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Blog // Creativity
February 27, 2012

Is This What Innovation Smells Like?

At last year’s MusicMatters conference I heard Ralph Simon make the claim that today, instead of A&R (Artists and Repertoire), we need “I&R” (Innovation and Repetoire). Yeah, I don’t know what that means either. How The Majors Innovate In fact, I’m not sure I want the big end of the music business messing around with […]

At last year’s MusicMatters conference I heard Ralph Simon make the claim that today, instead of A&R (Artists and Repertoire), we need “I&R” (Innovation and Repetoire).

Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.

How The Majors Innovate

In fact, I’m not sure I want the big end of the music business messing around with innovation. Let me give you an example.

Much to my surprise, Van Halen’s new album is rather good. I loved this band when I was younger and Eddie Van Halen was a huge influence on my guitar playing. Their new album brings back the original frontman, the ever-flamboyant David Lee Roth, who sings with bluesy conviction on a collection of heavy, grinding tracks that recall their fourth album, Fair Warning (a personal and fan favourite).

I found the music video for the album’s first single, Tattoo on YouTube and wanted to share it with the family, via our Apple TV. So, on my MacBook Pro, I added the clip to my YouTube favourites list and then looked for it on the Apple TV. But, it was a no-go. Apparently songs featured on the VEVO channel of YouTube are blocked from appearing on Apple TV, either in a favourites list or via the search function.

Is that what major label “innovation” looks like – making it harder for a fan to share their love of an artist’s work with other potential fans?

What Innovation Really Looks Like

By contrast, Apple’s iTunes Match offering is a more compelling form of innovation. For a nominal amount you can store and easy send your whole music library to any of your iTunes enabled devices. This, in effect, legitimises those music files that you may, or may not have paid for. It creates a revenue stream for artists whose work had been copied and solves consumer needs for storage and easily moving their library between devices.

That’s innovation! And, not surprisingly, it comes from a tech company, not a music company.

And, let’s remember, that is precisely what the major labels and music associations did not want us to be able to do. They didn’t want us to be able to convert formats, to digitise our analog libraries for ourselves, to create copies of songs for different devices or to legitimise and digitally recombine the songs we had. They wanted DRM!

Of course, Steve Jobs called for the end of Music DRM back in 2007 and faced a backlash of the big end of the music business. But, DRM was dismantled and now iTunes Match is solving the music listening needs of many consumers.

Responses
Jeff Shattuck 9 years ago

Great post, but I struggle with DRM. Sure, if I buy a song I want to be able to copy it to whatever device I prefer. On the other hand, I get that I have not bought the right to do so.

Was it an innovation to allow me to rip a song from a CD? Yes. Has this innovation devastated the ability of musicians to make money from their recorded music? Yes.

Tough one. I understand that getting heard really, really matters and I like that there are few, if any, barriers to getting heard today, save for the difficulty of standing out, but is it really a good idea to let music be so easily stolen? I don’t think so.

Here’s how I think about it: music is code, just like the code in Adobe’s Photoshop or Intel’s chips or Coke’s drink, and while everybody is saying music should be free no one is suggesting that Intel, Adobe or Coke should just give away their IP. And what of books? Why have books escaped the plight of music? I don’t know, but maybe it just feels more like stealing to steal a book, maybe people think a great book is harder to write than a great song so it should be protected, I don’t know.

Bottom line: I do not buy that DRM should have been blown up. It was in Apple’s favor to support it in the beginning to get iTunes launched and then fight it to sell more devices. The death of DRM was not the result of innovation but rather the growth of Apple’s power.

Whew, just wrote a lot and I’m tired, but I will think about this more…

    Fernando Gros 9 years ago

    Jeff – my position has always been somewhere in between the two extremes and always closer to protecting full copyright.

    Your software example is a good one- I’ve always been staunchly opposed to pirated software. Paying for software has always been right with me and paying for upgrades and even cross-grades, makes sense. But the idea of paying a license per machine I own and exclusively use felt unreasonable.

    When CDs came along, it was like an upgrade. OK, on one level it wasn’t, but on another level it was. But, MP3 wasn’t an upgrade.

    And, of course, music is now software.

    I believe the industry got greedy after the commercial success of CD and totally failed to anticipate what the softwarisation of music would mean for consumer behaviour. Eventually music fans would want a model that easily let them play music on any device they own and would resist models that asked for repeat payments for the same music. iTunes Match is not perfect, but it’s the best model we have for that, as long as the devices are Apple-compliant of course!

    DRM had to die to make that possible not because DRM was wrong in principle, but because it was totally wrong in practice.

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