Monday, June 14, 2004

Replacing RIAA

So what do we do about RIAA? I mean, it's widely agreed upon by anyone who seems to know what they do and how they act that they're evil, or at best, seriously misguided.

There's been a call to boycott RIAA companies. There are sites around that are trying to redirect consumer attention away from RIAA-affiliated record labels. While this is amusing, it is my (unsubstantiated) opinion that the vast majority of consumers pay no attention to such things in general, and in the case of popular music, "know" that the artists are all rich, and hence think that participating in the boycott would just benefit whiny rich artists.

But what about affecting music at the source? What if the artists took their toys and went home? Well, it would seem that they're starting to do this, in a couple of ways. First, rumor has it that indie labels, who have to compete with the big guys, have to provide better terms and better service to attract talent, so artists have that option. And other options are springing up as well.

For instance, Magnatune is promoting itself as an Internet record label, with a slogan of "We are not evil". All distribution is done via the 'net, with the artists getting 50% of gross proceeds. Not just 50% of profits, but of gross. This is vastly superior to the $0.25-$1.00 per album that RIAA artists are purported to receive. And they've signed up over 300 albums in their first year.

Furthermore, they're using a Creative Commons license, meaning that you are free to give copies of what you buy to your friends. I would even imagine that you could legally put their music on Kazaa, although they encourage you not to.

But this CC license brings up another interesting point. What the Open Source revolution has done to (and for) the software world could just as easily be done for the music world. If O/S can make Microsoft sweat, CC should be able to make RIAA nervous as well. But how?

Well, it would take artists that were more concerned about music, and less concerned with being rich or famous. And since it's becoming apparent to more and more folks that artists aren't getting rich, it's conceivable that more music could follow this course.

Another factor in this is that once upon a time, to record your music, and do it well, you needed a professional studio. This is no longer the case. It is possible for an artists to put together high quality material out of a home studio. At this moment, I'm listening to an album on Magnatune by a guitarist named John Williams (not *the* John Williams; no, not that one, either), recorded in his own studio, that is quite well done and professional, both in the quality of the music and of the recording. And with the advent of Open Source, much can be done with existing hardware and free software.

In the Open Source world, few people are writing solely to overthrow the oppressive establishment (i.e. Microsoft). (Yes, MS-hatred fuels the fire, but it's not authors' sole reason, and for many folks, doesn't show up on the charts at all). More people (myself included) write because they (we) enjoy the writing, enjoy the feeling of being able to help others with what we do, and enjoy and have benefitted from other free software enough to want to give something back.

But in addition to that, another reason for opening one's source is that the alternative (forming or seeking a company to sell one's wares) is more of a hassle than many folks (again, myself included) want to deal with. The act of creating (software, music, visual art, etc.) is much different than the act of marketing, selling, or managing, and simply opening up one's talent is much easier and potentially more rewarding than seeking fame or fortune.

The real dream here is to have a community of artists creating because they enjoy creating, and receiving as their reward the attention of people who want to hear good music, without being required to jump through the hoops of the commercial world. Which, actually, is where music stood just a few short decades ago, when we provided our own entertainment. That would be the real RIAA replacement.

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