The first single I ever bought with my own money was Steve Miller's Take The Money and Run. At that time, it never occurred to me that I would in any way be a criminal if I made a tape of it for a friend. After all, I wasn't trying to rip off the Space Cowboy. I was only trying to share his music with friends and I was under the impression that they would be likely to go out and buy their own copies of his album. I really thought I was doing anything but taking Steve's money and running.
Talking this week to Barenaked Ladies front man, Steven Page, I saw that he also had similar memories when he recalled the first time he got a tape from his cousin, who had recorded Rock Lobster by the B52s from CHUM FM on his portable recorder. To get that recording, which he listened to for the whole summer, Steven had to place his recorder microphone next to his cousin's speaker.
Nowadays, MP3s will do just fine, and that's exactly what Steven and I discussed when we went over a new initiative from some of Canada's biggest music stars, who have joined together to form the Canadian Music Creators Coalition (CMCC) to support their fans and speak out on the issue of music sharing. CMCC wants the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) to know that music fans are not thieves just because they share music.
Music sharing is not new. It's been happening for decades. The only thing that has changed is the technology. This is the crux of the issue - home taping (despite industry propaganda to the contrary) did not kill music. Nowadays, P2P file sharing over the Web is faster and brings together huge numbers of people (and does not have the quality issues that tape recording had). This, understandably, scares the living daylights out of record executives. Whether they want to admit to it or not, CRIA and the record labels have made an extreme knee jerk reaction to this because they can't seem to understand the technology or, worse yet, music fans and the culture of the Web. Now, entrenched in their position, they can't afford to take a step back and look at the issue from a new perspective.
As Page points out, P2P sharing is the most accessible method people have to music. "There's no reason to punish fans for what they've always been doing. Better technology is just a means for them to enjoy their music better and it should be a way for us to help our business rather than preserving a business model that is out of date," he said.
I understand the need to protect copyrights but because of the way they've dealt with the issue, even folks like me, who used to share CRIA's concerns, have changed our tunes.
Page makes the case that record labels still need to learn that music is not a commodity, and marketing it in that way alienates fans who view it in an almost spiritual sense. Music is a touchstone in our lives - it's the soundtrack of our past, tied directly to our emotions and memories. The impression of fans is that the recording industry wants to control what most people consider to be something very personal.
Should we have banned the tape recorder or the VCR? That's what the TV industry wanted then. Looking back on it, it doesn't make any sense, does it? In fact, it sounds ridiculous, since VCRs created an entirely new channel to generate even more revenue, while giving video fans exactly what they wanted. P2P file sharing is today's VCR or tape recorder. It's no more likely to destroy the music industry than my Uncle's pet Airedale.
"How do we embrace the P2P (file sharing) world in a way that is unobtrusive for the consumer/music fan, so that it doesn't seem like a sell-out? How do we reconnect with our fan base? It's time to listen to what fans want and give it to them. We need to find ways to truly make it the same experience for people, but easier, with more stuff available and guilt-free, in a way that artists and labels get paid," Page said.
Now, there is a business model which I can pretty much guarantee will work.