"We’re running out of time. We need to get money flowing from consumers and get them used to paying for music again." So says Ted Cohen of music consulting firm TAG Strategic at the Digital Music Forum East yesterday. And who was on the hit list for most of the attendees at said conference? Well Steve Jobs of course, probably the only person making money in the digital space right now.
Everybody is complaining about the Digital Rights Management (DRM) these days and rightly so. It puts such a burden on consumers that they feel that it is so much easier to download the stuff for free from a P2P network then put up with all the BS the majors throw at them. Add to the fact that there is so much crap out there and you have a recipe for disaster.
I have always said that musicians need to be paid for their art. Absolutely no doubt about it. The difference is that the musicians that I tend to deal with have embraced all the new digital technologies out there as a way to promote their music. The do so by making DRM-free downloads of their stuff available because they know that if people like what they hear, the majority of them will pay for their music by either buying their CD or using a service like eMusic or CD Baby where they can support the artist and not be burdened by a DRM download.
The bottom line is that people will pay for quality content. They will not pay for shit. If the major labels continue to pump out The Pussycat Dolls (sorry girls I really love you, drop me a line sometime!) and American Idol rejects, they have only themselves to blame.
It is a new world out there and those that want to be able to make a living selling music might best stop and have a listen to what they are putting out there instead of putting all the blame on consumers who have put up with their drivel for too long. A revolution is upon us and like all revolutions, the impact won’t be fully understood for years. Make no mistake about it though, the days of major labels exploiting musicians for the bottom line will eventually fade away. The content creators will gain the upper hand over the content distributors and this is how it should be. Nobody ever said the system was fair but for too long musicians have been treated as indentured servants. If major labels cannot partner with musicians in a truly fair and equitable arrangement, then the musicians will just turn to all the alternative modes of distribution available to them now. And if they do so, the issue of whether to use DRM or not will quickly become moot. In the battle between technology and content, content will always have the upper hand because people are willing to pay for quality content. If you make them jump through hoops to access it they will simply skip the hoops and access it another way.
UPDATE! It seems that Charles Cooper over at CNET agrees. Check out his Perspective column Forget DRM. It’s the music.