Does This Make Me A "Citizen Journalist"?

Apparently The Washington Post has been reading me. Or they have some other way of getting information about the world of music and technology, though I can't fathom what that might be. However they worked their magic, the Post has discovered imeem, my favorite blog topic (apparently). Their piece on imeem in today's paper, Breaking the Law To Get a Break, provides some interesting insight into the company's past:

Imeem lets its members upload and swap songs, music videos and photos and is the first start-up to get all four major labels to sign off on an ad-supported model for distributing digital music.

The site got the attention of users -- and music labels -- by first allowing the unauthorized exchange of music on its site. Like Napster and Kazaa before it, Imeem gained popularity by using music to promote its technology -- even before getting the necessary licenses from record labels. The lesson of Imeem, however, points out a dilemma in the entrepreneurial world: Is breaking the law the secret to success in the digital music industry?
I attended a very interesting panel at SXSW last week about the same topic; as soon as they post the podcast of the discussion, I'll link to it here. One of the panel members was Jason Schwartz, founder of the "don't call it a record label" record label Robber Baron Music. Jason spoke passionately and intelligently about how to help musicians embrace the reality of digital music piracy and work within the black market economy of bittorrent and p2p networks to help emerging music artists cultivate a fanbase. It was a great discussion, and I got to bust on the guy from MediaDefender about their shady business practices, as revealed in their leaked emails last fall. Good times.

What do you think? Is piracy necessary to survive in the world of online music? Are we approaching the day where people will no longer pay for CDs or iTunes downloads? Is giving away your product really "the future of business"? As iTunes ponders a subscription-based service and CD sales continue to fall, what is the future of digital music?

UPDATE: Michael Arrington has an interesting piece today over at TechCrunch taking Billy Bragg to task for his demand that some of the ridiculous sum AOL paid for Bebo.com go to the artists who uploaded their music there. That post links to a really interesting TC post about the future of online music. Arrington subscribes to the "music will be free so get over it and start preparing for the future because it's already here" model.


John A said...

Complex issue that too many people see as black and white.

I don't suspect we'll get to a point where music will be free, but I think we may approach a point where music is cheap enough that there's no point in pirating it. But I've got nothing to back that up.

The Wired article you reference is a real interesting read. My favorite bit:

On a busy corner in São Paulo, Brazil, street vendors pitch the latest "tecnobrega" CDs, including one by a hot band called Banda Calypso. Like CDs from most street vendors, these did not come from a record label. But neither are they illicit. They came directly from the band. Calypso distributes masters of its CDs and CD liner art to street vendor networks in towns it plans to tour, with full agreement that the vendors will copy the CDs, sell them, and keep all the money. That's OK, because selling discs isn't Calypso's main source of income. The band is really in the performance business — and business is good. Traveling from town to town this way, preceded by a wave of supercheap CDs, Calypso has filled its shows and paid for a private jet.

The vendors generate literal street cred in each town Calypso visits, and its omnipresence in the urban soundscape means that it gets huge crowds to its rave/dj/concert events. Free music is just publicity for a far more lucrative tour business. Nobody thinks of this as piracy.

Jordan Hirsch said...

I love that model you quoted about Brazilian artists using the black market to build an audience. That's fascinating. I'm sad for artists that are losing legitimate income from album sales, but by the same token it's not like the record labels were ever giving artists their fair share, either.