Music industry should embrace technology, not fight it

LOS ANGELES, (U-Wire) — Recently, several lawsuits have been filed within the world of music that reflect industry concern over new technologies. One such lawsuit was filed by the Recording Industry Association of America against MP3.com. It alleges copyright violation in the Web site’s provision of access to full albums by established artists.
The judge in this case agreed with the RIAA that this was indeed a copyright violation. MP3.com has since removed many established artists from its access lists. Another related suit was filed by the group Metallica against Napster, an Internet service that also allows users to download music that other users put online. In other words, it’s the old-fashioned idea of recording music that you like for your friends, but with a high-tech application and a much wider audience. Meanwhile, other related lawsuits seem to pop up every day.
All of these lawsuits, of course, show that the music industry is worried about losing profits it is entitled to. Rather than worry, though, the music industry has to realize that when technology changes, it must change with it. The music industry should also spend a bit of time looking at previous instances when technology changed the way things were done.
For instance, the rise of television made many people in the movie industry despair, since it was seen as a free alternative to going to the movies. Certainly if people could get the same motion picture entertainment for free, they wouldn’t pay for the experience. But the fact remains that television is not the same experience as the movies. And the biggest moneymakers of all time in the movie industry all happened after the advent of television. Just consider Star Wars, E.T. and Jurassic Park. Clearly, this analogy provides the music industry with a strategy for competing with MP3.com and Napster.
Music moguls should take a hint from the movie industry, which learned to provide alternative entertainment that could not be confined to the small screen; the music industry should develop its product to be so desirable that consumers will want the original copy rather than the bootleg.
There are several ways to accomplish this goal. One is to make the product available to the consumer in CD form well before it can be distributed on the Net with only various samples as teasers. Of course, this would require much secrecy and protective action around new releases, but this is nothing new to record companies. They have a track record of making sure that release dates are adhered to.
There has been traditional rigidity in holding to a release date for a product that has been sitting around in the back stock of a retail store. That is, however, actually counterproductive to the goal of providing the CD to retail consumers before it hits the Internet. After all, if it sits around in back stock, any employee could download it into a computer before it hits the racks.
Another thing the music industry could do is to improve upon its product. For example, it can make its CD packaging or the sound quality better and always be on the lookout for the latest technology to make the product appealing. It can also advertise the collectibility of its product, reminding consumers that copies taken off the Internet will not be keepsakes in any way. Advertising campaigns that stress such sentimentality as well as loyalty to favorite artists may also make traditional products more appealing to the consumer.
The final adjustment to increase the appeal of the compact disc may be to somehow drive down its price. The price seems to be increasing rapidly, well past the point of inflation. Naturally, decreasing the list price of compact discs seems feasible.
The logic of this is easy to see: People who do not really have the money to buy a CD would much rather download it for free. But perhaps if they had a less expensive choice, they would prefer to have the packaging, lyrics, gloss pictures — all the things that the artist whose music they enjoy listening to has provided for them on the traditional compact disc.
This also speaks to another idea I have touched on already: the further cultivation of artist loyalty. Artists need to treat their fans right and be fully accessible to them. Even established superstars have periods of time when their brightness is fading, so all artists should be encouraged to do tours, appearances, drop-ins and surprise performances to make the fans believe that they care.
Another thing the music industry could do with this new technology is embrace it, rather than sue Web sites or continually compete with them. After all, radio has been providing music to consumers without charge for many years, and the music industry has done a great job forging a relationship with radio.
In the same way, these Internet Web sites could be used as promotional materials for up-and-coming artists. These artists could be exposed to the many subscribers of these sites as potential listeners, and the record companies could advertise upcoming concerts and other events that subscribers might want to attend.
After being personally exposed to the performers, people are more likely to be fans who want actual copies of official materials from the musicians themselves. Of course, overpriced artifacts won’t help things. I specifically remember a Whitney Houston concert that charged nearly $15 for a program. How many fans could be loyal with prices like that?
As a rather ironic use of these Web sites (considering the current lawsuits), record companies could even provide chats with their artists on the sites that currently provide opportunities to download the music of those very same musicians. This would help accomplish the feeling of fan loyalty, expediting product sales.
A final note to the music industry about its concern over sales: Last month, ‘N Sync’s latest CD, “No Strings Attached,” sold 2.4 million copies in its first week and more than 1 million in its first day. These phenomenal sales occurred in the midst of all of the subscribers to MP3.com and Napster downloading their favorite songs into their own computers.
My intuition says the fans of ‘N Sync are probably computer-savvy enough to have used these sites to get the music for free, yet they are still buying copies of the intended product (the CD remains No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart as I write these words).
This proves it is not impossible to sell enough product even if people have access to it in other ways. And no matter what is done about it, there is no way to prevent people from finding access in other ways. Remember, even before MP3.com and Napster, people were recording their friends’ compact discs on cassettes for private use.
In summary, my advice to the music industry is to get with the times, use the technology to your benefit and cultivate the fans of your artists. And one more thing: Stop worrying.

Kelly Finn’s column originally appeared in Friday’s University of California-Los Angeles paper, the Daily Bruin.