Apr 272008
Authors: Ian Bezek

American record labels seem to think we’re still living in the 1970s. Instead of modernizing with our new technology, they have remained fixed in their stale old business plan.

Despite revolutionary new developments in music such as the Internet and iPods; record labels insist on selling music by the album, gouging a listener for $15 to buy a CD with only two or three good songs.

The labels have a long history of treating their customers poorly. After the switch from vinyl to compact discs, the labels jacked up the price of music despite the fact that CDs were far cheaper to manufacture.

The music industry has shown even poorer judgment recently, though. Their decision to sue users of Napster and its descendants was entirely misguided. Their protection schemes on music that is legitimately purchased from places like iTunes also make no sense.

In an age when music is widely available, the traditional model for a record label doesn’t work. Record labels traditionally would bribe radio stations to play their new songs and then promote their albums on the basis of those radio hits.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t rely on the radio to find new music anymore. Much of today’s good music is found far beyond the narrow walls of traditional commercial radio, yet record labels attack the other outlets of finding new music.

For example, when Linkin Park came out with a new single last year, their record label, Warner Music, repeatedly forced YouTube to take down the music video for it. Warner should have considered themselves blessed that people were eager to watch their band perform, instead they limited the spread of a new song and angered fans.

The future of music is not going to be found in selling CDs that cost a dime each to produce at exorbitant prices.

The record labels can try to stop this if they want — Sony attached a virus to many of their CDs last year that infected their customer’s computers, including mine. Despite becoming angry with them, I was not deterred from making digital copies of my music to various portable devices I own.

Music is all about the experience, and if the popularity of bands on MySpace shows anything, music is as popular as it has ever been. The record labels need to promote the experience, via tours and merchandise, rather than the sale of CDs we don’t want.

Just last week, I paid $35 to see some bands I like down in Denver, and purchased an overpriced band shirt as well. I was willing to do this because I went for the experience of seeing the bands.

It is very easy to get music for free or almost free off the Internet or from sharing discs with a friend. On the other hand, it is impossible to download the experience of seeing a live concert.

Record labels should be selling music very cheaply, or even giving it away, to promote their artists. As Chris Anderson describes in his book “The Long Tail,” Reprise Records, for instance, allowed songs from an upcoming My Chemical Romance album to be freely leaked around the Internet.

Much to their surprise, a song that they had low expectations for became highly popular across the illegal download sites. Reprise trusted the fans and promoted that song, “Helena,” which became a smash hit propelling the band to super stardom. Since then My Chemical Romance has generated vast income from its concerts.

CD sales have fallen off a cliff. It’s time for the music industry to boldly break with the past, stop angering it’s customers, and promote the experience of music – which unlike albums – cannot be pirated.

Ian Bezek is a sophomore economics major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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