Piracy Sells Music

To listen to the music industry, you'd think that unrestricted file sharing by consumers is killing them.

If so, I wonder if the major record labels can explain why Rosanne Cash just about gave away every cut in her new album "The List" and it wound up being number one -- in sales.

Time to get real with the worn out and ineffective music industry argument that they "wuz" robbed by file sharers.

Some six weeks ago, Rosanne Cash did what amounted to a 7-minute stint on NPR and sang one of the big tunes from her album "The List" entitled "Sea of Heartbreak", her duet with Bruce Springsteen.

Cash talked about it on NPR -- a place that many young listeners feel does more for music discovery in a day than terrestrial radio stations can accomplish in a year of rotating the same safe songs over and over again.

Okay, you say -- but NPR broadcast the song -- it didn't give away the album for free?

Not so.

NPR streamed the full album for 6-weeks -- for free -- prior to the commercial release.

Then, the double standard of all double standards showed up again when the hit song was featured on YouTube -- all those free views.

Nobody at the label or their lobby group seemed to mind.

So Rosanne Cash's album should have been dead on arrival with all the free play, web availability and exposure it received on NPR.

No reason for any consumer to buy it for when they are getting it for free, right?

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free -- well, you know what I mean.

That would be wrong, too as it is in real life.

Rosanne Cash's "The List" debuted at #1 on Amazon. It was still the third best selling album as I wrote this piece Tuesday.

Number one country album on iTunes.

What is NPR doing selling country albums?

Here's another interesting thing.

Follow the path of this hit and see where traditional radio is missing the boat:

#1. NPR radio -- October 8th interview with Rosanne Cash.

#2. YouTube -- many videos of the same song. Only YouTube could get away with all the copyright issues. The labels were mum. Ya think they know something is actually good for them while they tell everyone how bad it is?

#3 Amazon -- the album is the #2 top seller after debuting in the #1 position.

#4. Google search -- NPR is the #1 search result.

Look at NPR's engaging music discovery page here. I've reported to you for some time that young music lovers can't relate to commercial radio lately because it refuses to acknowledge their thirst for discovering new songs, artists and genres.

So as it turns out by this example, the labels are full of it and radio companies are in denial about what their listeners actually want to hear. I know what research used to say. Play the hits. And if I were programming a station right now, I'd make sure there was a hit component. But is anyone taking this seriously?

Consumers are so far ahead of the record labels and radio industry that they have fashioned their own way to discover music.

What we've learned is:

1. Radio is not the only key component to selling music today.

2. NPR, to which many young people gravitate, is an increasingly powerful music monster and we would all be wise to stop waving around research reports and study human behavior as well.

3. File sharing sells music. Piracy is the wrong word. Free promotion is the right word. In the past, free promotion used to be called radio. But radio has turned inward and seems to be missing generational consumer cues. That's why it keeps pounding the same limited music selection over and over. Why artist interviews and intelligent air personalities are sacrificed for mindless voice tracking.

4. The power of social networking to act in loco parentis, if you will, of radio has been underestimated to the detriment of the radio and record industries. Social networking through file sharing and other means is like having millions of old lovable record promotion men like Philly's legendary Matty "Humdinger" Singer working your song 24/7/365.

Life is tough.

The media business is tougher.

And, the recession is rough.

But the big problem is that we as a music/media industry are failing to skillfully observe the sociological changes in human behavior that are blatantly starting to spell out the future.

So, if radio stations continue to amp up their music programming to con Arbitron's People Eater into picking up drive-by listening through the use of safe music repetition, it will hurt itself. It's hard to imagine a passionate top 30 listener in spite of the PPM's shortcomings.

It is not hard to imagine a passionate music fan -- fed by programming content with knowledgeable personalities wherever they might find them -- online, social networking, NPR.

And, if record labels want to cry bloody murder about being robbed blind by Internet pirates when they damn well know that the Internet is the only thing selling their music right now, they will be expendable in the long run as well.

What sells music?

Music fans.

Radio used to be the main and only way to fire up their passions. And it could be a better way to do it if stopped pandering to drive-by listeners.

Now there has been an uprising.

A new generation captured the controls in a bloodless coup. They don't have to wait to get three new songs added each week on their only available music station.

Now, they can make their own playlists, trade their own music, preview it at will, hear the artists talk about it, decide whether to own it. And they do buy music.

The music crisis that has been adversely affecting the radio industry wasn't caused by the next generation.

It was caused by a lack of the next generation of radio formats -- the ones embracing new media and personality-centric.

That's an important distinction because, as any smart radio person will tell you, there are thousands of programmers out there -- many still working -- who could easily step into the future and adapt.

Their bosses?

Now you've discovered the real problem.

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