In the digital age, the way we consumer music has changed. Gone (for most anyway) are the days of driving to the record/music store, buying that physical disc, and then driving back home to unwrap and listen to your new collection of songs while flipping through the album art. Nowadays, we download songs a-la-carte and rarely if ever are just listening to a song. With MP3 players being a common household item now, we can listen to music and do pretty much any other task we can think of, taking away the luster of reading album contents or listening to an entire CD all the way through. Naturally, many different labels and artists have been outspoken of this a-la-carte consumption for some time. To them, it cuts sales as instead of a $15-$20 album sale every time, most people are now opting for a few favorites from the CD. Seems fair enough, right — only paying for what we want?
Recently, Pink Floyd engaged in a court battle with their label (EMI) over claims that EMI was skirting around “full royalties” as the amount paid on a per-song basis is noticeably less than a full album sale. In defense, EMI argued the digital landscape is completely different, therefore you can’t apply rules and regulations that were constructed around digital means. (Funny how that’s only a legitimate argument when it benefits the labels, huh?) The win for Pink Floyd means any and all single song downloads will have to be approved by the band beforehand or risk legal recourse. How will it play out for services such as iTunes, Amazon, and countless other music retailers? Will Pink Floyd’s content be pulled entirely?
In this particular case, the argument against single sound downloads has more-so to do with greedy labels yet again thinking of only themselves and not the artists which they claim to “be there for”. Not surprising really. However, it’ll be interesting to see how other labels/bands view this ruling and apply it to their own products. I’m pretty much against any label or band banning single song downloads. I completely understand that they have every right do sell their product how they see fit. But let’s be honest, when was the last time you purchased/downloaded an album and actually liked every single song? With as repetitive and craptastic as countless copycat albums/artists are today, a typical CD has 2-5 songs that are worth purchasing at best. Banning single song downloads (again, for different reasons than Pink Floyd) will only hurt the label/band. I for one will not purchase any content from anyone who forces me to buy the entire CD. Simple as that.
Critics will argue that an album or CD is a work of art from start to finish. In reality, that’s rarely true anymore. Sure, some musicians will actually create an amazingly well put together album that requires a start-to-finish approach. But that is rare these days. I’d go as far to wager that 95% of songs released today would be perfectly fine on their own. And of course, it all comes back to the physical vs. digital business models used. You cannot use physical business models and mindsets on digital products. They’re two completely different animals. Digital music now gives consumers the choice. Removing that choice and trying to enforce an old physical, “you have to buy the entire album” approach just won’t fly anymore.
So in the end, I’m glad that Pink Floyd stood up against their label for overstepping their boundaries and having their way with Pink Floyd’s property. At the same time, I’m cautiously waiting to see how the rest of the industry handles the ruling. Hopefully it doesn’t spark a wave of “physical purchase only” moves. Because frankly, I’ll just download stuff if they take that route.
It’s simple economics: Give the customer what they want and they’ll pay you for it. Force them into “your” mold of what you want and they’ll find ways around it.