists says she spent $50000 making her record, the bedroom producer doesn't care because people can and are making music with much much less (and often with far more interesting results.)

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