How About Some “Fair Trade” Music?
And this time artistes get to be the wronged parties in the world-gone-mad state of the record industry. Ps. if you are a multi-platinum artiste, with a lucrative 360 degree deal, this may not apply to you.
Fair Trade music (thanks Dave Viney) is, to my mind, a succinct way of describing the enduring tension between labels, customers and artistes in the music industry. It conjures up an equitable division of both revenue and value between them along with clear cut responsibilities (e.g. artistes create music, labels promote it, and consumers enjoy it). But surely isn’t that the same as the original music industry model? Now I’ll go all consultant and answer “Yes & No”. Firstly, the original music industry value chain is not really broken, it just needed recalibration of the revenue slices in the digital music pie, and besides labels have always done a great job in marketing the artiste / work. Secondly, in the above scenario, the consumer does not necessarily have to pay money for enjoying the music; the fair trade system must be flexible enough to support non-monetary transactions.
In recent years, it has often been the province of music fans to come off as the injured party as a result of developments like DRM and illegal download law suites. However, it is really the artistes, especially newer ones, or the indie / alternative / niche variety, that have been the poor relation in the industry, (perhaps even more-so in recent times). The role of fair trade music, as already espoused by several examples, (you can google it here), is to ensure that all key stakeholders are equally represented / engaged in creating, and profiting from, tomorrow’s music industry, starting today. Some supporting evidence for this position is drawn from three very different events I attended in the last couple of weeks, as follows:
MusicAlly’s Mobile Music on the Dock – This event literally put mobile music on trial, in an attempt to understand if it had indeed delivered on much hyped promises (see full story here). The result was a draw by the way, but a recurring theme in the debate was that the mobile music players needed to engage better with artistes and their management.
The Future of Music – I presented a short lecture on this topic at the London Metropolitan University Business School, and some of the questions raised by attendees (which consisted mainly of prospective music business moguls and entrepreneurs) concerned the future of the artistes. They were clearly interested in ensuring that there remained adequate incentives for artistes to continue making the music that fueled the industry. This is also echoed in this blogpost about the upcoming music industry event, MIDEM, in Cannes early next year.
Leaders In London – This event, complete with a stellar cast of business gurus and thought leaders, dwelt a lot on the role of leadership during tough economic times. Jack Welsh, (legendary ex-CEO of GE), suggested, in response to a question from yours truly, that the music industry needed to innovate its way out of the current mess brought on by technology innovation / disruption. To my mind this simply spells out the need for innovative business models that must take into account the critical value of the artiste, among other things.
In conclusion, it would seem that the solution to the music industry’s woes could start with, or at the very least incorporate, the concept of “Fair Trade Music”, as a way to ensure the ecosystem of the future is both well balanced and in sync with the needs of the participants.
Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.