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Article on Radiohead, Saul Williams, and digital downloads

I wanted to blog some opinions about the move towards DRM-free digital downloads, made famous recently by Radiohead (but of course loads of others have done it). But a much better writer than me has already done it. This article about MP3 downloads is v good.

(Update: following some links from there I also found Steve Albini's article the problem with music which is interesting too. It's not about digital downloads.)

Sunday 18th November 2007 | media | Permalink
Name: Damian
Date: Sunday 18th November 2007 22:13
Where to begin...

What Radiohead did is, as that article said, not bold at all. Radiohead know that if they got an average of 2 from (say) a million downloads, that's 2m with hardly any deductions (apart from the server usage, and even that probably didn't need to be very high capacity after the first couple of days). But they can do that because... they're already big. And for better or worse, they got there with the help of a record company. Record companies helping to kill themselves? Ironic.

And if this only helps established 'famous' artists (or well-backed up ones like Saul Williams), does this mean that people will be less interested in the 'established' model, and does that in turn cause problems for new artists? Not for some of the very resourceful ones. But I can't help thinking that one of the upshots of all this is that there are lot of bands making music I'd love to hear that I'm never going to hear now except by complete fluke.

...am I defending record companies? No. Not most of them, anyway - Albini's article (which has been on the Negativland website for many years) illustrates what's wrong with many of them. I guess the Utopian ideal is that a lot of self-starting bands should get better at getting themselves heard as they work out a way of using the net to their best advantage, whilst some record companies with decent ethics can help out those whose nous goes no further than being able to make the records.
Name: Dan
Date: Sunday 18th November 2007 22:50
I agree with most of what you say D, especially the bit about the Radiohead money calculation - I would never have bought the damn album (which is a bit boring, as I expected) if it had been an ordinary CD release, and the millions of half-interested people like me are bound to be the bulk of Radiohead's market there.

Re record companies: various people do predict the end of companies that can nurture and publicise talent, as the big earners "evaporate" off the top of their roster. But (1) I don't think a big enough proportion of acts will be able to do that, to make the difference; (2) the record labels still have the back-catalogue that made those artists famous, which in most cases is the stuff with the biggest longevity and earning power.

Commercial licensing (e.g. radio, background music in pubs, adverts) accounts for about two-thirds of a record company's income. So most of the income stays in the streams it's always been, even if the music comes as MP3s for an optional payment. Plus, most artists will still need record companies to manage commercial licensing and suchlike, even if the band is already famous.

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