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Todd Rundgren: Time for the Music Industry to Evolve

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EG3 - Monterey 2008

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Youma Avatar
Posted: 09.01.10, 03:29 PM
Couldn't possibly agree more.
markh2010 Avatar
Posted: 03.05.10, 08:13 AM
Todd forgot to mention sheet music as a product. Scott Joplin sold over a million copies of "Maple Leaf Rag" before recorded music began. He also made a piano roll which was another popular form of recording. On a separate not, further back in ancient history Australian Aboriginal songsters held a form of copyright over music they composed for their tribe. I do think that the major record companies have caused their own downfall by being greedy and forcing poor quality content at high prices. Over time I remember liking every song on albums I bought and then it maybe a few, and then only one. They are stupid by because they did not nurture or support their main resource - the artist - to produce brilliant work. It takes time to create great music and no amount of technical wizardry can turn a lemon into gold.
Dr. T Avatar
Dr. T
Posted: 08.12.09, 06:41 AM
Let me start by saying that I think Todd is brilliant and I am a big fan. I think that Todd is right with his analysis about what is wrong with the "music industry", the lack of vision displayed by the industry leaders, the stupidity of going after your customers, and how changing technology has brought about the profound changes in how music is and will be delivered (the internet and the digital age.) But I don't think he has it exactly right with his analysis of how music evolved from a service(before records could be produced and sold)to a product industry, and now back to a service. I won't pass judgment on the quality of today's music with this post, except to say--some is great, some stinks, and some in between (or to echo Ray Charles--there are two kinds of music in this world, good music and bad music). I agree with the first part--the important insight that music evolved from a service to a product industry, which explains how some of the most popular stars of the day (Madonna, Beatles, Michael Jackson, etc.) were able to become rich, unlike the giants of prior ages (how much money did Mozart or Bach make?). But I don't think the second part--the industry evolving back into a service industry--is exactly correct. Seems to me that in the early days, as Todd points out, music was a service in the sense that musicians delivered it directly to the customers, at least until the radio and then, as Todd points out, the introduction of the phonographic record. Then, as Todd points out, it became a product industry, with music delivered in a form that allowed ownership or control of the "property rights" to the music--and allowing some (creators or controllers) to earn revenues and sometimes become very rich. But in the evolving present (and future) age, I think it is more useful to think of music as "digital product" with characteristics of a public good (economists definition, Microeconomic theory). Basically, I am referring to the distinction economists are fond of making between "public goods" and "private goods". Public goods, by definition, have unique characteristics--they are not depleted when they are consumed, and it is difficult or impossible (or at least extremely costly) to exclude individuals from using (consuming, enjoying, benefiting from) once provided. Because of these two characteristics (non depletable, non-excludable, consumption by one does not preclude consumption by another (unlike that cheeseburger), and the marginal (or extra cost) of providing "an extra unit" is essentially 0. So what is being delivered today is a digital product with strong "public good" characteristics. I think that this distinction is more useful when trying to understand the problems of the evolving music industry. Private markets for public goods do not work very well--companies are reluctant to produce a good with these characteristics unless they find ways to "profit", which is inherently difficult. So they try to scare their customers (law suits) into not taking advantage of the age of free music, try to suppress free music (close down Napstar), or co-opt the government with tax proposals to extract revenues from internet users. TV had similar problems--after all, open air programming (wireless) is a good example of a public good, but managed to survive and thrive with a combination of 1)advertising revenues, 2)public support for some stations (NPR), and finding ways to control access (evolving from wireless to wired Cable, which at the time was acceptable to customers because of the greater variety of programming offered and quality of signal). Stopping "free music" in the digital age is just about hopeless, given the variety of ways that the customers can find and share music--hundreds of songs on a single DVD or CDR (mp3s or other compressed formats), file sharing. Attempts to do so--strict control over the internet, no music allowed, no blank CDRs, could become a "cat and mouse" game, or require very heavy handed "authoritarian" measures that is counterproductive and undermines values of a (reasonably) free society. Imagine being pulled over by a cop and arrested for "possessing" a CDR (or MP3 player) with unlicensed music on it. Sound ridiculous---perhaps--about as ridiculous as being pulled over and arrested for possession of a plant would have sounded to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln. My conclusion is that the best strategy is to learn to live with the age of free music. Perhaps the day of the billionaire rock star is over. However, some customers will continue to desire the physical objects (commodities) for things they value--collections, official CDs, etc.,; some want to see live performances, and advertising (though annoying) revenues. As with TV and radio (and internet) advertising provides another source of revenues. And some additional support-- through internet access fees (or even taxes)-- sounds more promising than the other ideas sometimes put forth. But I think that we should all have a healthy distrust of government meddling with art and music, given the co-opting of government officials by company officials that appears to be commonplace. Todd, keep it up--love the music. (As a Rhapsody subsciber, I had mostly stopped buying CDs, but when Arena didn't show up on Rhapsody initially, I ordered it. By the time it arrived I was already listening to it on Rhapsody, so I gave it to my youngest son, who had been playing Johnny Jingo over and over again in his room. On our last car trip to the Cape (with my grown kids visiting), I played them "Back to the Bars" and my own mix of Todd favs. Loved the show at the Paradise Boston (approximately '82) and was sorry I didn't get to AWATS. Keep it up. Dr. T (, home for the "Art Punk Band" and the album "Zeno and the Happy Cats" (and others) on the free Creative Commons music site (Google in quotes, comes right up, if interested). Cheers, Ted
Eris Avatar
Posted: 08.04.09, 02:38 PM
His central argument is spot on - music is a service. Commodifying art cheapens it. With artists getting fewer record sales, the money is now in performance and participation. That should separate the wheat from the chaff
Fentro Avatar
Posted: 02.16.09, 09:25 AM
While I didn't agree with everything he said (like being unable to listen to more than one piece of music at a time - I mean, you can, but who'd want to?), Todd's comments are on target, and I agree with jbapowell that he could've given more details to a new model. The music industry's biggest problem is that it's no longer really a music industry. MTV has turned it into a media industry, where cute dancing karaoke "singer's" are considered music 'stars.' Let's face it - Brittany Spears does not deserve a grammy for her 'music'. Perhaps it's the music education system's failure, although I blame it on the greed inherent in all business. Greed is turning our culture into rubbish. It certainly turned the music industry into shit. The idea as music as a service is interesting, and while it could work, I suspect it will continue to be segmented into pop promotional performance versus freakish phenoms of musical mastery, because until the greed gets siphoned out, the lowest common denominator will win - and that's the cute dancing lip-syncing media mavens.
jbapowell Avatar
Posted: 02.02.09, 02:25 AM
I like the message of music as a service rather than a product, but there's no development of his proposed solution. How can he toss up the idea of a subscription model or a comparison to cable service without addressing licensing, downloading, sharing, pricing, etc...? Wish he had spoke more on this.
bapyou Avatar
Posted: 01.10.09, 09:56 AM
Hmmm. From the side Todd looks ... umm ... well fed.

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