Prince on the Music Industry in the Digital Age:
N.B. These articles were culled from (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince's website. Since language works best when there is universal understaing of the usage and meaning of symbols, I have taken the liberty of doing some editing. I can't speak 4 u, but 4 me, I prefer 2 read normal English... don't ask me y, bcuz I can't xplain it.
For The Love Of Music
Two Very Different Approaches
Real music lovers do not simply consume music. Real music lovers develop a special relationship with the works of the artists they like. At some point of their exploration of the music of a new artist, usually something "clicks" and triggers a whole process of discovery which involves wanting to hear everything the artist has ever put out (including b-sides, non-album contributions, etc.), wanting to hear it in the best possible conditions, wanting to hear live renditions of the music -- and wanting to share this discovery with other people. They also feel that things like album packaging are an integral part of the musical experience, that the artwork, in so far as the artist has been involved in it, is an integral part of the artistic statement of a specific release and they want to own an original copy of it so that they can examine it from all angles, in search of clues, or bits of information which might enhance their understanding and appreciation of the music.
On the other hand, some people just consume music. They want a copy of a song because everyone else is into the song. They don't really care about top-notch sound quality, as long as it is more or less "CD quality." They don't really care about the rest of the contents of the album because all they really like is the hit single that every radio station and music TV station is playing non-stop. They just want to be able to listen to the track over and over again until they wear it out, they effectively consume it -- and then turn to something else. They are not really interested in music as an art form, but rather as a form of disposable entertainment -- always looking for the latest hit which is going to displace the previous chart topper in their social environment, so that they are sure they stay "hip" to the latest trend.
Those are two very different approaches to music. The trouble with the current system is that it is primarily designed to meet the needs of music consumers and not of music lovers. There is some overlap, of course, and sometimes real musicians enjoy a fair amount of commercial success which indicates that they are benefiting from the system designed for music consumers, that their music is not only appealing to music lovers, but also to music consumers. This is fine with them as long as they don't have to compromise their artistic integrity. Unfortunately, once you become part of the music consuming system, you have to obey very different rules and many artists are, understandably, not comfortable with this, which creates all kinds of tensions after they have experienced a certain amount of commercial success.
A Fundamental Hypocrisy
The fundamental hypocrisy of the music industry (and of some artists) in the current debate over the MP3 format, Napster and other forms of online exchange of music is that they are talking about copyright, intellectual property and other such noble concepts when the only thing that they are actually trying to protect is the commercial value of their musical "product."
It's indicative, for example, that, in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Time Warner President Richard Parsons would make comments such as these:
An increasing number of young people don't buy albums, so we are not only losing that immediate revenue. They are also growing up with a notion that music is free and ought to be free.
This statement deals with the relationship between music and the public from a purely commercial point of view. Nowhere in his statement is there any indication that what might happen with young people exchanging music is that they might develop a real appreciation of music in general and of certain artists in particular and turn out to be perfectly honest citizens who realize that artists should be compensated for their work and who will help make sure that they are. Nowhere is it mentioned that the fundamental reason why those "young people" are exchanging music online is that they are excited about the music, that they are actually developing a sense of appreciation of what good music is.
Because, of course, record companies don't really want the public to like good music. They want it to buy whatever "product" they come up with, whether it's musically good or bad. Record companies don't really want young people to develop a sense of what good music is. because real music lovers don't consume music. They don't buy the latest chart topper just because it's at the top of the charts. They don't really participate in that "system." They don't really generate significant revenue.
A Growing Frustration
What record companies don't really understand is that Napster is just one illustration of the growing frustration over how much the record companies control what music people get to hear -- over how the air waves, record labels and record stores, which are now all part of this "system" that recording companies have pretty much succeeded in establishing, are becoming increasingly dominated by musical "products" to the detriment of real music. When the only way to acquire some funky song from the 1970's is to purchase some crappy, overpriced compilation put together by the record company, with an ugly cover and a poor selection of forgettable songs interspersed with a few gems, and when you don't even know whether the artist who recorded this funky song is actually getting any money from the sales of this compilation (which he is probably not even aware of), then it's no wonder that the real music lover will be interested in alternative ways of acquiring the song which might not involve purchasing the compilation from the record company. If the record company which owns the rights to that song would actually re-release the original album featuring the song, with the original cover design, at a reasonable price and with a clear indication that the artist in question is actually benefiting from this re-release, then it would be another story. But the record company won't do it, because it's not commercially viable.
So the real music lover looks for an MP3 of the song online, downloads it and burns it onto a CD. He knows that he doesn't have a perfect copy of the song (MP3 is, after all, a sound form at which does involve a certain amount of loss in sound quality), and it is clear, in his mind, that if the original album is ever released under the above-mentioned conditions, he will purchase it, because he wants to discover other, lesser known tracks by the artist that are not available online, because he wants the best possible quality, because he wants to experience the original release in all its aspects (cover artwork, song selection, etc.) and because he wants to compensate the artist for his work. But why should the music lover have to wait 5 years, 10 years or even longer until the record company condescends to re-releasing the original work of the artist? why should the record company have such control over how he, the music lover, wants to experience the music?
A Cultural Dark Ages?
But the record company doesn't really care about all this. All it cares about is that "kids" on the Internet are downloading MP3s of the one hit song on the latest crappy release they put out with a huge promotional campaign, hoping to sell to million copies of the album when there is actually only one decent song on it. They don't care about copyright infringement. They only care about lost sales.
When asked about Napster and the legal issue of whether it is infringing copyrights or not, the same Time Warner executive states:
I think this is a very profound moment historically. This isn't just about a bunch of kids stealing music. It's about an assault on everything that constitutes the cultural expression of our society. If we fail to protect and preserve our intellectual property system, the culture will atrophy. And corporations won't be the only ones hurt. Artists will have no incentive to create. Worst-case scenario: The country will end up in a sort of cultural Dark Ages.
It is rather ironic that he would talk about "preserving our intellectual property system." Isn't he the president of a company which has continually ripped off artists of their rights to their own music by retaining ownership of the master recordings and doing whatever they please with them without the consent of the artist or without compensating him? Is this the "intellectual property system" he is trying to preserve? Does he really believe that the current system, where artists get such a small share of the benefits from the sales of their music, is such a great "incentive to create"? Does he really think that what motivates an artist to create is the fact that record company executives are making millions off his back when he barely manages to scrape by even after selling hundreds of thousands of copies of his album?
It's a bit to easy to talk about an era of "Cultural Dark Ages." The use of doom and gloom scenarios in the rhetoric of conservative, narrow-minded people is a well-known trick. What it really indicates is a lack of understanding of what's really at stake here. What motivates artists to create is artistic achievement, the feeling of having created something beautiful, and the ability to share this beauty with others. The notion of copyright was not invented by artists to protect themselves from honest individuals sharing their enthusiasm about their work. It was invented by artists to protect themselves from dishonest and hypocritical individuals and companies exploiting their work without their consent. For all we know, we might already be in a "Cultural Dark Ages" where "music" has become synonymous with heaps of mindless musical "products" and real, authentic, inspired music has already been relegated to the fringes of society. And online music distribution might actually become a way to get out of this.
The Evolution Will be Digitized
The standards are still constantly evolving. New systems, new devices are constantly being developed as an alternative to the old ways of doing things and no one really knows the way things are going to evolve. But, from the point of view of the real music lover, what's currently going on can only be viewed as an exciting new development in the history of music. And, fortunately for him, there does not seem to be anything the old record companies can do about preventing this evolution from happening.
Yes, young people need to be educated about the fact that artists should be compensated for their work. But they don't need to be educated about how to hypocritically exploit artists by forcing them to participate in a system designed to sell product instead of sharing good music. Rather, they need to be educated about how the record companies have exploited artists and abused their rights for so long and about the fact that online distribution is turning into a new medium which might enable artists to put an end to this exploitation. And, by the look of things, this will happen without the help or understanding of record company executives.
Also from the Prince Website: States Sue Record Labels Over Price Fixing
High-level music industry manipulation was exposed and criticized Tuesday as the State Attorneys General of 30 states and U.S. commonwealths filed a massive federal lawsuit claiming that the five major record companies and several large music retailers had conspired to overcharge consumers for CDs, costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, centers on a policy called "minimum advertised pricing" (MAP), under which the labels subsidized advertising for retailers that agreed not to sell CDs below a minimum price determined by the labels. The suit alleges that the MAP policy increased CD prices in violation of state and federal antitrust law, kept CD prices artificially high, and penalized retailers who did not participate.
"This illegal action...has not been music to the ears of the public. Because of these conspiracies, tens of millions of consumers paid inflated prices to buy CDs...," said New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, on behalf of the State Attorneys General.
Do we need any more proof of the cultural monopoly that is forced on the music-buying public? Not only does this industry dictate what musical "product" will dominate our culture, they want to tell us what price we will pay for it!
If this "illegal action" was taken by the major labels and retailers regarding the price of CDs, what prevents them from taking the same type of actions regarding what we're allowed to listen to, what trends will dominate, and on and on? This is the kind of monopoly that is crushing the music-lover out of the music industry. With greed and profit making these types of deals, our culture suffers and we're literally robbed in the process.