If We’re Going to Fix Music, We’re Going to Have to Pay for It

There was an interesting panel on music at CMW last where Ted Cohen, a former A&R guy and now the head of a consulting group called TAG Strategic, told a story about addressing some business students about the music industry.

“I asked these kids ‘How many of you would pay five dollars to have access to all the music ever created by humanity?’ Two or three hands went up.  ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘how many of you would spend ONE dollar.’ One or two more hands went up. Finally I asked ‘How many of you would spend a nickel–five cents–for every song ever recorded?’ Another couple of hands went up. The rest of the class just sat there.

“There’s the problem! These sons of bitches–BUSINESS STUDENTS–weren’t willing to part with a lousy nickel for all the music in the universe. And then at the end of the session, one kid came up to me with a business card asking if I could get him a job in the music industry!”

We definitely have a problem.

Vox.com has a solution for fixing the woes of the music industry: start paying for music again.

Jeff Price slaps his hands on his desk. As he details the flaws he’s found in the music industry since the early 2000s, his words fly out faster and faster until he has to stop to breathe in the middle of a sentence.

“Music is important,” says Price, the former owner of the indie record label Spin. “Music has inherent value. And if you want to use music, you’ve got to fucking pay for it.”

In 2005, Price co-founded a company called Tunecore. At a time when the only other option for digital sales was the iTunes Store, Tunecore allowed musicians to upload their music to sell on the internet. Artists, Price believed, no longer had to get locked into contracts with labels, ones where they signed away their copyright. Price realized the internet had the potential to change the music industry’s whole business model.

“I launched Tunecore because I thought artists were being screwed, and you know what? I was right,” he says.

Tunecore became part of the revolution that overthrew the old system of music and helped introduce a new digital Wild West. It was radically successful in helping artists get their music online.

Now Price is trying to do the same thing for streaming. In 2013, after being ousted from Tunecore, Price founded Audiam, a service that attempts to help artists get paid for digital streams.

Price is a controversial figure in the music industry. He yells and rants, even on the phone with me. He isn’t right about everything, but he’s right about this: the music industry has a problem with ownership and pricing transparency, and nobody who could do anything seems to care about fixing it.

Keep reading. It’s good.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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