Shit We're Diggin'

Gang of Four’s Dave Allen on the music distribution problem (as told to Rick Moody)

From Moody’s column, Swinging Modern Sounds, on The Rumpus

If we look back to the ’80s and the introduction of the CD, we’ll see that technologists have a knack for creating solutions to problems that don’t exist for everyone, just an initial subset. I’m not convinced that, at the time, the recording industry was seriously searching for a new way to deliver music to fans. I would suggest that they were talked into it by technologists who convinced the execs that there were new profit margins to be had by switching to a shiny disc with ones and zeros stamped on it. I say this because at its heart, the modern recorded music business is in it for profits more than the arts. The CD was supposed to deliver higher-quality audio—though really analog vinyl still sounds better. The CD did create an income bell curve for the labels, though, when everyone replaced their vinyl albums with this newfangled disc.

The CD didn’t put an end to vinyl records, as they were kept alive as a format by professional DJs, and they have been the only bright light for record labels recently, in terms of an uptick in sales of vinyl albums to young collectors. Meanwhile, those ones and zeros came back to haunt the business, as we now know.

The landscape for musicians has clearly shifted. And yet the past lingers on. The Internet offers unparalleled opportunity for them, but the benefits are only available in full if they control their own recording rights. The ball and chain of a label contract is often the reason for the failure of many musicians to truly adapt to the new platforms. The Internet offers the “container-less” ability to get music into music fan’s hands cheaply, quickly, and conveniently.[…]

So what are musicians supposed to do? Nothing. Unless they own the rights to their own digital catalogs, and better yet, own the rights to their own recordings and song publishing. Or are very successful. If the contracts between labels and artists are in place, then it is hard to make a bean out there…

Read the rest of the interview here.

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