Posts filed under “Music”
How do you measure the success or failure of the RIAA? (I have a few ideas).
I personally see the RIAA as a massive landgrab. Primarily, they attempt to curry favorable treatment from legislators, and subvert traditional aspects of copyright law via infinite extensions. They win the passage of favorable laws against consumer fair use and technology development, all the while avoiding legitimate economic competition.
In some arenas, the RIAA has been extremely successful in "framing the issues" for debate. Think about Napster, P2P, etc. There was hardly any discussion on the refusal of the music labels to address the growing demand for internet based digital music; Instead, the industry chose to placate offline retailers. Their poor business judgment all but ensured the rise of P2P. We haven’t even broached radio consolidation, formulaic product, or the over-emphasis on mega hits over the long tail.
Yet in terms of this debate, one must concede the RIAA has successsfully defined the terms of arguement. For example, consider this December 14 WSJ article by Ethan Smith the improvement in Warner music’s financial condition:
"Warner Music Group posted a narrower loss for the 10 months ended Sept. 30, but the company’s continuing red ink underscores the difficulties, such as rampant piracy, facing the global music business. "
The default belief system is that its "piracy," and not decades of a mediocre (and often flawed) business model — rather poorly executed at that — which is the root of all their problems. Recall that the same tactic was used about home taping — it was killing the music business in the 70s.
From a PR perspective, the RIAA has been extremely effective at framing the debate. "Piracy" seems to be the focus of all discussion. All other issues — price fixing, lack of comeptition, corruption, cheating their own artists, etc., are mostly ignored.
The RIAA Lost Every Lawsuit in 2004
Lots of stories get written when the Recording Industry Association of America sues people, but not much gets written about the aftermath of those suits.
There should be: In the last 12 months, the RIAA lost a landmark suit against Grokster (essentially legalizing peer-to-peer software), lost a suit to Verizon (holding that it did not have to provide names of its subscribers who the RIAA wanted to sue), and has yet to actually win against any of the thousands of individuals it has sued in court (some of the cases have been settled out of court, most are still pending). Suddenly, the RIAA isn’t looking so much as devastating as it does merely pathetic.
Still, while the RIAA is no longer the legal darling that successfully shut down Napster, it’s done an enormous amount of damage to the technology world (not to mention basic freedom) since it launched this crusade, and the group is far from finished. But here’s hoping some intelligent judges, tech-savvy lawmakers, and an activist public will continue to fight the power in 2005.
Truly incredible. But perhaps the best way to judge whether the RIAA is successful or not comes from their own site:
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Its mission is to foster a business and legal climate that supports and promotes our members’ creative and financial vitality . . . In support of this mission, the RIAA works to protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists; conduct consumer industry and technical research; and monitor and review state and federal laws, regulations and policies.
So how successful is the RIAA?
By their own measures, they have achieved some of their goals — at least in the short term. They have moved industry friendly legislation forward. And as mentioned above, they have successfully framed the debate over P2P and other new technologies.
Over the longer haul, however, they have turned their industry into one universally disliked by its clients and artists, alienating a huge percentage of their consumers; They have missed many many business opportunities and focused on the wrong issues, overemphasizing the glam of P2P litigation, over the nitty gritty hard work of counterfeit enforcement. Lastly, they have failed to adapt to the rapid pace of technological changes.
If their goal is to "support their members’ financial vitality," than we will not fully know the answer to this question for some time to come. But I have a sneaking suspicion that, without a significant shift, the answer will be not very well.
The Long Tail
Wired Magazine, October 2004
Warner Music Posts Narrower Loss
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, December 14, 2004; Page B6
Best Sign that the Legal System Just Might Work: The RIAA Lost Every Lawsuit in 2004
Mobile PC Mag, 10:40 AM – Monday, December 6 2004
Towards the end of the book, there’s an interesting discussion: It turns out that Semisonic’s label, MCA, had a well deserved tin ear for deciding what was “single worthy” or not. The book suggests that a long series of missteps by MCA very much hindered the band. Despite critical acclaim, they never managed to really gain much traction on format radio beyond Closing Time.
Slichter offers Shaggy as an example of the pooor judgement of the execs at MCA. It seems the Jamaican born rapper handed in his new album, Hot Shot to the label, and the first two songs on the record suggested as singles were “It wasn’t me” and “Angel:”
“Remember those song titles and read on: The MCA bosses listened to the album and complained “They’re no singles.” The bosses demanded that Shaggy return to the studio and record new songs, and Shaggy agreed. This was exactly the scenario that Semisonic had faced in late 1997 when Jay Boberg and other [MCA] senior executives heard no hit potential in Closing Time and suggested we return to the studio to record more songs. Jim warned us that if we recorded a new batch of songs, the label would choose the single from the new batch and forget about “Closing Time.” Fortunately, we heeded Jim’s warning.
When faced witht he same dilemma, however, Shaggy accepted MCA’s mandate to record more material, and no surprise, one of the new songs was selected as the single. The CD came out in August 2000, the single flopped, and within weeks MCA stopped working the album.
Meanwhile, a DJ in Honolulu, Pablo Sato of KIKI 93.9-FM, had downloaded Shaggy’s album off of Napster and started to play one of the other songs, “It wasn’t me.” KIKI was flooded with calls and “It wasn’t me” became a local hit. Bonnie Goldner and other Shaggy supporters at MCA seized on the success and advocated the song be pushed to other stations, and within a few weeks the song was a nationwide smash. By Christmastime, the album was on its way to number one, and after another hit, “Angel,” the album had sold 12 million copies worldwide, no thanks to the people running MCA. It was Pablo Sato, his listening audience, and Napster — the dread enemy of the music industry — who pulled Shaggy’s album from its grave at the Music Cemetery of America.”
How many more of these stories are out there? Eminem, U2, Wilco, Radiohead and now Shaggy.
(If you have any other concrete examples of P2P functioning as a defacto promotional machine for the labels, please post them in the comments or send me an email).
A commentor reminds me of Steve Albini’s The Problem With Music; In many ways, this book lays out that critique from the musician’s perspective . . .
So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
Broadway Books, 2004
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0767914708/ref=ase_thebigpictu09-20/102 7131547 9942524?v=glance&s=books
MCA, August 8, 2000
Feeling Strangely Fine
MCA, March 24, 1998
The Problem With Music
by Steve Albini