By now, you’ve probably heard the comments from Mr. Young — the occasionally affable and always Canadian singer-songwriter — about how “piracy is the new radio.” His remarks came during AllThingsD’s Dive Into Media Conference on January 31, and have been bouncing around the interwebs at incredible velocity ever since.
Let’s peel back the layers of this potentially controversial onion and see what we really have here.
First, a little background. The eyebrow-raising comments were made in response to Peter Kafka’s question about how unauthorized distribution personally affects Young’s work. Young described what he sees as the new normal: a world in which the internet has taken over. As such, he doesn’t think piracy is really affecting him at all (or more accurately, it is affecting him in the same way that radio affected him).
It’s a pretty good bet that recognizing how the marketplace has changed is a prerequisite to figuring out how to better align the delivery of digital content with consumer expectations. Enforcement of rights is but one prong of this complex digital fork, and one that Young appears to have essentially conceded in the online envrionment. But we wonder: radio does generate revenue for songwriters and publishers (and digital radio also includes royalties for performing artists and labels). Yet at one time, over-the-air broadcasting was a disruptive, “infringing” technology. Then everybody took a deep breath and figured out how to license it. Is there a lesson here?
But we digress.
Young cited Apple’s latest music initiative, iCloud, and its capacity to store “unoficially obtained” content as a service that is acceptable. Why? Well, because it exists. For Young, it’s not a question about whether it should be acceptable, but about recognizing that it simply already is.
We’ll leave it up to others to debate whether the reality that Young describes is necessarily a good or bad thing. At FMC, we think it is critically important to acknowledge this is the world that musicians face today, and the one they must work within. Last we checked, all of the time machines available for us to get back to an era when the marketplace was different are indefinitely out of operation. There’s also toothpaste everywhere, and no tubes to be found. We have to deal with the new reality, while looking for ways to encourage artist compensation within it.
Of course, the roads to get there are non-obvious. Still, while we understand what Mr. Young is getting at, we think there are avenues left unexplored that could help more creators get paid when their music is used online.
Thankfully, we have already seen many artists explore some of the interesting possibilities that help bridge the gap while the industry continues its digital transition. Exclusive fan experiences and merchandising bundles are creative ways that can complement straight-up digital downloads or on-demand streaming. Young has his ideas about how to make music worth buying: he wants to bring greater audio fidelity to the masses, replacing low bit rate MP3s with uncompressed, qualitatively pure audio files, presumably at premium prices. Every bit helps, and we want to know about every bit — hence our Artist Revenue Streams research.
Of course, any long-term solution must go beyond selling extra t-shirts. Figuring out new ways to bring licensed music to the ever-evolving online world should not only spur exciting new ways to consume content, but also new compensation possibilities. An entire generation is coming of age in a world without record stores and radio as we know it, so it would be best if there is an abundance of legal, licensed opportunities for them to consume music online. Even the ones who used “piracy as the new radio” to discover it.
FMC has always supported compensating creators regardless of the medium in which their work is distributed, including physical discs, digital downloads, online streaming, terrestrial airplay (check out our support for the Public Performance Right) and more. And if you’re into vinyl (as Young says the late Steve Jobs was), that’s cool, too.