Buy every song in the world for €4 a month

The government should help the recording industry find a new business model that encourages music fans to enjoy a wide variety of music and compensates artists fairly for their talents, says author Don Tapscott.

“File-sharing a classic example of a disruptive technology, and we’ve got to get over this mindset that peer-to-peer sharing of music is stealing,” says Tapscott. “Sadly, obsession with control, piracy, and proprietary standards on the part of large industry players will only serve to further alienate and anger music listeners.

“As the person who coined the term The Digital Economy in my 1995 book I do feel obliged to comment on the UK government’s recently unveiled Digital Economy Bill. The bill is fundamentally flawed because it punishes Internet users who share songs.”

Tapscott, Chairman of the think tank nGenera Insight and an Professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, reckons the answer is to stop trying to sell songs at a set price and to think ‘Wikinomics’.

“The music industry needs to think Wikinomics.” He continues. “Music should be a service, not a product. Instead of purchasing tunes, you would pay a small monthly fee for access to all the songs in the world – say 4 Euros per month. Recordings would be streamed to you when you want to any appliance – your laptop, mobile device, car, home stereo, via the Internet.

“Call it Everywhere Internet Audio. Every customer has the Me Channel and could slice and dice the massive musical database anyway you like – by artist, by genre, by year, by songwriter, by popularity, and so on. The Me Channel would know what you like, based on what you’ve chosen in the past. You could even ask your Everywhere Internet Audio service to suggest new artists that resemble my known favorites or to create a new playlist called ‘Mick Jagger’s current favorites.’

“Musicians, songwriters and even their labels would be compensated through systems that track their popularity. All the music would be pooled and using actuarial economics the total pie would be divided up according to the number of times the songs of a given artist were streamed. Technologies and companies already exist that can do this.”

Stepping back to consider this last point for a moment, it is hard to see how any musician could ever afford to take the first step on the ladder to stardom if they were, for example, the 97,000,000th most popular artist in the world and in line for a royalty payment so small that a scanning electron microscope would be needed to see it.

At the other end of the scale, megastars would no doubt be more than happy to give away 99 percent of their earnings to help new talent get started. Err, right.

But the most depressing part of Tapscott’s new musical world order is that artist would be rewarded not for how innovative or creative they are, but merely by their popularity. Do we really want a world where every tune is produced by the runners up on American Idol rather than by musicians with even the slightest bit of talent?

Concludes Tapscott: “Everywhere Internet Audio would make the problem of copyright protection vanish. No one would ever ‘steal’ music. Why would you take possession of a song when you can listen to any song at any time on any device? But rather than build bold new approaches for digital entertainment, the industry persists in a business model that turns their customers into criminals.

“The industry that brought us the Beatles is now hated by its customers and is collapsing.”

At least he’s right there.

Tapscott performs with the Toronto-based Men in Suitsin his spare time. The band only plays charity gigs and doesn’t charge for appearing, so it’s difficult to see how they’d fit into his new plan. Another problem raised comes from the band’s setlist which features While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which is credited to the Beatles and Jeff Healy. Now we liked Jeff Healy, but even his most ardent supporters would never claim he wrote the George Harrison – not Beatles – classic.

Meanwhile, the Neil Diamond-penned I’m A Believer is credited to the Monkees, and, more bizarrely, Smashmouth. But he does feature a Tragically Hip track, so he can’t be all bad.

But if Tapscott can’t get the artist credits right, what chance have the music industry dinosaurs got?