Opinion Take: Are Labels Really that Stupid?

I’m finally tired of it all, but I’m going to write another piece on it, because it’s still relevant to the current music business landscape.

Even at IPR there are those who believe that digital distribution is evil and those who don’t.

Those who believe it’s a good thing like the leveling of the playing field for new artists. You want true quality competition?  There is little to argue that internet distribution will weed out the inferior and promote that which is truly good. That’s not to say that some of the good will slip through the cracks, and some of the inferior will have better marketing chops. This was definitely the case with major label marketing and distribution in days past. Those who champion the new way of distribution enjoy the fact that no longer will a small group of record company execs get to decide what will and won’t be popular. Now, it’s up to the people to decide.

Christian Blog Photo

Those who believe that digital distribution is evil are the ones who stand to gain the most from the old business model. I think most of us would agree that stealing is stealing no matter how we factor it, and most of us would also agree that we want our favorite artists to keep making a living from selling their brand. Nobody thinks stealing is okay, and music fans want those who are truly good to keep creating new content. Without content it’s pointless to go to shows. And, who doesn’t love live music, right?

Some believe that labels (and some artists) have held on to old ways of making dough intentionally, despite the fact that the writing has been on the wall for a very long time. Many labels, and some artists, have taken file sharers to court in the interest of recouping lost revenues. This has generally been accepted as a stupid move. Instead of trying to embrace the technologies associated with this type of distribution, the old guard has decided to hang on to what they know.

Bob Lefsetz, one of my favorites, claims that record labels only always cared about self-preservation, short term. If record company executives have really failed to see a big picture for the future, then they’re stupid. However, if they’d looked at all the data and decided indicting file sharers really was the most financially feasible way to move forward then they acted on the best available data they had at the time.  However, I think the truth probably sits somewhere in the middle.

What if we give labels the benefit of the doubt here? What if they really didn’t know that all their legal pushing would lead to a badly damaged music industry as a whole?

It doesn’t really matter now. Yeah, labels should’ve embraced a new business model and not legally chased the fans (a.k.a. file sharers). And, arguably, they may not have seen it as a choice. If you don’t call stealing what it is, then you’ve simply given everyone a pass in future iterations of this same battle. For the sake of absurdity, let’s just say somebody invents a way to digitally distribute physical goods (star trek style). Would it then be okay for people to create digital copies of whatever physical good they choose and give it to their friends? No would be the appropriate answer here, despite the fact that a standard of living, the world over, would improve overnight. So what, we’d still need to live by an ethical code. But I digress…

My contention is that, despite the intentions of labels and artists, “legally doing nothing” would’ve been an inappropriate response. But I don’t believe labels went down this road intentionally.

Does anybody really think record labels did this on purpose to destroy any hope for their future sustenance?  I look forward to hearing what you think.

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