Record Labels Decade-Long Anti-Internet Tirade Is Attrition Warfare

The constant, tireless battle between record labels, artists and consumers is one I’ve somewhat documented over the last few years. But nowhere near the extent sites like Techdirt have. If you’ve been reading the coverage like I have, it has pretty much started to feel like a broken record.

It has gotten to the point it is surprising when a day goes by without news of actions from record labels that frustrates me equally as an artist, a digital marketer and a music fan. I’ve had discussions with some of my friends in all of these categories (artists, marketers and fans) and the feeling of frustration is pretty much unanimous.

One of the main reasons I’m interested in highlighting the issue is because I have a passion for seeing ideas spread. For everyone from artists to companies, the notion of a level playing field for content distribution is something I passionately believe in. So it especially bothers me when an industry which has been disrupted by such a change seeks to cling to the past to selfishly protect their model. This is at the expense of a better future for artists as a whole.

Let me explain. The notion of “hits” as artists in our society is not an organic one. We are all innately creative and really anyone can make art. This is a quality that is not unique to a select few, but unique to our species. It is just a question if that talent is nurtured or not. In the last century or so, we’ve gone the other direction with art. We’ve structured the music industry around an elite selection of hits as opposed to celebrating and encouraging all of us to create. It’s obvious the economic forces at play reinforce this.

And so the notion of being a musician has carried a stigma associated with it. That it’s basically not a strategy to bank your life on. Of course, the web flipped distribution. So a generation which grew up with file sharing as the default will eventually balk at the notion of artificially created hits and, rather, find their own path. I am hoping in time this – along with democratization of high quality audio production tools will long term trend us to a culture that nurtures artists as default.

Yet the “very official” seeming music industry is, in the grand scheme of things still new and hardly immutable. The labels know this. Especially in a digital society. Which is why if the labels had there way they would put remove, limit or otherwise inhibit the free exchange of data.

This, of course, comes at the expense of independent content creators. As an artist I don’t pirate music. But I use file sharing tools to enable the distribution of my art. Without file sharing I would have zero mechanism to share my music at any degree of scale, it is far too inefficient without it to reach beyond those I can connect with physically. It has been such an overwhelmingly positive force as an independent artist I’ve gone as far as telling people it has never been a better time to be a content creator. Of any sort: journalist, musician, videographer – if you meet someone in one of these trades who is not optimistic they have the wrong viewpoint of the world.

With the actions of the labels (and even movie studios) over the past decade, can we have any viewpoint other than the entertainment industry as a whole is anti-internet? How can any rational person possibly come to a different conclusion?

Today I was thinking about it and something struck me: the labels will continue their tirade forever, or at least as long as they can pay their attorneys. Based on previous actions they have no other move. It’s a near perfect example of attrition warfare. They have gone so far down this path it is basically inconceivable they would pivot tomorrow and embrace the web. I’d love for that to happen but it’s just not a reality. Maybe we’ll all be surprised one day. But in a world the labels choose fantasyland over 100 million in cash, well, that pretty much tells you the direction they are taking.

So what can we do? Really the only solution is to stop supporting the major labels (if you still do). They don’t deserve it: the way they treat artists, fans and even technology companies is almost 100% user-hostile. They litigate, roadblock and otherwise stand in the way of progress. The good news is they can’t fight this war of attrition and maintain their existing model forever. Eventually consumers, artists and those who want to see ideas spread can win.