Record Labels – Blinded By The Light

By Steve Meyer, Inside Music Media™ Contributor
"These people are not the enemy." - Wilco Manager, Tony Margherita.
Wilco's new album 'Blue Sky', not scheduled for release until May, is already being downloaded online (as have all their albums since 'Yankee, Hotel, Foxtrot') and their manager views it all rationally. He realizes that people online are not his adversaries and has said, " They want to participate. They're the backbone of what we all do."

Of course he's absolutely right.

He understands that what's happening online isn't going to stop and he also realizes how powerful an ally the Internet can be. Wilco fans are active music people and the Internet has created a whole new environment for them to discover new music then eventually buy it.

Despite the fact that Wilco's CD, 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' was leaked online and downloaded countless times, it sold more than 440,000 copies at retail -- more than double the group's sales on previous CDs.

It also created a legion of fans that wanted to see Wilco live when they toured, and based on comments I've read at various websites. Those that saw the group are now confirmed fans.

The result?

Now Wilco has a stronger touring base and that base grows with each subsequent release.

The major labels will argue Wilco is an exception. That the Internet has proliferated piracy via downloading/file-sharing, and that for every Wilco there are too many other acts being hurt. While that may or may not be true (and there is plenty of data to refute the labels' argument), the issue at hand is the Internet, and
its growing preference as a media of choice by millions.

At the same time,online file-sharing isn't going away despite all the lawsuits filed by the RIAA here and IFPI abroad.

All the lawsuits the industry and RIAA wage each month against a few hundred downloaders are becoming as meaningful as Don Quixote's attacking windmills. While Quixote was obsessed with chivalrous ideals, the labels are obsessed with keeping market shares from getting smaller. Because of his over zealous imagination, Quixote was blinded from reality and attacked windmills thinking they were enemy giants.

Maybe the RIAA and labels can learn something from Don. Don't get blinded by what you think is reality. The enemies aren't the people online looking for music or even downloading.

This is the new, and next, generation of music lovers. If you want them to ever get into the habit of buying music, create strategies to lure them into your fold instead of pushing them away.

If all the websites around the world offering free downloads could be eliminated tomorrow, it wouldn't stop people from burning multiple copies of

If all the websites around the world offering free downloads could be eliminated tomorrow, it wouldn't change the fact that CD prices are still too high.

If all the websites around the world offering free downloads could be eliminated tomorrow, it wouldn't mean that all the money being spent on video games, DVDs, movies, and other recreational diversions would be redirected to improve retail music sales.

If the industry attacks these problems head on, one by one, it will do itself a greater service than all the lawsuits it could ever file.

I think everyone realizes the industry is not in good shape and not nearly as healthy as it should be. The business has changed forever. But there is no reason it can't be revitalized with new approaches and new ways of thinking. Unfortunately, as of this moment, the labels haven't developed new approaches or new ways of thinking.

What permeates the industry is fear.

Fear that the industry will cease to exist as technology marches forward. Those that think that way contribute to the industry's stagnation and will be responsible for its downfall.

Common sense has been defined as the quality of judgment necessary to know the simplest of truths. Nowadays, simple truths are sighted about as often as Osama Bin Laden.

Common sense should now dictate emphatically that it's time for the powers that be in the industry to wake up and smell the designer coffee that they are paying $3.00 or more for at Starbucks and drink while on their way to work wondering whether there will be a job for them at week's end.

Music is a powerful force in all our lives.

It really doesn't have any enemies.

It has power to bring people together, unite people of different races, countries, religions, and it can reach out to us on the most personal and emotional levels. The industry needs to remember that at all times and focus on the BIG picture, survival in the future.

Attacking "windmills" isn't the answer.

At least one band, Wilco, and their manager, have the courage to speak that simple truth.

Steve Meyer is one of the music industry's top professionals and publisher of the new media newsletter DISC & DAT.

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