Mar 072004
 
Authors: Christopher Ortiz

Checks in the mail addressed to me are far and few in between –

thanks Mom – so I was surprised when I received a check for $13.76.

The check was for a settlement I participated in last year.

In 1995, the five major record companies and three of the

largest retail music stores were sued by 43 states for their

involvement of tempting to fix the price of CD’s. Capitol Records,

Sony Music, BMG Music, Universal Music and Warner were found guilty

of artificially inflating the prices of CD’s by aiding and abetting

with major music outlets Musicland Stores, Trans World

Entertainment and Tower Records, a violation of state and federal

antitrust laws.

The Federal Trade Commission estimated the damage to consumers

was $480 million.

As I sat in my chair eyeing my $13 and change, I pondered what

on earth I was going to do with my share of the settlement.

According to musiccdsettlement.com, the defendants’ (the music

companies) combined cash payments total $67,375,000. In addition,

distributor defendants (the music retail stores) will provide

$75,700,000 worth of prerecorded music compact discs.

During the time when the prices of CD’s were fixed, the average

price of a CD was over $17. This summer the Big 5 announced plans

to reduce the cost of CD’s to combat Internet piracy. The goal was

to have newly released CD’s priced closer to $13-15, rather than a

sky high $18.

So I guess I can almost buy a new CD but why should I? Why

should I purchase something that I can get for free via the

Internet?

While I waited for The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called

Love” to download, I contemplated if the music scene has changed

with cheaper music and legal music downloads brought by the new

Napster and Apple’s iTunes – and if it has changed, how, and who is

benefiting?

Last week, the Grammy-winning Norah Jones’ sophomore album,

“Feels like home,” debuted on the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Not

only did it top that chart, it sold more than a million copies that

week. Jones is the first artist to accomplish that mark since

‘Nsync’s 2002 “Celebrity.”

Hold the phone.

Who is Norah Jones to sell a million records in her debut week?

And who is buying records now? Is it the same preteens that shelled

out money for a boy band? I hardly doubt it.

Jones’s mass success with her album is hopefully a sign of

change for recording artists. Despite very little prerelease sales

campaign and publicity, Jones has proven people are willing to dish

real money for real music. Other pop groups should follow suit in

Jones’s revolution – make more than just one or two radio-friendly

(and enjoyable) tracks on your album if you want people to purchase

your album.

Britney Spears’ record label, Jive, headed a

multi-million-dollar publicity extravaganza for the pop queen’s new

effort, “In the Zone.” Though “Zone” debuted on top, it sold half

of what Jones did. See were I am going with this?

Despite a very controversial kiss with the former queen of pop,

Madonna, and her racy videos (can someone please explain “Toxic” to

me), Spears is experiencing the inevitable downward spiral that all

pop groups who only try to make music for the moment, and attempt

to make albums with only enough tracks to make the radio waves and

music videos for experience.

iTunes has seen 30 million downloads since its conception and

record companies have seen a modest rise in CD sales. There seems

to be a reemergence of harmony occurring again between music makers

and music buyers.

The fight over Internet swapping (or piracy if you are a music

executive) was never really over stealing music. It was really

retaliation from music buyers who were tired of buying an album

with filler tracks and music buyers who were mad that they were

duped in buying CD’s at fix prices.

Is the battle over? Will people stop downloading music without

buying it? Probably, but something has come out of all of this.

Consumers walked away with a lot more than before, starting with

that $140 million plus settlement and cheaper CD’s. But the real

reward is the power we gained. The music game changed to benefit

us, not them. We didn’t buckle or give in – they did. That is a

tune worth listening to.

On my drive to work on this column I listened to the very best

of Sheryl Crow (not the mediocre best – the very best) and I’m

happy to say that I purchased my new album with the money from that

check.

I will probably continue to download a song here and there, but

it will not be unlikely that you might find me cruising the aisles

of a music store.

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