Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Pill makes you smaller: the Music Busine$$ 2.0

"When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said;
Jefferson Airplane, "White Rabbit"

Visualize, if you will, the Music Busine$$ as a Woolly Mammoth: a gigantic, lumbering, extinct and out-of-date animal that has been repeatedly resuscitated since its inception. Its recent demise - attributed to digital piracy - was mirrored early on it its heyday when in 1923 "The record business was becoming seriously depressed by the growing popularity of radio". This negative trajectory of the record business was reversed in 1928 when in “The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) bought the Victor Talking Machine Company.

Today, we're told, because of digital piracy, the same thing is happening.
But, is it?

We’ve seen this David and Goliath theme play out repeatedly throughout history, and just as often we've seen two Goliaths join forces to form a supra-entity: recently, with the creation of Comcast-Sony Networks - Comcast being the Nation’s “largest cable operator, home internet service provider” - Granted, this union ushered in the advent of an exciting new era in our experience of technology at the retail level, but it is an intricate as well as an interesting alliance.

Just as all technology eventually becomes outmoded, so do ways of thinking, and in assessing the state of the Music Busine$$ perhaps it's not in the archives of music or industry history that we should look, but to new and future frontiers and in science and physics.

One pill makes you smaller...

As in nature, some animals and insects have developed clever disguises to make a potential preditor think it is in fact something else: take the caterpillar disguised as a snake. In the case of the Music Busine$$, however, it has flipped and reversed it by being the snake disguised as the caterpillar.

By playing the role of innocent victim in the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) debate, the Music Busine$$ claims that the industry losses many billions in revenues annually due to illegal file sharing. This claim has been bolstered by various lawsuits meant to discourage those who engage in this illegal practice. (see here and here)

But beneath the radar, an interesting trend is occurring: while we’re told that online piracy continues to pose a challenge to the Music Busine$$:

"Online piracy costs the U.S. economy $58 billion in losses every year, including 373,000 jobs, the entertainment industry argues based on a 2007 study." PCWorld

Ad revenues are simultaneously increasing:

Mobile U.S. Ad Revenues Projected to be $4 Billion by 2015: Mobile U.S. Ad Revenues Projected to be $4 Billion by 2015 -- Since a good portion of future of digital music ad revenues will depend on the vibrancy of the mobile ad market, a new revenue forecast will be on great interest to digital service providers and rights holders.”

Since the goal of marketing is to be intrinsically cued in with its audience, are we to believe that advertisers are so misguided and are investing billions in an anemic market? Perhaps all of this illegal downloading has been both a bane as well as a boon to the 'struggling' Music Busine$$?

A New "Reality": abuse is the new excuse

We’ve heard the outcry from the Music Industry regarding its "lost revenues", but this miasmal mantra is perhaps just a smokescreen for the underlying and truly worrisome concern, that is: who is protecting artists from the misdeeds of the Music Busine$$?

“Sir Elton John has issued a sombre assessment of the music industry's future, saying it is "disappearing", lamenting the fall of artists such as Duffy and Kate Nash, and criticising the cut-throat nature of recording contracts, leading musicians to be dropped from labels if they do not immediately win smash-hit success." Link

All smokescreens, after all, serve a duel purpose:
1. To distract onlookers from the Truth it seeks to hide
2. To create an atmosphere where an alternate ‘Truth’ can be created: i.e., a new ‘reality’

While Transparency is the new objectivity, it seems that abuse is the new excuse. And while we intuitively sympathize with a victim who appears weak, we are not pre-dispositioned to sympathize with a victim who appears strong. But, in Nature, it is common - especially with the interference of outside forces - for systems, individuals or entities to act ‘aberrantly’, in ways that belie their 'true' nature (see here).

The Wooly Mammoth in the Boardroom

In business, as in nature, when the strong appears weak, it has a greater chance of eliciting our sympathy; conversely, when the strong becomes weak, it inspires only our ire, and we’ve seen the rise and fall of many music monoliths throughout this digital drama - which continues to play out - most notably is the spectacular demise of MySpace.

It is widely thought that "
MySpace killed itself (through mismanagement." While this is true, who is to say that all mismanagement is a byproduct of unforeseen events. Isn’t it possible to set into motion a strategy that will have intended, as well as unintended, consequences, both negative as well as positive? Regarding MySpace, was this a case of bumbling mismanagement, or a carefully strategized self-sabotage?

For the first couple of years, MySpace was highly entertaining and engaging. Almost overnight, it went from being useful and user-friendly ‘MySpace’ to useless and user-hostile 'my_______'. With half of its logo being left literally blank, was the user really expected to connect with its new and "improved" 'blank' interface and brand logo?

To add insult to injury, the already-cumbersome pages became even more-so with streamlined "improvements"; the absurd frequency of cartoonish Pop-up ads added a comical spin on every piece of music that was listened to; the previous restrictions against spam were eased, making checking one's inbox a fruitless waste of time and energy.  Anyone who experienced MySpace’s spiral downward must have asked themselves the same question: What were they thinking?

Perhaps this sinking ship was less a 'Ship of Fools' and more of a 'Trojan Horse'? After all, users of early MySpace enjoyed both navigational ease as well as listening ease, and as we've seen, the Music Busine$$ considers loss of revenue and control of the listener its biggest threat, not its lack of long-term vision and integrity.

In my previous post Legal Downloaders vs Lowly? Freeloaders: Light at the end of the digital tunnel I discuss how Chaos Theory can help us elucidate the complexites of the ever-morphing Music Busine$$.

We can also look to Complexity Theory for some insight:

Complexity Theory: "This theory takes the view that systems are best regarded as wholes, and studied as such, rejecting the traditional emphasis on simplification and reduction as inadequate techniques on which to base this sort of scientific work. Such techniques, whilst valuable in investigation and data collection, fail in their application at system level due to the inherent nonlinearity of strongly interconnected systems - the causes and effects are not separate and the whole is not the sum of the parts."

To push this even further, we can also look to Self-Organizing Complexity for deeper insight & inter-relationships:

Self-Organizing Complexity (Type 4) "Our final form of complex system is that believed to comprise the most interesting type and the one most relevant to complexity theory. Here we combine the internal constraints of closed systems (like machines) with the creative evolution of open systems (like people). In this viewpoint we regard a system as co-evolving with its environment, so much so that classifications of the system alone, out of context, are no longer regarded as adequate for a valid description. We must describe the system functions in terms of how they relate to the wider outside world. From the previous categories of discrete and self-contained systems we seem to have arrived at a complexity concept that cannot now even qualify a separate system, let alone quantify it, yet this misses an important point."



And, even further, Quantum Entanglement:
"Quantum Entanglement occurs when two entities or systems appear to us to be separate but through Quantum Coherence act as one system, with states being able to be transferred wholesale from one entity to the other but without a known signal being transferred. Quantum Entanglement is at the heart of understanding how significant events across the universe operate at the macro- and micro- level in synchronicity despite considerable distance between them." Link
To assume that the Music Busine$$ is at odds with the very sector that embraces the technology which built it would be to ignore the simplest - and perhaps most elegant answer - that the two forces are obliquely aligned, a case of "spooky action at a distance"?

Truth v Transparency

Like Orwellian New-Speak, we've become accustomed to politicians and CEOs dancing around a subject rather than exposing the ‘Truth’ at the core. Even the word and notion of ‘Truth’, it seems, has become outmoded; the word ‘Truth’ has been replaced by more oblique words like ‘Transparency’ and ‘Objectivity’. These are words that refer to the idea of ‘Truth’ without raising one’s expectations of receiving it.

But the truth is that in not expecting the Truth, we cease to question it; we become inured to it. Furthermore, since we've accepted that 'Transparency' and 'Objectivity' are equal to 'Truth', we are satisfied when we receive shades of it. But, as we've seen in the Animal Kingdom,
the ant is sometimes a spider, and a controversy is sometimes really an opportunity in disguise.

For fascinating background, precedent & legal issues in music history, see:  

1 comment:

George Hook said...

Remember "Home Taping Is Killing Music ... and It's Illegal?" It was a UK campaign, with a logo of a skull and crossbones in the shape of a tape cassette! They never learn.