[linux-elitists] MP3 and the popular music industry

Doc Searls doc@searls.com
Thu Jan 18 23:44:39 PST 2001

>Out of control? MP3 and the popular music industry.

Interesting irony: Every "hit" recording is, almost by definition, 
out of control. It's a wildfire. A contagion. It's something 
producers want... as long as they're the sole source.

Ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution, production has 
enjoyed unbalanced power over consumption.

That's over. The market isn't a target any more. The consumer isn't a 
bucket under the end of the producer's conveyor belt. The market is 
now, once again, a bazaar.

If all you've got is a conveyor belt, however, your whole conceptual 
framework is based on production and shipping metaphors. Music is 
"content." Artists are "sources." Customers are "consumers" or 
"users." Your industry is occupied by Producers and Distributors. 
It's about building trough running from factories to human gullets -- 
"consumers" -- who live only to gulp products and crap cash.
You can barely conceive of a bazaar. You're fucked before you even 
think to drop your pants.

Out of control? You betcha.

>The music format MP3 has been described as ushering in a
>‘golden age of piracy’ and music sharing device Napster as
>the ‘single most insidious website’ on the internet.

What the fuck does 20+ million people voluntarily sharing music mean?

If you're thinking in terms of production and shipping, sure: it's 
piracy and... whatever the noun form of the adjective "insidious" is.
But if you're you're thinking in terms of the bazaar -- a Darwinian 
environment where the primary life forms are conversations -- MP3 is 
Stage One of a social phenomenon thick with commercial possibilities. 
Customers are enthusiasts, connoisseurs, artists, hit-brokers. You 
want them as *friends*.

>Regardless of the hyperbole of such statements, there can be
>no doubting the significance of MP3 to the popular music
>industry, with multi-million dollar lawsuits as well as
>agreement between Napster and one major label.

Again, the trough-builders look at lawsuits and distribution plumbing 
rather than what's really going on.

Sean Fanning didn't write Napster just to screw the record industry. 
He perceived an extreme market inefficiency: the complete lack of a 
bazaar where music lovers have always wanted one. He did it because 
he wanted to give people an easy way to share music. And he succeeded.

The Now What question isn't about threatened distribution plumbing. 
It's about how to make a better bazaar that works for everybody by 
admitting the intrinsic nature of music, which is about playing and 
sharing and talking and listening and learning from each other. 
Finding the outlet ends of various distribution troughs is a 
legitimate subject of conversation. So is finding performance venues. 
But they are two among many.

>Artists, meanwhile, remain ambivalent to the new format with some
>seeing it as an opportunity to gain greater control from
>their labels

Like it's not a better way to share music with audiences and fellow musicians.

>and users seem happy to disregard the moral
>implications of ‘theft’ stressed by the industry.

These "users" are *customers* coming up with a way to work around a 
"market" that's nothing more than a distribution scheme that exists 
only for producers.

How about the moral implications of an industry defined entirely by 
its producers and distributors?

>This one day conference will explore the impact of MP3 and
>programs such as Napster upon the production and consumption
>of popular music.

Which is why it's all fuck and no fetus. Nothing will come out of it.

>In particular, it will look at the impact upon the three interest 
>groups in the area – labels, musicians and consumers, and question 
>how the relations between them are changing (or could change) due to 
>these technological developments.

...ignoring what's already happened.

The cattle are wandering out of the pens and not interested in coming 
back. Deal with it.

>You are invited to submit proposals for presentations of 20
>minutes on any aspect of the MP3/Napster phenomenon.
>Possible issues for examination include, but are not limited
>§	Whether MP3 will lead to a change in the nature of the
>artist- label relationship.

... like it hasn't already.

>  §	The economic strategies that record labels may use to cope with MP3.

Sell better packaged media for playback on cartelized electronics. 
That shit will be with us for another few years.

>  §   Whether Napster and other sharing programs empowers individual consumers.

What answer can one possibly give to those to whom the obvious is not apparent?
Doc Searls

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