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What’s All This Craziness in the Music Biz?


What is going on out there? First, Amazon.com tries to eat iTunes' lunch by offering "unrestricted" or DRM free mp3 downloads for $0.99 and $0.89. Unrestricted! Meaning, do anything you want with them! Apple offers its tunes at $0.99, but if you want the 256 kbps bit rate and the unrestricted/DRM free version, it's $1.29. (Note: As we go to press, this move by Amazon has just caused Apple to drop its premium pricing on DRM free songs, offering all tracks at $0.99) And, you still don't get the kind of mobility you have with Amazon's downloads. If you don't have the iTunes software, forget it. And, if you want to play them on an mp3 player not made by Apple, that's not going to happen either. Also, Amazon will sell you the digital download of the entire album for $5.99 to $9.99, with a lot of major releases at $8.99 or below, and that's below the record labels standard wholesale price. With nearly 2.3 million songs, Amazon is on their way, but not all the way there yet. Just watch; this is going to be big.

Next, there's Radiohead, conducting the grand social experiment. Go to Radiohead.com and download the new album. If you want to pay them, you can. If you don't want to pay them, you don't have to, except for a handling fee of 45 pence (currently a little less than 1 US Dollar). Early reports are that people are paying. Radiohead is without a record deal, so they get it all, less costs.

Finally, there's The Charlatans. The new album is free, if you go to radio station XFM Manchester's website <http://www.xfm.co.uk>. It's publicity money can't buy for XFM and the Charlatans, unless, of course, money did buy it. Says lead singer Tim Burgess "We want 'the people' to own the music and we want the artist i.e. us, to own the copyright. Why let a record company get in the way of the people getting the music? We reckon the people who listen to Xfm are the people who love The Charlatans and we're excited at releasing our forthcoming singles and tenth studio album online free of charge through xfm.co.uk." Reminds us of the Dave Matthews Band's upcoming "free" concert, which goes to the college or university on whose behalf the most text messages are sent. I'm guessing this will be one of the most lucrative concerts DMB has ever performed.

So, what does all of this mean? Nothing more than the continued radical transformation of the music industry at the hands of digital media. Record companies become less relevant to the equation, as talent scouting, record production, distribution and accounting/money collection are no longer monopolies of the labels. Creativity is working overtime, as we predicted it would have to. Great ideas are still out there, waiting to help the music find its way to you. One proviso: Our sense is that all of the band strategies above will work a whole lot better for bands that are already famous than those still trying to make a name for themselves.