The music industry made up of several record labels is often given a “bad rap”. No, they do not force our children to listen to the negative music that they sell – remember we all have freedom of choice. However, what they are guilty of is flooding the market with the same types of music and turning a deaf ear to any music that does not fit into their profit margin. So, what you don’t hear – you won’t want to buy. The music industry has always done this, but even more so now that their profits are decreasing due to the popularity of online websites who offer a large library of music not only from artists we are familiar with, but new artists who have not been able to break through the industry road blocks. Music labels are notorious for keeping music that does not promote their interest off the radio stations by making sure that the music that DOES promote their interest is played in rotation – what kind of deals do they make? Is it payola? Not sure – that is for a legal mind to determine. The fact remains that only certain music selections are on the air – and we keep listening and buying the same song, different artist – just like the music labels want us to.
The Pimp Factor
Recording labels have even been known to contract with an artist, so that they can own the rights to their music – and then refuse to promote it – why? To control what you and I listen to on the .radio and keep the type of music that they want to promote in the forefront. In any other arena this action would be considered as “pimping”. This may seem like a harsh term – but what is a Pimp? According to the website EduQna “What Does Pimping My Ride Mean?”, the explanation fits pretty well “‘Pimp my Ride” is a phrase meaning the modification of (something), usually, impractical but very flashy way (think pimp-like). (making) modifications, etc. (something being) altered to achieve the appearance (something more media than real)”. I really love EduQna’s Rough translation: “Please sir, if you would kindly pull the cash from my pockets to make my (possession) appeal to my need for compensation.” If the word fits, recording labels should wear it. Many artists have complained that they feel “pimped out” due to the types of contracts they innocently sign just to break into the industry – the signing may be innocent, but the wording of the contract is by design – to control the music and the artist who creates it.
The music industry is really shooting itself in the foot and hemorrhaging slowly by not joining with online music sites whereby both can profit. However, in its effort to control the industry as it has in the past, they are missing out on a large opportunity to sell a larger variety of music to their demographic target – 13 to 18 year old listeners. But those listeners are growing up and due to their computer and internet abilities, they are “hacking” into an online market of music that the mainstream music industry can’t touch – Online Streaming Music.
Gently Down the (Music) Stream
In 1999, an 18-year-old college dropout named Shawn Fanning changed the music exchange forever with his file-sharing program called Napster. His idea (not the 60 hours of creating the computer code it took to create it) was simple: a computer program that allowed computer users to share and swap files, specifically music, through a centralized file server. His response to the complaints of the difficulty to finding and downloading music over the Net was to stay awake 60 straight hours writing the source code for a program that combined a music-search function with a file-sharing system and, to facilitate communication, instant messaging. Napster was born. But was Shawn patted on the back for his ingenuity? Are you kidding? The Recording Industry Association of America filed suit against Napster charging them with tributary copyright infringement, which means Napster was accused not of violating copyright itself but of contributing to and facilitating other people’s infringement. However, Napster argued with some success that because the actual files are never in Napster’s possession, but transferred from user to user, that Napster is not acting illegally. The issue in P2P applications (Peer to Peer) is that if Napster is guilty of copyright infringement, then the consumers of Napster are guilty too. Likewise, if the consumers are not guilty, then how can Napster be held responsible?
So Shawn and his tiny company of 50 employees in Redwood City, California was up against media empires like Universal, Sony and BMG. But what the music industry failed to see is that whatever the outcome of the Napster lawsuit, Napster had opened a proverbial window of possibility on the Internet and more companies would and did spring up over time. After a protracted legal battle the site would eventually be shut down. Years later, after being bought by Roxio, it would reemerge as a popular digital music service. Since that time, there are thousands of sites worldwide, that have grown from and perfected what Shawn started moved through the controversy, and now provide quality music to its online customers through a process called “streaming”. “Streaming” is a generic term in the computer world. It basically means that the data being transferred can be used immediately, without having to download the song in it’s entirety before it can be used. Audio (music) and video (that is a topic of another article) can be streamed successfully, and with a high quality result.
One of the most popular providers of streaming audio and video, of course is Apple Computers. With the introduction and popularity explosion of the I-Pod, which was created for downloading, transferring and playing music and now video, Apple created I-Tunes, a service where you can purchase individual songs or full albums, from an extensive library – from any genre you can think of – where customers can purchase tracks online for a nominal fee. This is due to the fact that I-Tunes and other streaming music companies have created partnerships through licensing agreements with some artists and some music labels. And now with the I-Phone gaining popularity, there is no end to what “streams” of media can be had by anyone with an media player.
Though technological progress has been made in this area, megalomania is still pervasive. There is still a large population of record labels and companies who have chosen not to partner with digital/streaming music companies. Why? Control – the music companies want and have control over the majority of music and artists of the music that you listen to.
Where the “Buck” Stops
A large majority of the music industry’s record labels still own around 75% of the world’s most well-known recordings, yes the world’s! All streaming music companies are clamoring for new media to sell its customers, and offers the recording labels licensing agreement opportunities that would allow wider distribution of legal music downloading and streaming – without a license for every single song they offer to the public – they now, after the successful ligation brought on by the Napster controversy – companies can be successfully sued. When the record label refuse licensing agreements, those songs or records cannot be offered for consumers like us to listen to or purchase online. This is the sole reason why you cannot find many of the most popular artists or songs you have come to love on streaming music sites. It is because the major recording labels have still not gotten around to agreeing to license these sites to offer their music. Who suffers? Really everyone. With declining CD sales, the music label suffers, we the consumer suffer and the artists as well, because they are missing out on the opportunity to be heard on the largest media network in the world – the internet. Though money is a major factor in why the music industry is not partnering up with streaming audio and video companies – more so it is about control. Fear of losing it, has compelled many to act unwisely, and unfortunately music labels are no exception.
So, until the major recording labels wake up and smell the MP3 (a fancy word for music file); and until artists either insist on contracts that include their right to sell their product through other mediums OR artists peddle their music online on their own, as many new artists are doing, and until the consumer stops purchasing music from the labels that don’t support the streaming music industry, our ability to increase our library of music selections will continue to be limited. The technology is here – but the music is being held hostage – with the ransom being a purchase of a CD wrapped in cellophane. There are thousands of new artists popping up every year, with new and exciting music of every genre, and hopefully these new artists will work with record labels who actually live and work in the 21st century and create a powerful partnership to distribute their music online.