The Music Business has a longstanding reputation for nastiness.
For every charming story of civility and grace under pressure from a Ahmet Ertegun or Lenny Waronker, there are ten stories of intimidation, payola, and rough tactics. Barriers to entry are low, the mechanisms of gatekeepers like radio, concert promoters, and retailers are often shady, and personality generally trumps business mechanics.
Hunter Thompson famously said:
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”
Still, even when things turn ugly, the Music Business isn’t really a contact sport. Even in this highly disruptive time — it’s people’s feelings, and people’s livelihoods, that get hurt. It’s serious stuff, but it’s not life and death.
Wikileaks is a whole different animal. International espionage, state security, and information transparency are all highly weighted concepts. And depending on who you talk to, very real matters of life and death.
So, I don’t mean to trivialize any of these Wikileaks issues, by bringing the Music Industry into this discussion.
Still, for anyone who works in Digital Music, Wikileaks is especially fascinating.
Micah Sifry is a technology and political analyst. He just released a book called “Wikileaks and the age of transparency” that amplifies some of the ideas that the digerati have been discussing of late.
Three macro ideas particularly jump out, that I will tag as community, scarcity, and capacity:
What is new is our ability to individually and together connect with greater ease than at any time in human history. As a result, information flows more freely into the public arena, powered by seemingly unstoppable networks of people around the world cooperating to share vital data and prevent its suppression. Old institutions and incumbent powers are inexorably coming to terms with this new reality. The “Age of Transparency” is here: not because one transnational online network dedicated to open information and whistle-blowing named WikiLeaks exists, but because the knowledge of how to build and maintain such networks is now widespread.
…social sharing of data–be it MP3 files or once-secret government documents–is out of anyone’s control once the material is in digital form. And anyone who wants to form an association of like-minded souls can do so in seconds, using search tools, social networks, or just plain old email. And while there is still a limit to how many genuine connections one individual can have with others, there is no inherent limit to the number of connections that a community may create laterally. A “one-to-many” email list or social following may look valuable, but no one person can have millions of personal relationships. Thus, while leaders and celebrities remain important, their stars are dimming, as community hubs, forums, and aggregators that knit together thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people are steadily growing
The fundamental change powering this networked age of politics is the shift from scarcity to abundance. Thanks to the rapid evolution of computer processing power, all kinds of goods that were once expensive to produce have become cheap. Beyond the declining price of a personal computer or a backup drive, elemental changes in the economics of information, connectivity, and time have occurred.
Finally, as the price of memory and disk space has continued to collapse, our ability to share time-intensive and content-rich resources has exploded. While old media like television, radio, and print have inherent physical limits on how much space or time than can give to any subject, on the Internet there are no such limits. The sound bite can be replaced with a sound blast, and if your content is compelling, people will share it for you.
The Final Take: Our tableau is hardly one of life and death. But, as we deal with intellectual property and copyright issues, there are some striking parrallels between these Wikileaks issues and our business. We are an industry wrestling mightly with how to build an economic model that takes the new realities and makes them work. And if the Music Business doesn’t figure these questions out? Well, then, for this one time…for this one industry…it actually might be a matter of life or death.