Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Internet and the Global Music Industry

(This view is published in letters column of Gulf Daily News on 11 May 2013)

Here's my  2 fils worth to add to what HG says about profits in the changing music industry in his letter.

When ‘Gangnam style’, the K-Pop music hit of Psy, became the first official video to record 1 billion views on YouTube, it showed us a new drift. It showed how listening and viewing habits are changing in what will perhaps soon be called as the post Generation-Y era.

Who would have ever thought that one music video could be watched a billion times, the world over? This particular video’s views are actually 1,582,919,501, as I write this letter at 3 pm on 6 May 2013, and still counting.

So, quite clearly, Psy the singer, must get his due, for the interest he generated, and for the entertainment he gave. Personally, I dislike the video. But, I admit, creatively, he did a great job.  Just look at his fan following!

I see that I am not alone in my dislike, but 765,804 others pressed the ‘thumbs down’ on this Gangnam Style video. But, that’s beside the point.

The point is this. In this era where fame is often measured not by talent but by fan following, we must give the devil its due. After all, fame – whether one is getting it for being outrageous or not – has its own cost to the fame-attempter. And, it must be compensated. Creative work which people enjoy must be paid for, by the people.

As an erstwhile Radio DJ, I remember how I used to log in the names of the tracks and records I played in the radio station each day, so that the recording companies got paid their royalties; and thereby the original artists get their due.

But now, an mp3 audio file can be easily converted from a YouTube video. Now, access to music is almost instant, at the global launch of the music. Gone are the times when even Radio Stations had to wait for records or spools to arrive.

So, new technology is making ripping and copying music very easy. But new technology is also finding new ways to overcome the problem of piracy. So, I am not going to lament about what the music industry could be losing, or will lose.

Considering the fact that YouTube has introduced the Content ID system, which ensures that copyrights are not easily violated, the real owners of intellectual property could now safely depend on their rightful earnings.

According to an article called How record labels are learning to make money from YouTube, (The Guardian, 4 Jan 2013), Martin Mills, founder and chairman of the Beggars Group (home to artists such as Adele, Jack White and The xx), says that in 2012, 22% of the label group's digital revenues came from streaming.

The new truth is this - the majority of its artists earn more now from ‘track streams’ than ‘track downloads’, which I think is very fair.

From vinyl records to cassettes to CDs to mp3 files to streaming audio-visual content onto phones and computers, we have come a long way. And we did that within the lifetime of the likes of Chuck Berry, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

I strongly believe downloads will be a thing of the past soon. Rising broadband connections, with high speed data on fiber optic cables and 4G LTE, will ensure that we can avoid overloading hard-disks and phone-memory chips with content which we can always, easily, go back to.

And every time we listen to an artist, our streaming that content must let the copyright owner get his due.

I agree with many of HG's views in his letter, but I disagree that “The music industry may never again enjoy the soaring profits of half a generation ago”.

No. Profits will soar. But, they will soar in a different form. Technology will triumph. It will find ways in which piracy is beaten. It will make 'filling-up-of-memory-chips-with-content' redundant.  Then artists and record companies will get revenues from their tracks that get streamed on the Internet. The sheer volume of data-traffic tells us that it is going to be a whole new world, yet again.

New, private, paid-channels on services like YouTube will generate revenues tremendously. I can see music industry generating bigger and bigger profits. I can see it happen just around the corner. At that turn of the year 2015. Maybe, sooner.

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