File Sharing NOT the Devil!
Just when you thought you'd never hear a scrap of reason from the big record labels, recently acquired ex-Google employee Glen Merrill who now heads up EMI's digital strategy department said that file sharing was "not necessarily bad" reports UK's Guardian. While not exactly a crowning endorsement, it is a big step away from the usual practice of suing the pants off file-sharers.
What's exciting about this new development is not so much that we can expect DRM-free music to start spewing from EMI, but because of some of Merrill's other statements. He indicates that he has read some of the research that file sharing might be good for bands and that the upper management is "open to trying new models". Well, that's brilliant considering that if you DON'T start trying new models, you're going to lose all your big bands!
While we can pretty much all agree that bands need to get paid for their product, what is not yet clear in this digital age of information is how to distribute music. Nine inch Nails, Radiohead, Iron Maiden and more have all tried their hands at online distribution but no clear viable model has yet emerged. Merrill agrees and suggests that he and EMI plan to experiment with ad-supported music download services.
But before we get all Googly-eyed over Merrill, his new ideas have already started to stir up internal controversy when he promised to cut 2000 jobs and the number of bands. This makes sense from a business standpoint (who is going to pay to download a band they've never heard of?) but as a long-term strategy it seems a bit iffy. Sure, cutting the unknowns for now will increase your revenue (theoretically) but who will take your "big" acts place when they die (we're not talking about Keith Richards - he'll live forever) if you're not bringing up smaller bands? Not to mention that innovation comes from the outside - not from the establishment. So if you want to listen to more and more bands that sound like the crap on the radio, you'll be happy. But for the rest of us that would like to expand our musical horizons from time to time, this is an untenable position.
The key here is the upper management paradigm shift from "they are all pirates" to "there is an untapped market out there". While we're sure there are going to be some mistakes made and lessons learned, it's encouraging to think that the big studios are at least moving away from viewing the public as a bunch of thieving children that need to be watched constantly lest they steal all the silverware and break your mother's prized Lenci Porcelain Figurine. And that, we think, is a step in the right direction.