Goodbye and good riddance

Scrounging music industry executives will soon be a thing of the past

Speaking as a reformed music journalist, it's been fun watching the industry gasp its last breaths. First it sent peer-to-peer file-sharing underground with the closure of Napster in 2001. Now, it is suing its own fans. The music industry has struggled to cope with how its main export can now be translated into bits and sent down a series of tubes direct to its (not always paying) customers. And all the while, the music has only got better.

Vivendi Universal is the biggest of the remaining handful of bloated mega-corporations that have been suffocating innovation in the music industry since the late Eighties. It has just signed its own death warrant by announcing that it will license its catalogue to SpiralFrog, a website due to launch in December. The site will offer "downloads for eyeballs", giving away tracks for free and paying Universal from advertising revenue. Commentators see this as an innovative move. Eureka, they cry, music is just like newspaper copy - of course we can pay for it through ads! The only question remaining is exactly how SpiralFrog will work out which artists generated which eyeballs.

Once SpiralFrog has this magic formula, however, the need for major labels disappears in a puff of smoke. If you don't believe me, look at the concurrent rumour about MySpace - that the social networking site will offer paid-for music downloads from its pages.

My favourite piece of industry bravado on the subject comes from Michael Bornhäusser, a man who makes his living selling "digital rights management" - software that uses encryption technology to protect digital music content from entering the febrile world of peer-to-peer. "The independent music to be sold over MySpace . . . is a good way for unsigned and niche-interest bands to generate some revenue, but as soon as they become successful they will sign with a major label to ensure global distribution and marketing support." That's pretty poor reasoning: the internet is a fantastic global distribution system, and as for marketing, MySpace - credited as the springboard for acts such as Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen - seems to have that one covered, too.

If MySpace, which has already bought in Google's advertising engine for the site, can co-opt SpiralFrog's formula for paying musicians through advertising, the circle will be complete. Aspiring stars need only upload their tracks and wait for the network to respond. If the MySpace kids like what they hear, Google ad revenue will start trickling down to artists, which they can build upon, as all musicians do, with spin-off merchandise and live gigs.

And the very best thing? Pop gigs will finally be rid of the spectre of the antediluvian industry executive, who scrounges off the talent of young artists and the enthusiasm of dedicated fans to feed his coke and Rolex habit.

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