Monday, March 07, 2005

Music Royalties

The music recording industry is having a hard time dealing with the digital sound era. I don't completely understand their thinking and something will have to give. Two recent articles on the web have caught my attention and caused this rant.

I understand music industry arguments against completely open sharing of recorded music in digital form. A prime example was Napster in its original form. Several folks argued that ripping music from a CD and sharing it openly would hurt the pocketbook of the recording industry. I understand that position. However, to be fair, increased exposure through some song sharing could increase listener interest in a group and result in increased CD sales. That's probably especially true for lesser known bands. That's a positive for the industry. Off the record, I'm sure a rational representative of the recording industry would accept that as true.

In contrast to open sharing is controlling the distribution of digital recordings by establishing some type of control (DRM) that permits use only when paid for. Napster's current music distribution system and Apple's iTunes music store are a couple examples of that today. This latter position, when taken to extremes, will also hurt the music industry. Here are two examples that illustrate how the music recording industry is shooting themselves in the foot.

The first example involves paying royalties for recordings used in podcasting. Say you make a podcast to tell the world about this great new song you bought and you include a bit of the song in a podcast to show how great it is. The recording industry position is you would have to pay a royalty. In short, you'd have to pay the recording industry to perform word of mouth (i.e. podcasting) advertising for them. Word of mouth advertising has got to be powerful -- it has shown it's value with books. Wil Wheaton had a rant about this recently and I agree with him on how insane that is. There are more details here. I guess I better be careful about discussing music face to face with friends. If you hum or whistle during the discussion it could cost you. Oh….and be careful about singing happy birthday at your next party.

The second example involves distribution of the old TV show WKRP in Cincinnati. What does that have to do with music? Since the sit-com was based at a radio station, they played bits of songs throughout the show. It wasn't a complete song, but often times background music when say Venus or Johnny was talking to Les Nessman in the studio. The music added a lot to the show. Unfortunately, the music also adds significantly cost via royalties if the old shows would be distributed on DVD. The alternative is to take out the music. That could upset fans and might not fly with the shows creators. It seems if royalties are that hefty that they prevent distribution of old TV shows containing music, the music industry is hurting itself. Lower royalties could lead to DVD distribution which could lead to baby boomers spending money getting the recordings they hear on the old shows -- now that they have money to buy them.

It's no wonder why the video game Donkey Konga doesn't use original recordings.

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