On Stage, On Air, On Sale

Lars Ulrich

Photo by Mark Wainwright — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

There is very good news from the recording industry: creativity is back in business.

As posted in KadmusArts’s daily culture and entertainment news feed, two companies, Sony Music and Universal Music Group, announced a new plan that hits the trifecta of the music business: develop careers, defeat piracy, and make money.

It has been just over ten years since Metallica took on Napster. When the demo of their song, “I Disappear”, became available on Napster, Metallica became the first music group to fight piracy on the net. Metallica sued the file-sharing company for copyright infringement.

Back then Metallica drummer, Lars Ulrich, perfectly defined the issue: “We take our craft — whether it be the music, the lyrics, or the photos and artwork — very seriously, as do most artists. It is therefore sickening to know that our art is being traded like a commodity rather than the art that it is. From a business standpoint, this is about piracy — a.k.a taking something that doesn’t belong to you; and that is morally and legally wrong. The trading of such information — whether it’s music, videos, photos, or whatever - is, in effect, trafficking in stolen goods.”

In other words, before tenured academics started to lecture us about the benefits of artists relinquishing their copyrights, the music industry relied on Metallica to be the philosopher king of art and business.

Now, Sony and Universal are creating “instant pop”. Traditionally, companies release songs for air play six weeks before the songs become available for purchase. This practice, known as “setting up”, was instituted to build-up audience demand. However, the music industry has realized that the intervening time allowed plenty of opportunity for illegal downloads of the singles without revenue to the company or the artist. So Sony has developed a new approach which it calls “On Air, On Sale”. Universal will release a similar sale plan next month.

As reported by the Guardian, David Joseph, CEO of Universal Music UK, embraces the obvious: “Wait is not a word in the vocabulary of the current generation.” The music business has begun to turn the tide by realizing that instant gratification converts instant fans to instant cash.

This should spark a significant change in music marketing, as well. Previously, the business built their promotion campaigns for the first week of a release to get a high ranking in the Top 40. Now the marketing can go hand-in-hand with sales by being able to watch how well a new song is developing a fan base in real time. This change could create a more organic approach to selling artists. Instead of marketing dollars going all-in, trying to create a pre-determined hit, the dollars can be more judiciously spent by seeing what sells in the marketplace. Music companies can then have more flexibility in helping new artists have a better shot at building a hit, let alone a career.

“On Air, On Sale” is a simple idea. However, it’s one with significant ramifications. The music industry is no longer running away from our technology but embracing both the digital and social media revolutions to spark sales.

For all the festival and live event artists and fans, there’s even better news. As Tech Dirt noted in a post last March, Metallica makes more money from their performances than their album sales. Here’s the next step: On Stage, On Air, On Sale.

The recording biz is getting creative, again. As in the creation of all art, desperation can be an inspiration.

- Bill Reichblum

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8 Responses to “On Stage, On Air, On Sale”

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