The glass-half-empty tint to this story is that the 20th Century version of the record industry is on its death bed, but the patient is putting up a bitter fight. The glass-foaming-over-after-an-excited-pour color of this story is that the 21st Century model of the record industry is just beginning to take form and will bring all sorts of new ways for people to enjoy music experiences....
Prince has been trying to do things differently ever since he became a superstar. He got out of a label contract (though he did later sign with another); he bought his own master recordings; and, he was one of the first artists to set up an online store (which didn't do so well). Through it all, he found ways to keep himself in the public consciousness. This year's remarkable Super Bowl appearance was the case in point.
Now he has topped all in the minds of some in the record industry.
Prince is giving away his new album inside of a future Sunday edition of the UK paper the Daily Mail. It's a case of one legacy industry being creative and one with their head in the sand... The reactions from Paul Quirk, co-chairman of the UK's Entertainment Retailers Association as quoted by BBC and many others:
"The Artist formerly known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores. It is an insult to all those record stores who have supported Prince throughout his career."
For an alternative and quite excitable perspective, follow-us after the jump to hear from longtime music industry insider and ranter, Bob Lefsetz...
Prince was a joke, a has-been. Someone off the grid, that you no longer paid much attention to.
And then Prince executed a masterstroke. He decided to display his still prodigious skills on national TV, and then go on tour and GIVE his new album away!
Hell, the concert tickets were so expensive anyway (albeit cheaper than those of most long in the tooth rockers), what difference did it make if he threw a few pennies away if it got his new music in the HANDS OF THE FANS!
Yes, just a few pennies. Hell, the value of a plastic disc declined to almost zero, just like its cost, when AOL flooded the market with them.
Getting the music in the hands of fans. That’s what technology allows, cheaply. This is what has been driving the record labels INSANE! They’ve got a model. Not any different from the one Mo employed back at Warner Brothers in the nineties. You craft an album, run up the publicity and sell it for in excess of fifteen bucks. But is this serving the ARTIST, never mind the FAN!
A true artist desires one thing more than any other. To get his music EXPOSED!
Oh, the labels will say it’s all about the money. Well, maybe it is to the execs, who are sans talent and sans mission, that’s probably why they said that Napster would kill music. Maybe their PROFITS were threatened, but music would live on just fine. Because the people who make it, THEY’VE GOT TO MAKE IT!
Lindsay Lohan, Hilary Duff and Paris Hilton wouldn’t make music if it were free, but Radiohead would, and so would Coldplay.
So, if you’re a heritage act, and radio will have nothing to do with you, how do you get your message out there, how do you get people to hear your new music?
In one fell swoop, Prince has trumped McCartney. The "Daily Mail" is going to deposit TWO MILLION CDS in the hands of old fans and potential new ones, AS A PREMIUM, essentially COMPLETELY FREE TO THE CONSUMER, the disc comes with the newspaper. What’s even BETTER, Prince is getting PAID FOR THEM, by the "Mail"!
Win-win, wouldn’t you say?
Not if you’re a music retailer. Or a record label....
Think about this. Prince is going to reach MORE people, and ultimately make MORE MONEY, leaving traditional CD retailers OUT OF THE LOOP!...
...Time to monetize P2P. Time to throw the long ball. Because the acts, and labels are always dependent on the acts, are getting RESTLESS!
In other words, the lunatics are taking over the asylum.
Of course, the asylum's guards still have guns and are trying to retain has much control as possible. That's why you have this morning's news about Universal opting out of its iTunes contract so it can attempt to gain more leverage with the big online retailer.
And, there's nothing wrong with this leverage if you use it to find new ways to get music in the hands of fans in new and innovative ways. However, if you use it to create scarcity for something that is quickly becoming the economic equivalent of bottled water, than you are fighting against the tide.
This is theme of a thought-provoking essay by writer, futurist and music entrepreneur Gerd Leonhard called his "Open Letter to the Independent Music Industry: Music2.0 and the Future of Music is yours – if you can resist the temptation of becoming just another music cartel!" He writes:
Technical and economic innovations have, for the past 10 years, stripped away many traditions, social and economic hierarchies and monopolies in the music industry, and if there is one thing we can say for sure I guess that would be that it’s now show-time: the music industry is finally reaching a major inflection point; 10 years after the first .com ventures shook the ground. It took a lot longer than we all thought but it’s hitting much harder now: CD sales are down between 20 – 40% YTD, and digital sales are not making up the difference, any time soon – and the one-horse race with iTunes clearly is a dead-end.
We are very quickly nearing a point to where we are forced to dive into what I like to call “Music2.0” – a new ecosystem that is not based on music as a product, but music as a service: first selling access, and only then selling copies. An ecosystem based on ubiquity of music, not scarcity. An ecosystem based on mutual trust, not fear.
Prince would agree. So does Public Enemy. We'll see who else does very soon.
The bottom line is that this is more a sad indictment of the state of Prince’s career than anything else. Remember, this is the guy who declared he would never record with a record label again and launched his own online subscription service. Only to come crawling back to a major as his audience dwindled. The way he’ll see things is that this will give him a mass market exposure that an otherwise expensive ad campaign would probably struggle to do, and he gets paid for it. He’ll be more concerned about revenue from gigs, back catalogue and future sales, following an anticipated halo effect from the promotion.
In reality though, he’ll be lucky to have such results. Prince is an 80’s artis and unlike 80’s artists such as Madonna and U2, his audience has not grown with him, nor has he opened up significant new audiences. A loosely targeted tactic such as this might have made sense when he was a mass market proposition, less so when he’s an 80’s has-been with bad hair.