A bad 24 hours for digital music

Last Wednesday, Warner Music Group announced its antipathy for “free streaming” digital music solutions and the following day Google unilaterally deleted several (apparently legitimate) MP3 blogs. What’s going on here? The music industry finally looked like it was beginning to get the grasp of the age of the MP3 and the cloud and then they go and pull stunts like this.

This seems like a foolish move from Warner in the long run. Music is clearly in a transitional phase right now and if you want to be a part of the new era you have to play by the new rules. What’s even more curious is that they demonstrated their so-called forward thinking by investing in Spotify (or perhaps this was just a hedge) and now they’re trying to undermine its US launch. This seems like an attempt at a power play from Warner on an industry that isn’t really listening. By doing this they are trying to strong-arm the other labels into following them because if they don’t then Warner are in even bigger trouble.

People will torrent music unless they have simply, quality and legal solutions and this has been proven time and again. By making their content unavailable on these solutions when everyone else’s is, Warner are risking even greater cannibalisation than they already claim. The lesson here will be: don’t try and exert power on an industry in which you have little influence or respect left, engage the small players, learn new models and different distribution channels and develop something akin to a strategy for the future instead of crossing your fingers and hoping everything will work out fine.  Let’s see if Warner can learn it in time.

As for the Google debacle, the blogs (which are clearly an incredibly important part of promoting new releases on the net these days) that have been majorly affected are those that appear to have been playing by the rules.  But the rules are so complex that the record labels themselves don’t know what’s going on. Blogs such as I Rock Cleveland (click on the link and you might not find much) meticulously clear every track they post with the labels and yet it seems the A&R men promoting their artists aren’t talking to their own lawyers who have just opened up the machine guns and started firing in any direction.

Google must accept some complicity in this even if the labels & RIAA-induced confusion does not make it particularly easy for them.  They seem to have let their standards of an open web and a Don’t Be Evil attitude slip under pressure and uncertainty when they could be playing the role of protectorate or change-maker in the industry.  The blogs that don’t tread such a careful path are just going to move elsewhere, constantly moving where the labels can’t track them down (and, most importantly, can’t track what’s going on with their own music).  Both of these events actually brings a about a great opportunity for companies such as SoundCloud that are trying to serve bands and labels by giving them control over their content and distribution and bring them closer to their fans.  This is the future of labels – not whining in their ivory towers writing lawsuits.


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