Way back in the summer of 1995,1 wrote the following for the second edition of The Musician's Business Legal Guide:
On-line distribution—actually delivering that album order not through the mail but as digital bits down tekphone or cable wires—is still pretty much in the "wouldn't it be neat?" stages.... But the fact remains that the entire history of recorded music will soon be available for instant downloading. The technology to do this already exists, though availability to the pubic is still a few years away.
Well, those few years have passed quickly. Technology breakthroughs, driven by gargantuan music appetites around the world, have put the Internet at center stage in the evolution of a whole new music business. All the distribution changes in the past will seem like baby steps compared to the enormous transformation fueled by the digitization of music. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Flash back to early 1994.
When the World Wide Web first hit the scene, early musical adopters became drunk with its possibilities. The promises indeed were intoxicating: Post your electronic press kit for all the world to see! Give music fans 24/7 global access to your musical goods! Allow Hottentots and Polynesians to hear sound clips of your Brooklyn-produced tunes!
Added to these thrilling possibilities were
• technical features such as Flash animation and Java applets;
• ever-improving audio/video streaming technology;
• the opportunity for having full artistic control and indulging non-
mainstream musical tastes.
Clearly, you had the makings of mini-music empires.
Well, it's been almost eight years since the Web surfaced. Has the promise become a reality? Has the optimism found fulfillment? Without a doubt, the Net is having an enormous impact on everything musical, from revitalizing dormant music careers to galvanizing global fan bases—from providing new DIY avenues for major-level artists to sparking unlikely yet rich musical collaborations. The promise may finally be realizing its day.
On the other hand, the Internet has unleashed forces that are throwing the traditional recording industry into a major spin. The industry is up against an international medium that is not ruled by any one country's laws and that was developed with a share-and-share-alike environment. The industry wants to be active on the Net, where analysts say billions of dollars will change hands for music in the next five years. At the same time, however, the industry is fighting for control of a global medium full of users who are accustomed to an array of free services, products, and resources. Corporate goals and public practice are clashing on a global scale.
The year 2001 saw much of the digital music environment come under the control of major music companies. Through a brutal combination of business savvy, legal warfare, and simple cartel power, the "big five" record labels (Vivendi-Universal, Sony, Warner/AOL, EMI, and BMG) have maneuvered the digital distribution industry into their corner. In May of 2001, Vivendi-Universal purchased MP3.com. Bertelsmann bought MyPlay.com.
Encouraged by its success at mortally wounding Napster, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed lawsuits against Aimster, a file-sharing utility that works with instant messaging software, and launched an Internet music site with impressive personalization capabilities. In the months previous, independent companies fell like dominoes: eMusic, Scour, IUMA, SonicNet, Musicbank, CDNow—those that haven't been bought by their competitors have gone bankrupt or been forced to lay off virtually their entire staffs.
"There is no place for a small company to pull off a monster vision in digital music," says MP3.corn's embattled founder Michael Robertson. "What you're witnessing on the digital music front is that all the small to medium companies are going away. The window of opportunity is over."
But not so for the individual musician, songwriter, or band.
Despite its bittersweet results, the Internet is sparking opportunities for musicians that would not be possible without it. When I put out word via e-mail that I was looking for Net success stories for this book, I received one in particular that clearly illustrates all that I hope to explore in these pages. The message came from a 20-year old Norwegian college student named Oystein Ramfjord. Ramfjord provides a remarkable list of musical triumphs after just one year on the Internet.
As of May 2001, he had
• made over $40,000 from CD sales and downloads using
• had over 800,000 downloads and sold over 800 CDs;
• licensed several songs to a CNN documentary;
• licensed one song to a compilation CD that includes established
artists Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, Enigma, and Brian Eno;
• signed an exclusive license agreement with Neurodisc Records for
one album (distributed through EMI);
• entered into a collaboration with a commercial ad agency for the
use of his music in several TV commercials and on Web sites;
• licensed songs for an upcoming computer game, which will be
• been approached by several independent record labels;
• been offered to score a U.S. film (his first), which he agreed to do
for $17,000 plus 50 percent of the publishing.
CD sales, jingle writing gigs, computer game scoring, label interest, film scoring, and licensing deals—all from the Net. "At this time one year ago, I regarded my dreams of being a full-time composer/producer as completely unrealistic," says Ramfjord. "Everything on this list has happened only because of the Internet. Without it, I'm pretty sure I'd be nowhere."
While not every musician will achieve the same level of success as Ramfjord, the Net nevertheless opens a brand new chapter in the history of music and invites musicians to discover new ways to reach their audience and nurture careers.