Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Reality Check for the Recording Industry

For several years now there have been stories in the news about the RIAA suing private individuals who engaged in music file sharing and downloading. Recently ASCAP tried to get into the act with the idea of charging royalties for ringtones and with their demands worded in such a way that it sounded like one would have to pay a royalty for whistling a tune.

What we are seeing are the dying gasps of an obsolete business model and I'd like to point out some realities that should be remembered by all involved.

Music has been a part of humanity for a very long time, thousands of years. The recording industry is a very recent phenomenon that has only existed for the last 100 years, ever since it became possible to record and play music on a machine. The invention of the phonograph made it possible for a business to spring up around the idea of selling pre-recorded music. This business model was viable as long as it was possible to control the means of production of the media. The end of this business model began with the introduction of tape cassettes, the first popular recording medium that made it easy for private individuals to copy music recordings for themselves and also to sell them. But cassettes still involved physical media and themselves cost money. There were also quality issues because a copy was never as good as the original, and successive copies rapidly became worse in quality. With the introduction of digital recording and the Internet, it became possible for private individuals to make copies without limit, with no loss of quality, and to transport copies anywhere in the world instantly, without physical media. This ability signaled the final end for the recording industry that sprang up 100 years ago.

Representatives of the recording industry loudly proclaim that the end of their business means the end of your music. They threaten that if nobody purchases their music, there will be no more good music and they would have you believe that the "recording industry" is music. This is, of course, a bald-faced lie. Representatives of the recording industry hope that people overlook the fact that their business is very young, only 100 years old, and they hope that people overlook the glaringly obviously fact that the greatest music produced by humankind was created before the recording industry even existed.

Music is art, not CDs. The music moguls who have made billions of dollars from selling the work of talented artists do not want to lose their cash cow. It has nothing to do with whether music will be created. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and all the rest did not create their music with the hopes of selling records, going "platinum", or any of that. They created music because they were inspired, music was in their heart, and they wanted to say something with their music. The recording industry promotes the idea that they are music when in fact they are simply merchants of copies of works created by talented artists.

Whether they want to recognize it or not, the music moguls have lost their cash cow. They have lost it irretrievably because technology has moved past the need to sell physical media whose production and distribution can be controlled. The game is over. The business model is obsolete and dead, and can never be revived. It's just sad and somewhat sickening to watch the recording industry press their law firms to come up with ever more outrageous attempts to rescue them from their sinking ship.

As we watch the death of the recording industry, bear in mind that the recording industry is not music, it is a particular way of marketing recorded music. Music is not going to go away. Keep a sense of perspective and don't lose sight of the fact that the recording industry is made up of merchants no different than the fish merchant down the street. The fish merchant did not create the fish, he just sells the fish. The same is true of the recording industry merchants. Don't be fooled by the hyped threats.