just follow my ten easy steps to fix the music business, and i’ll never write about it again
Sometimes an idea can come to you when you least expect it. Such as this one. It seems almost too simple to work, and it’s not really what I would consider a well thought out plan. Maybe it’ll get a little better when I start banging on the keyboard. Or more likely, other people much smarter than I will poke, prod, add, subtract and run with this ball. I might enjoy sitting on the sidelines and watching.
I was going to outline what’s wrong with the music business model before I told you how I’d fix it, but that’s pretty stupid. We all know. This business was really never that great anyway, and the transition from compact disc to digital file (along with greed) has killed it. So here we go kids….
1)Make all digital downloads and streaming 100% absolutely FREE: Hear me out before you moan. We’re now on the second generation of kids who can search and download an album in less than a minute from the comfort of their home. I know it’s illegal and so is jaywalking. Both are unenforceable. So use the bottled water model. If you’re thirsty, you can drink for free (in the abstract) from a water fountain or hose. But if you want quality, you’ll spend a few bucks for a bottle of fresh cold mountain spring water. The same with music.
2)Decrease digital quality: Make it worse, not better. Instead of offering high quality digital music, make it something like 128 kbs only. It’ll sound ok on a portable device, but not really all that good. It’ll still allows all artists an equalized distribution channel to allow their music to be heard. And by eliminating the revenue stream (those pennies that come in every month or so now) you end the need for digital distribution methods. So you record it, upload it and it’s all DIY.
3)Immediately eliminate production of the compact disc: With sales going down year after year, it’s time to pull the plug on this non-green piece of plastic. By doing so, and with carefully keeping your master recordings under lock and key, you now can control the quality factor. And in the stores, you’ll fill the space up pretty quickly because…
4)Designate the vinyl album as the one and only configuration: It has served us well, we need it back in our lives and kids love them. It won’t be so easy to convert into a digital file as with a CD but even if it was, it’s a tangible item that can be held, touched and played with. And more important, bought. People crave the tactile experience. And yes…it sounds damn better. I’ll finally admit it. (A friend just noted that we should also include a free download with purchase to solve the portability issue.)
5)Develop a new pricing and royalty structure: Music needs to be affordable. A compact disc with a suggested retail price of $18.98 makes me want to throw up. It costs less than ninety cents to make the disc, another ninety or so for songwriting royalties. We don’t need to send anyone to Bermuda or the Riviera to record, and you keep both recording and marketing costs down by utilizing technology. Kill off the red carpet new release parties in Beverly Hills and you can strip out large costs by changing your supply chain and the way it’s structured. Good quality vinyl albums should be available to consumers for less than ten bucks, and maybe even lower. And the artist and composer should get the biggest chuck of that and not a small percentage. (Jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi’s deal with Fantasy Records was that he received 5% of sales; they got 95%.)
6)Restructure the supply chain: Let’s call the current major label and distribution structure for what it is: a monopoly that victimizes artists and consumers. It should be either eliminated completely or at the very least re-structured as a stand alone entity; separate from management, booking, marketing, publishing, merchandise and media functions that operate against the best interests of the creative community. Let them manufacture records and ship boxes. That’s it.
7)Restructure the client base: Eliminate the need to charge for digital, and you’ve just taken out iTunes as the dominant player in that market. Go a few steps further: no longer sell to major chains or big box retail. Say goodbye to Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Trans World, Barnes and Noble and Borders. We’ll sell records at record stores. Period. You can be a retail chain, and you can sell other product lines. But at least 50% of your floor space needs to be designated for record albums.
8)Redistribute the wealth: I gather I’ll lose some of you here, but tough. We need to put more money back into the hands of the songwriters, vocalists and musicians, and take it out of the pockets of the business people. Can you tell me why the executives at SONY, Universal, Warners or EMI need to be paid millions each for making poor decisions, lining their pockets with the work of others and the general systematic rape and pillage of an art form? Get rid of just one executive at Universal and you can hire probably a hundred bright young folks who will bring new ideas, creativity and expert market knowledge to the table.
9)Offer tax incentives to small business: Let’s create an environment that allows small boutique record labels to grow, or maybe help put a business loan into the hands of some kids who want to open a new record store. Let’s support new distribution models that keep the power in the hands of many companies and not just the three or four we have today.
10)Subsidize the arts: Insure that the creative community…from musicians to film makers to fiber artists to whatever…has access to basic necessities at an affordable cost so that they can do what they do. And while we’re at it, we need to insure that our schools are getting funding to keep music and art programs alive, and that we encourage craft as career option.
I know…I can blow as many holes into this plan as you can. But you got to start somewhere. Maybe some of these ideas will take root, or hopefully you’ll come up with better ones. I know one thing… I’m sick and tired lately of writing about what’s wrong with the music business. And it all comes down to the last word in that sentence.