The Album Isn’t Dead

A collection of old cassettes

Peter Kirn on Create Digital Music responds to a Tech Crunch post about how Billy Bragg thinks Bebo should pay out some of its $850 million sale price to musicians who posted music on its site:

From Tech Crunch:

His argument is based on the notion that Bebo’s success was based on the availability of streaming music on the site: “The musicians who posted their work on are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise…Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend.”

Kind of like how CDDB started as a collective project but then changed their model to profit off the efforts of contributors?

The original software behind CDDB was released under the GNU General Public License, and many people submitted CD information thinking the service would also remain free. The project was eventually incorporated as CDDB LCC in 1998 and soon sold by Kan, Scherf, and Toal to a high tech consumer electronics manufacturer called Escient. In 2000, CDDB Inc. was renamed Gracenote. Despite early announcements that access to the CDDB service would “remain 100% free to software developers and consumers”, the license was changed, however, and some programmers complained that the new license included certain terms that they couldn’t accept: if one wanted to access CDDB, one was not allowed to access any other CDDB-like database (such as freedb), and any programs using a CDDB lookup had to display a CDDB logo while performing the lookup.

Yeah, I suppose I could see how he could get upset. Not having participated or read Bebo’s terms I can’t really comment on how badly he actually got screwed over versus how much he actually was screwed over.

But also from Tech Crunch:

Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist. Websites that bring that music to listeners are doing artists a favor. In fact, they’re doing them a favor that they should (and will) be paid for. Young artists and songwriters in particular benefit from these services – Until a few years ago they had almost no way to break into the mainstream without getting a label to promote them. Now those walls are being torn down, and Bragg has the audacity to complain about it.

The claim seems to be that recorded music can’t stand on it’s own and serves only to promote a live show.I share Kirn’s opinion on this:

Almost all of the conventional blog wisdom about the music business in the Web world seems wrong to me. Recorded music seems to have more value when you have access to the music you want, and when you can build relationships (and literally talk to) the artists you love. And labels become more important when there’s more to navigate — not big, dumb labels with lots of cash, but focused, intelligent labels that can better build relationships with artists and listeners.

Despite the claims that labels are going to go away real soon, I think we’ve got to take a step back from the successes of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. When you think about it, there’s nothing really that remarkable about their records. Ghosts probably ranks near the bottom of the NiN album charts for me – but what made it a success was not the music (it’s a 3-Star iTunes album), it was the distribution.

It’s like this Elliot Spitzer thing; this girl has been all over the news, but she looks like most attractive young women in their early 20s. The fact that she was involved with Spitzer is what gave her those 15 minutes.

And, in the same way, you simply can’t ignore that Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails would not be where they are today without those evil, vampiric labels.

Maybe I’m sentimental, but I don’t believe the album is dead. Plus, the idea of indie musicians doing everything by themselves makes me wonder if they aren’t setting themselves up for failure. They will not be as strong by themselves than if they were propped up by a team of like-minded, fair, ethical music lovers – like what a label should be.