Why Dwell on the Napster Past, Contemplate the Future of Music

Last week, ReadWriteWeb brought back Napster.  Rather, it summed up the state of the music industry with the original Napster as the focal point. At least, that was my interpretation.  I don’t need to pour salt on those old Napster wounds.  Many of us remember the moment fans felt betrayed by Lars, but a felt as if people continue to dwell too much on the past instead of figuring out how to press forward.

I have written several posts about the problems with the music industry.  As a musician, I have thought a lot about how musicians can make a living. Compensation is the main issue of this entire music business mess. I completely understand why musicians are irritated by file sharing, torrenting, music trading, and just plain ripping off the musician.  Copyright law was created to protect authorship and allow creators to profit from their creations.

As much as we all love the Net, it unfortunately destroyed the fundamentals of copyright and took away control of authorship.  In particular, P2P file sharing sites shifted control from the author to the consumer making it more difficult for authors to control how we are all compensated.

What if we had no format?

Just for a moment, let’s go back in time.  Let’s pretend that CDs, MP3s, Vinyl, and all other musical formats didn’t exist. What would musicians do to make money?  How did musicians make it in the “old” days?  It wasn’t from music sales because there was no format or distribution channel.  Performing was the only marketing vehicle available for musicians. There was no recording host toolkit to take advantage of.

Instead, musicians had to make a living traveling and performing.  It was the typical life of a musician.  It was either traveling, or working the local musical circuit.  In many cases, most musicians do the same thing today by gigging.  Musicians are recruited to perform at special events like weddings, parties, and other local events.

Bottom line, musicians have other options available to make money.  These other options may not be glamorous, but they do exist.

A Shift In Musical Living

What would happen if musicians stopped focusing on controlling recordings and instead focused more on the performance?  What would happen if musicians used the sound recording as a marketing vehicle instead of a form of compensation?

I throw these questions out because musicians can either continue to bitch and complain about the new reality, or we can start thinking about how to take advantage of what has transformed in the marketplace.  The internet has changed from a tool to find information to a hub of mass and micro communication.

Performance is the ONLY activity/marketing vehicle musicians can control today.  SO… can we move on from Napster?  Can we press forward and begin thinking outside of the typical music box?  If music labels are a thing of the past, then what is the future?  I would guess that musicians will be in charge of their own brand instead of a label. There are thousands of tools that are now available for musicians to utilize.  There are so many, this post won’t give them justice.

If fans want to share my music with friends and family, then why not let them.  Allowing fans to market/advertise for me just made my life a little easier.  After all, a musician is nothing without fans.  Fans can help bring new fans.  Instead of fighting fans, let’s empower them to advocate on your behalf.

Dave Kusek recapped a great essay by Kevin Kelly about adding value to content: When Copies are Free – Add What Can’t Be Copied.

There is definitely more to come about this, but in the meantime let me know what you think.

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