@CMJ: Music’s Future Is Cloudy, Digital

Where’s the music business going?  At a panel at the CMJ conference today industry types threw out a variety of predictions. But the consensus won’t shock our readers — traditional record labels are going to have a much smaller role…

• Celia Hirschman of One Little Indian, the label behind Björk, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, and one-hit-wonder Chumbawamba, had lots of passion, but little in the way of precise predictions. But she was sure that digital will be important.

• Jesse Kirshbaum, CEO of the NUE Agency, a talent booking agency, relied on a music business aphorism: The best way for artists to be successful “is to make good music.” Much more interesting was his statement that Radiohead’s pay-what-you-like experiment was a “sham.” Kirshbaum argues that the pay-what-you-like release of “In Rainbows” was simply a marketing ploy.

We’re baffled by that, since we don’t understand why marketing is bad, and because Radiohead fans have downloaded some 1.3 million albums, and many of them have paid for them — which means Radiohead not only marketed itself but made money. 

• Andrew Dubber, UCE Birmingham senior lecturer, said that physical sales are evaporating (again, not a shock to anyone who’s paying attention). More interestingly, he contends that the value of a digital download, should be zero, since you can produce an infinite number of copies for little to no additional cost.  

That argument has gotten some pickup on the Web in recent months, but it’s silly — otherwise Microsoft would be giving away Vista, Office, etc. The more pertinent question is: If you do strip out the costs of physical distribution for CDs, and price them accordingly, will anyone pay up?