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Music Like Water – the future of music distribution

People should pay for their music the way they pay for gas or electricity.

I originally published this article in Forbes Magazine nearly 4 years ago.

“More people are consuming music today than ever before, yet very few of them are paying for it. The music recording industry blames file sharing for a downturn in CD sales and, with the publishing companies, has tried its best to litigate this behavior out of existence, rather than try to monetize the conduct of music fans. These efforts are fingers in a dike that is about to burst. Digital media are interactive, and people want music that they can burn to CDs, share and use as they wish. The music industry should instead look at turning this consumer phenomenon into a steady stream of cash–lots of it.

The industry ought to establish a “music utility” approach to the distribution and marketing of interactive digital music, modeled after the water, gas and electricity utility systems. It should be done voluntarily to work best for all parties, or it may eventually be legislated through a compulsory license provision.

Under a plan colleague Gerd Leonhard and I propose, con-sumers would pay a flat music licensing fee of $3 to $5 a month as part of a subscription to an Internet service provider, cellular network, digital cable service wireless carrier or other digital network provider. This fee would let people download and listen to as much music as they care to, from a vast library of files available across the networks.

These fees would result in a huge river of money. With approximately 200 million people connected to a digital network in the U.S., the potential annual revenue stream for a music utility model could be somewhere between $7 billion and $12 billion for the basic service. That is already comparable in size to the existing U.S. recorded music market, which in 2003 was $12 billion at retail, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. This basic service would be augmented with various opportunities, including packages of premium content, live concerts, new releases, artist channels, custom compilations and more. The revenue potential of these premium sources is enormous, too.

How would this money be divvied up? We propose that the industry voluntarily establish a “music utility license” for the interactive use of digital music. This license would compensate all rights holders, including the record labels and artists (for the master recording) as well as publishers and composers (for the underlying composition), with the license fee to be split in half between the owners of the sound recording and the owners of the composition, after deducting a percentage for the digital network providers. This license would be available to anyone willing to implement its terms. The digital network companies would be required to track and report which music had been used, by employing existing digital identification and tracking technologies.

There is already precedence for such a flat-fee system in cable television and in the utility-like models of public broadcasting in Europe. Streaming digital music is already provided in basic cable plans. Cable television itself at first resisted this model, but its economics eventually led to a larger market, providing more consumer choice and more revenue streams overall. Old media almost never die. Cable television did not replace broadcast television; instead, it expanded the market dramatically, by letting video flow like water into new revenue streams–instead of down the drain.

Certainly a music utility would be a radical and complex undertaking, and there are many important details to negotiate, such as the exact nature of the license, how the funds would be administered, the specific tracking method, what collection of technologies would be employed and others. Yet there are inventors and technologists outside the mainstream music business hard at work trying to figure out how to make this happen. It’s time for the main players in the music business today, namely the large record publishers, to cooperate with the inventors and jointly create a future for music where the money really flows and the global market for music can grow from $32 billion to as much as $100 billion.”

Read the original article from Forbes here, published in 2005.

Today this idea is closer to reality than you might think.  The major labels have seen their revenues cut nearly in half from their peak, and paid digital downloads and advertising models have not grown to contribute nearly the decline in CD sales.  The labels are in a very tough position and are looking at the utility model as perhaps their only remaining path to survival.  The pain has finally gotten too much to bear.

Choruss is a new company spearheaded by Jim Griffin, and incubated by Warner Music Group whose mission is to “build a sustainable music subscription platform providing unlimited access to music for a flat monthly fee”.  Choruss has been diligently acquiring the required licenses from all the “major labels”, independent labels including aggregators A2IM and Merlin and the National Music Publishers Association.  The company has been granted one-year licenses for up to seven universities to offer subscription services for unlimited, DRM-free downloads as a proof of concept.  This trial is set to begin in 2010.

Stay tuned for more info…

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Comments

9 replies
  1. Reggie says:

    You see, the issue with this concept is that no one owns water, electricity, or telephone lines. These are services rendered for money paid. The CREATION of music is NOT a service. It would take one expensive monthly payment to pay everyone involved in the production process adequately. A payment too few are willing to provide. The solution is in the delivery.

  2. J Doe says:

    The problem is we have to trust the networks and this established company to distribute the money fairly and anyone with nay sense knows that wont happen.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] looks like talk at Midem was about blanket licensing? This whole Utopian thought of music like water just doesn’t sit well with me. 1st of all with all the different organizations wanting a […]

  2. […] since I first read Music Like Water by Gerd Leonhard and David Kusek back in 2004 I’ve been keeping a keen eye on developments of […]

  3. […] responses of  whats right and wrong with it. I came across this blog by David Kusek http://www.futureofmusicbook.com/2009/11/music-like-water-forbes-article/, who proposes a “music utility” approach to the marketing and distribution of […]

  4. […] A glimpse into the future I recently discovered the work of a writer, musician, and professor at the Berklee College of Music named David Kusek. He has an interesting article about what music distribution might look like in the not so distant future. This creative article is a must read for anyone in the music industry as well as die hard music fans. Music like water is closer than you think! Check out the article @ http://www.futureofmusicbook.com […]

  5. […] } Sul sito the future of music book un articolo che parla chiaro: La gente dovrebbe pagare per la musica nello stesso modo in cui paga […]

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