Musing about music and content and walled gardens

Recently I was reading an article in First Monday headlined Rearchitecting the Music Business: Mitigating music piracy by cutting out the record companies.

I haven’t had the time to read the article in its entirety, nor for that matter have I really done the whole issue the justice it deserves. But something stood out in what the author was saying, something that gave me that a-ha moment I always look for.

And that something was this paragraph, right at the end of the summary:

A key assumption in this presentation is that the costs associated with the current model of oligopolistic intermediation — as well as the artist lock–in that is its consequence — is at the root of the crisis in music distribution. The problem cannot be fixed without a major effort to break the grip of the music distributors over the system. If that rings a death knell for the music companies, so be it. Musicians and listeners, the core creators of value in the music business would gain enormously and a measure of economic justice would be attained. Using powerful Web tools has successfully disintermediated airplane ticket sales and may well do the same in residential real–estate sales and in both venues buyers and sellers can and will save considerable money and develop much more powerful ways to develop information links between those parties. End of article

You must have heard that vile phrase by now: “Content is king”. I’d never quite assimilated the causal connection between “oligopolistic intermediation models” and “the artist lock-in” adequately before, and as a result I feel I can understand more about why people say things like “Content is king”.

Maybe the phrase needs reworking a la In the Kingdom of the Blind The One-Eyed Man is King…..

5 thoughts on “Musing about music and content and walled gardens”

  1. Dear JP.

    In economics, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: “cutting out the middleman”.

    The music industry has been affected by the technology every part of the channel by the disintermediation effect. Today you can produce a reasonable quality record with domestic tools. Once you have the music or content (like an audio book) you can go, instead through traditional distribution channels, through the Internet.

    The crisis of the music industry can be read as resistance for reshape traditional channels (and I would say even traditional artist) that were used to receive their royalties sitting home.

    The only link that has not penetrated Internet completely is marketing; e.g. the radio stations. Today most of the music get popularized still by the radio stations although there has been some Internet hits along the past two years.

    Disintermediation is responsible for the freedom of the artist from these past oligopolistic market. The down side effect of it is that even though the artist may gain the same as in the past at the beginning of the career, there will not be no more millionaires as they get nothing for the file sharing malpractices.

    Mario Ruiz

  2. Content will always be king, the question is surely how you define that content and crucially who controls it. Is it the music per se or is it increasingly the music in a live setting (where there is much less of a middleman) that is the valued content?

  3. It goes back to the economics of abundance versus scarcity issue, John. Live performances are scarce and can command a premium. Digital time shifted place shifted performances are two a penny.

    So far I have never heard anyone refer to a live performance as content…for this relief much thanks

  4. I too loathe the content label (both as a consumer and also as someone who has worked in those industries) – but it is the common parlance in the content vs distribution debate. And yes it is a scarcity issue but ultimately a performance only occurs because of a demand for the “content” which used to command a premium but now does not.

  5. I feel close enough to the music business (professionally speaking) to post this. Once again it involves invoking the wisdom of Lennie Tristano as a teacher:

    One of Lennie’s most-repeated lessons was, “If you are serious about making music, get a day job!” Throughout his career he wrote well-argued polemics about how commercialization was ruining the practice of jazz (including the experiences of the listeners). As long as the practice of music (whether it involves composing or performing) is viewed through the lens of the supply chain, Lennie’s advice will endure!

Let me know what you think

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