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The dark side of digital music

GLOBAL – A true industry veteran, Peter Jenner has managed Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Ian Dury, The Clash and Eddi Reader among others. He’s now head of the International Music Managers’ Forum.

Before you read on, take a look at this video where Peter talks about the state of digital music. We’ll wait. (Sorry, it’s not in a embeddable format).

Format disk

Like me, Peter started off in the world of 7-inch and 12-inch vinyl. He recalls cassettes coming along in the 1970s as a new format, with only partial success. And then CDs, which persuaded many of us to re-buy our record collections.

Then along came the age of digital, and many in the music industry hoped that we’d re-buy all our music again in this new format. But, of course, the public weren’t entirely convinced.

At least with CDs, you got a physical product and the promise of greater durability and improved sound quality. Buying those same recordings as a digital file seemed to many like buying thin air.

And once people realised that they could create and share their own digital versions. Well, it seemed the likelihood of making money from digital music was zero.

No way out

That was more than ten years ago. And digital music is still a conundrum for the music industry today. Record labels still want to charge a similar amount of money for digital recordings that we paid for physical products. And certainly, artists deserve to be able to earn a living from their work. Yet paying for something entirely immaterial is a hard pill to swallow for many consumers.

“Digital copyright is an oxymoron” says Peter, because digital is all about copying files. Artists and labels should forget about the idea of policing the Internet and punishing fans who download their music without paying for it, he believes.

So what’s the solution? Peter thinks that services like Spotify and, we’d like to suggest, our own Mix Radio, are a step in the right direction. The music is properly licensed and artists get paid, albeit at radio-play rates.

Shifting the mix

Perhaps the ‘mix’ isn’t quite right yet, though. Just recently, US rock duo The Black Keys said they weren’t going to make their latest album available on streaming services – because the revenue share for artists was so low.

So what’s the next step after streaming music services? Would you pay more for such services, or should artists seek out alternative ways to make money from their work? 

Here’s a second video, in which Michael Masnick of the Techdirt blog describes the many ways in which industrial rock project Nine Inch Nails sought to make money after they split from their record label in 2007.