Paul McGuinness: an unlikely spearhead for artistic reform. As former manager of U2, arguably the worlds largest band, he’s probably seen it all. I for one have a dusty old Joshua Tree gatefold LP in my loft, as well as a semi-fresh U2 edition iPod in my desk drawer. Two extremes, one medium.

Upon my monthly perusal of GQ magazine, I complained “this issue is all filler – nice ads, no features”. To make matters worse, I had just read a two page text-heavy article by Simon Mills on why “DAB IS BAD!” and how “analogue will be recrowned”. Mr Mills, the cloud! The goddamn cloud! I tried DAB once, and now it’s in the loft next to the Joshua Tree LP.

Page 140 however, sustenance. An article simply named “Free?”. It is Mr McGuinness’ take on how modern consumers and aging record labels need to change their attitudes to the increasing problem of music piracy. I posted a note on Facebook some time ago – a reblog of Rob Sheridan’s article on piracy, and how yes, consumers are ripping, reaping and reveling in “free”, but the big dogs Sony, Universal, BMG, et al are sitting back scratching their heads whilst Apple and Spotify offer the only viable solution.

That was 4 years ago. The distant cries of Llars Ulrich and Lily Allen echo in an empty theatre of delusional MPs and crusty old label executives. It’s only the switched-on and ultra-realistic like Paul McGuinness that see right through all the legal bullshit and ISP greed. And here’s why…

  • A solution: There still isn’t one. There needs to be a fail safe way by which musicians can earn good money from physical and digital sales. A solution which cannot be easily hacked or by-passed by the average internet user.
  • Nearly: Spotify have the right idea. Free, streaming content. The bonus is that everyone has access to it, it is very easy, and increasingly popular. The drawback: Spotify, as a business model, could have a limited life. It will simply not survive on advertising alone. They now have the task of converting all of their free users into paid subscribers. If it works, it will be the business model that the modern household needs to tackle the entire problem. But even then, a musician gets paid only $0.0017 per play.
  • About that business model: It’s simple… I used to spend perhaps £40-£50 per month on CDs. This was about 10 years ago. I won’t lie, I’ve downloaded ‘free’ content. It’s just too easy, and there is very little risk involved. And now with Spotify, you don’t even need to touch P2P or newsgroups, unless you really want it on your iPod. I am perhaps £30 better off per month since I have found other ways (legal and illegal) to acquire music. I will still buy CDs from artists I really like, however. Why not replace that £30 or X-amount that you were once spending with a monthly entertainment subscription? Like water, gas or electricity. When I look at it that way, I suddenly understand why £10p/m to Spotify really isn’t a bad deal at all.
  • The digital home: With companies like Apple and Google spurring on cloud-computing and entertainment, we will look at our TVs and computers as mere portals to infinite amounts of online music, film and episodical content. Whether we like it or not, our DVD and CD collections will be replaced entirely by hard drives and streaming. And we’ll simply pay for what we use, or a fixed monthly amount. Even Blu-Ray won’t be around for long enough to know what happened.
  • Slap on the wrist: It really didn’t look good for the FIAA, Napster or even Metallica when they took a goddamn GRANDMA to court. Sentencing a lone individual for publicly sharing 19 illegally downloaded songs seemed a little unfair, if unnecessary. Especially when four doors down there was probably a basement dwelling teenager with 500GB of the greatest rock albums of all time. It’s ugly.
  • The Virgins: and the BTs, etc… they are rich. Very rich. We’re paying them a good amount of money per month to have simple internet access. They’re cashing in on our bandwidth. Do they reinvest that money in their infrastructures? No. They need to invest at least some of that money into a commercial partnership with music providers or record labels. It would be so easy (once the licensing debacles have been tackled). Some of that money can then finally be forwarded on to musicians and artists to rejuvenate the market. Will they do this by choice? No. But just take a look at what President Sarkozy actioned in France.

The whole thing seems so easy, and Mr McGuinness seems like just the kind of guy to get the ball rolling. But with cantankerous old MPs passing stale acts and fat-cat business moguls signing uninspiring acts, we’re not going to get anywhere. Musicians will never earn anything near the cheques of the Rolling Stones and U2, unless they’re green-blooded all-out businessmen like Jay-Z or Sean John. But maybe those in it just for the music would be okay with that if it’s not their only income.

Ideally, in perhaps 10 years time, you will pay for your entertainment the same way you pay for your water. The MP3 will be replaced by lossless audio (let’s face it, even a 320kbps track sounds terrible through decent enough headphones). ISPs and music labels will work in harmony and thus so many of us will no longer expect everything for free, because it’s affordable, available and audible. An honest, modern solution in which the creators are paid and the consumers get great value for money.

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