Tech Tip:Napster and the Music Industry


Part 1: Napster, Making Money Off Music, and Selling Your Soul


by Bruce Haring


Napster, Making Money Off Music, and Selling Your Soul


In San Francisco, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is now deciding whether the file-sharing service known as Napster will be shut down pending a trial that will determine whether the online site contributes to copyright infringement. A decision is expected before the end of the month.


Many observers say the fate of the music industry rides on that court's decision. They argue that in a world where few people will have to purchase music in order to listen to it, there will be no profit for artists and recording companies, and therefore, no business. But this argument overlooks one very important consideration: Musicians made music for thousands of years before there was a recording industry. It's a safe bet they will make music for thousands of years after a Napster decision.


If, as many believe, free file-swapping makes it no longer possible to sell the actual songs, what can a musician or recording company do?


The key to surviving the transition from a world of selling music to the next phase is figuring out how to convert an audience attracted to music into paying customers. The first clue comes from advertising's very nature.


Advertising is designed to create an aspiration in the mind of the consumer. "If I buy this car, I will be cool," is a common subliminal implication in automobile ads. "If I use this soap, my skin will feel smooth and I'll look younger," is another ploy. Music is the most aspirational of all communication forms. It inspires moods, excites, elevates. It is the perfect vehicle to convey emotion, the gateway to aspiration, and thus, the key to marketing.


Although 40 years ago it was deemed uncool to tie music to a commercial, in the future it may be the one source of income that allows a musician sufficient revenue to concentrate on her/his music. Therefore, the business manager of the future will likely seek to tie the aspirations generated by an artists' music to a specific product, in effect "selling" that audience to an advertiser with real-world goods like cars, soap, or cereal.


Already, acts like Hootie & the Blowfish, U2, and the Offspring are gathering data on their customers by giving away their music, videos and other items of interest. They intend to take that data and use it to market merchandise that cannot be digitally produced (t-shirts, concert tickets, bobbing head dolls) and then monetize the audience by selling them non-music-related products. Sting's television commercial for Jaguar is the first manifestation of such tactics, but it won't be the last.