The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud (DMS Digital Media and Society)

Wikström, Patrik
Polity Press, Cambridge
2009
9780745643908 (pb)

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Cover of book Partik Wikström's "The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud" concerns the music industry's historical development and how it might adapt to survive in the contemporary era of cheap and easy digital distribution. The approach Wikström takes is firmly grounded in theory, but he also makes reference to economic facts and figures about the industry and offers some interesting case studies to support his argument. The jist of this argument is that digital distribution over the Internet will continue to erode revenues from the sale of musical recordings but that there are other parts of the music industry which are growing (e.g. live performances), and many potential ways to make money from music which have yet to be explored.

The book's introduction gives a flavour for how quickly things are changing in the music industry at present and highlights one interesting example of innovation in the sale/distribution of music. The introduction also sets out three dynamics which are central to the author's thoughts on the topic and the rest of the book connectivity versus control, amateur versus professional and service versus product. The old music industry was dominated by major record labels who control access to musical products made by professionals charging consumers for the right to listen to these musical products at their leisure. This strategy made a lot of sense when music was distributed on physical media (rival goods) but in the digital age of lossless copies music becomes a non-rival good. The Internet, and in particular peer-to-peer networks, offer access to digital distribution methods which are very cheap to operate/use and are difficult to monitor. The main problem this poses to record companies is that it is much more difficult to control access to their recordings, and if access can't be controlled then it can't be charged for. A network of peers also by its nature makes no fundamental distinction between uploaders and downloaders becoming a content producer is now only as difficult as producing something worth distributing. This has the effect of blurring the formerly sharp distinction between consumers and producers - amateurs and professionals increasingly find their music being distributed through the same channels.

In the first chapter Wikström sets out the definitions and theoretical frameworks which underpin the remainder of the book. He makes a convincing argument that the Music Industry is best approached as a copyright industry, and goes on to establish a theoretical platform which borrows from organisational theory, social learning theory and the sociology of culture.

In the second chapter Wikström breaks the industry down into three sub-industries; music recording, music licensing and live music he then goes on to trace the history of the industry and the reasons why music companies have tended to confine themselves to one of these sub-industries. In the third chapter the focus shifts to the new music economy and the media as a link between audience and music. In the old music economy there was a clear distinction between media which were for the promotion of music (radio, television) and media which were to generate revenue (CD/cassette sales). In the new music economy both the promotion and consumption of music increasingly happen on-line. Wikström also argues that music licensing (by films, tv programmes, advertisements), and to a lesser extent live music, were formerly treated as avenues for promotion. Now falling revenues from music sales mean that licensing and live music are increasingly treated as sources of revenue - evidenced by the growth of these sectors as music sales have declined. Indeed a recurring theme of the book is that the present crisis in "the music industry" is actually largely confined to the sub-industry occupied by record labels.

The fourth chapter is about the professional production of music which has been characterised by decreasing costs in the recording of music but increasing costs in promoting this music to its potential audience. It is also noted that members of the "audience" can now comunicate with each other much more easily on the Internet, that this kind of digital word of mouth is increasingly important to a musician's success and that it costs nothing, but can't be easily directed by professional promotors of music. Another interesting trend here is to treat the musician as a brand, and following on from this is a recent development where some high-profile musicians have signed big money '360-degree' deals with a single company that will handle their music recording, licensing and live performances these being aspects which were formerly handled by different companies belonging to different sub-industries.

The final two chapters are in my view the most interesting, but unfortunately they are also the shortest. Chapter five is about the increasing number of amateurs who now create their own music to a semi-professional standard and those who remix or re-contextualise professionally produced music. The latter group pose a particular quandry for record companies. A fan-produced Youtube music video which goes viral can provide a lot of free promotion for a song, but these videos are almost always produced without the permission of the rights holder. To this point record companies have tended to neither endorse nor prosecute these endeavours; suggesting that they have yet to make their mind up about whether this kind of activity has a net positive or negative impact on their revenues.

These are issues which also have great bearing on the sociology of culture. Scholars such as Yochai Benkler and Henry Jenkins argue that we are currently witnessing a democratisation of culture as the tools of cultural production become more widely available and avenues open up for the digital distribution of amateur produced content (e.g. Youtube, Peer-to-peer networks). 'The Music Industry' speaks briefly to the broader implications of this trend, but retain its focus on the production of music and the fate of the established industry in light of new developments.

In the final chapter, about the future of the music industry, Wikström finally discusses in some detail an assumption that the whole book rests upon namely that illegal file-sharing on the Internet is here to stay, and its influence on the music industry will increase in the years to come. It seems to me that the music industry and other producers of digital media goods are a long way from accpeting this eventuality. Both the UK and USA's governments are in the process of rushing through pieces of legislation which would strengthen copyright-holders' capacity to track down and punish illegal file-sharers ("Digital Economy" and "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits" Acts respectively).

If and when the Music Industry does abandon the sale of recorded music as its primary source of revenue Wikström's "The Music Industry" offers some well-developed thoughts on alternative means of financing the professional production of music.

Richard Mills
Lancaster University

Bibliography

BENKLER, Y. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2006.

JENKINS, H.Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. NYU Press, 2006.