PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Distributed Patronage
January 2001

While the music industry reels in shock at the pace and reach of Napster and the MP3 revolution, and organisations like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) are desperate to protect their cosy existence, let us consider the whole strange business of the music industry.

Prior to the invention of the printing press and the availability of sheet music, there was no music "industry" as such, other than in the form of a live performance. In the middle ages, wandering minstrels were generally dodgy sorts of no fixed abode, getting up to all sort of japes in return for board and lodging. Top of the Madrigals simply wasnít on the TV, although the chances are that Jimmy Saville was knee high to a turnip.

Meanwhile, composers got by on the patronage of the wealthy Ė consequently, the type of music written reflected the catholic and cultured tastes of the gentry. Maybe if Baldrick and his fellow peasants had possessed the means to buy music at OurPrice, then such delightful genres as punk, rockabilly and house might have been invented in the 14th century. Nevertheless, the general patronage by the gentry of the arts has also resulted in paintings that people still bother to reproduce today in shops like Athena, without the aid of an Arts Council grant or Lottery largesse. A 15th century artist expecting to get wedged up for a pile of bricks, half a sheep or an unmade bed would simply have starved.

Indeed, even such modern classics as Picasso would most likely have been burned at the stake for witchcraft. The Lord of the Manor knew what he liked, and it wasnít a painting of his old lady with her head painted poking out of the side of her bum.

And in the grand old days of patronage, there was no such thing as Harvey Schmultz managing the business affairs of John Purcell; arranging to satisfy his cravings for a regular cocaine supply and voluptuous female company. But these days, "the industry" sees to it that the Gallagher brothers get chauffeured about in 90 foot limos, and Keith Moon got to drive his Bentley into a swimming pool.

All this is largely thanks to the recent invention of Mr Edisonís wondrous phonograph, and the subsequent creation of the "music industry", which has distributed the one-time patronage of the few, to the masses - in the form of the record buying public. Managing the rights of the music industry have provided comfortable employment and remuneration for many years now - although maybe not for ever.

Donít forget that Marconi invented the original and best Napster Ė itís called the wireless. And instead of delivering copies of the latest music to a handful of spotty kids on the internet, bandwidth permitting, Marconiís version still has the potential for every one of the 300 million or so people in a place like Europe, all grab it at once. Moreover, using satellite as the broadcast medium, the quality is indistinguishable (to all but the most seriously pedantic) from the best CD reproduction.

OK, so broadcasters pay some form of licence fee Ė but itís not going to be the same as the profit on sales of 300 million CDs. However, thatís not the point, Marconiís napster promotes the music to the masses. Itís actually advertising that the broadcasters have to pay to broadcast.

Having realised this, there is evidence appearing that some record companies are starting to pay some attention to the possibility that sampling via MP3s can actually lead to the sale of CDs. So why would someone pay £10 for a CD when "any fool knows" that you can get anything you want for free..? Why do people pay £3.99 for a "prepared meal" in Tescoís when in the same store you could by the raw ingredients for 39p..? Convenience. To trap the tune you want on the wireless is a tricky thing. Or rather it was.

New technology gizmos like Psionís Wavefinder DAB receiver (http://www.wavefinder.com) will be attached to PC systems, and it will not be long before someone writes the software that allows users to list the music they want to seek and record Ė and then the system will do it automatically "off the air" to the local hard disk, and straight into one of the brilliant MP3 library and management programmes available from numerous web sites these days.

So whichever way the music industry looks, itís getting easier to purloin their "intellectual property" (which I suppose is a bit of an exaggeration in the case of a Bananarama single).. Moreover, itís tempting to compile your own albums, since we all know that most CDs contain 2 or 3 good tracks and 7 or so fillers.

The internet means that an artist with a following can operate their own web presence in order to manage their own distributed patronage (aka fan club) and to milk it for music, gig tickets and merchandise. See sites like www.numan.co.uk. Gary had a TVR Cerbera when I last saw him Ė and that was before his latest album got all the rave reviews. So heís not starving.

The traditional industry will still bleat that promoting a newcomer is expensive and if the record buying public doesnít continue to pay their ransom demands, than the world of music will just stop. If the newcomer is good then people will want to listen to them and pass the news around.

If the music is any good and is getting heard, then a corporate sponsor might emerge Ė in the manner of a medieval patron, but with a specific commercial purpose. Just about anything that draws an audience these days is perceived by the rabid media and advertising industry an opportunity to market.

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