Pink Floyd Hits The Wall Over Downloads

Did you notice the hypocrisy in the recent Pink Floyd court victory over their record label EMI preventing the company from selling single downloads on the Internet for their concept albums?

Interesting because most acts produce music cuts that are easy to sell as singles.

Pink Floyd, known for their different approach to creating record albums, seems to have won a victory of dubious value.

There was a judgment in the case which was heard in British court but news reports say that part of the judgment was kept secret. Apparently negotiations are ongoing between the group and the label.

It’s all more bad news for EMI, the struggling label that is either on its way to bankruptcy or a merger with Warner, two lousy options. EMI is running up against its loan covenants with an ice cold hand in the music business.

And now this.

Pink Floyd has been with EMI for over 40 years and its catalog is second only to The Beatles in sales.

Everyone seems to want to get off this sinking EMI ship.

Queen and Pink Floyd are reportedly negotiating with other labels. The Stones and Radiohead are already gone.

The dark side of Pink Floyd’s move, if I may put it that way, is that the argument that they want to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums” is a bit suspect.

Of course, they want to.

But suing the label at this late date?

EMI wanted to unbundle the artistic work and sell off the individual tracks.

The judge in the case looked to a clause in the EMI/Pink Floyd contract, drawn up more than a decade ago to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums” as the foundation upon which to arrive at the judgment.

According to an account in The New York Times, “Pink Floyd alleged that EMI had allowed online downloads from the albums and parts of tracks to be used as ringtones for mobile phones”.

The judge ordered EMI to pay Pink Floyd’s costs in the case, estimated at $90,000, and refused to hear an appeal.

Allowing that artists want to preserve their creative works and not have them chopped up into cuts to be sold on iTunes, there is more to this story.

Legal downloading has been around for a long time now.

Why is this group suddenly looking to make an issue of it? On the other hand, EMI has also known that digital sales are increasingly important so why does the matter have to wind up in court?

I can guarantee you Pink Floyd’s next label will require a digital music clause in their contract. They have to or they are signing a dinosaur if they expect to get a return on their investment with CD sales alone.

The dysfunctional families we have come to know as the record industry may have been able to get away with all this push and shove in the past, but not now in the age of digital music.

Maybe the labels are right to look to cloud services for their future.

Apple surely will modernize iTunes to offer all the music you ever wanted for a monthly rental fee. They may be able to carry it off. And then again, they may not.

Both artists and labels (or virtual label aggregators like Apple) will have to deal with realities of today’s music industry that can’t be ignored.

For example:

1. Access will be the key attraction, not ownership so much as availability. That is, cloud services (such as Lala recently purchased by Apple) may make it possible for you to hear Pink Floyd or Queen anytime, anywhere for one monthly price without waiting for all your songs to download. No worries about how long the cuts are or concerns about artist issues.

2. Cloud services could finally put an end to the argument about illegal filesharing because for those who are willing to pay a monthly music fee, all the music made is out there in theory for them to sample.

3. Don’t bet on any of this. Consumers have long been wooed by plans that offer all the music you can eat for a monthly price. They have voted with their dollars – no.

4. Consumers seem to want what they want when they want it. In other words, if you allow for the free exchange and transmission of music without labeling the people doing it as pirates, you may yet have the best model going forward. In fact, it works now. You hear something on the radio, or that has been shared by one person with others and that’s how you create sales. Stifling the viral nature of the Internet is what is actually killing digital sales.

5. Consumers buy what they want to own as they always have and possibly always will.

6. Once they own it, consumers may be interested in immediate downloading capability. Enter -- the cloud.

So beware of the cloud as an all you can eat monthly service. It may be an easy solution for labels and artists but with the mobile Internet coming of age, the best approach may actually be to think of filesharing the way labels used to think of radio – previewing and exposing music and artists to potential consumers.

Except with radio on the decline, the new music radio may yet be – “illegal” filesharing.

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