News Flash: Your Music Is Not Your Product

This post is by singer / songwriter Jeff Macdougall (@jeffmacdougall).

image from I'm tired.

I'm tired of having the same conversation over and over again.

The conversation about how we should go about dealing with "thieves" and "pirates" "stealing" our "product" like so many shoplifters. I'm just gonna say it.

It's absurd.

Music is not, and never was, a product. 

When a label executive tells you that they are "not in the business of selling discs", (or vinyl, tape, t-shirts, etc.) and that they are actually "selling music," they are, at best, fooling themselves, or at worst, lying to your face. Moving plastic, vinyl, paper and/or any other tangible good they can dream up is exactly what the recording industry has been about since it was established.

Sure, the labels spend money and time trying to infuse their products (CDs, posters, etc.) with content (music, album art, etc.) to raise its intrinsic value, but it's still the CD or poster that they are/were selling... not the music itself.

Still, I'm always shocked at how very few people (and these are music professionals we're talking about) seem to understand such an obvious point.

This attitude is not that surprising coming from the recording side of the music industry. After all, if the premise that "music is an actual thing" were true, then there would be hope of putting the derailed train back on its proverbial track and everyone could get back to doing business as usual. So for the RIAA and the majors to frame the problem this way makes a certain amount of sense (at least, initially). But digital music is not real. (I'm going to write that again so that everyone understands that I didn't make a typo.) Digital music is not real.

The experience of hearing it is real, true. But the music itself isn't real. It's an audio hologram.

In any other market, if a player in a space (or even an entire section of an industry) takes a poor position by believing something is false when really the opposite is true (or vice-versa), the market simply corrects their behavior by allowing the competition to win out, forcing them to adjust if they want to stay in the game -- but not the recording industry. Which begs the question... Why?

I blame you.

Yes, you (my fellow musician/label/songwriter/PRO/music business professional) have made things worse by buying into this inept idea -- hook, line and sinker.

By choosing to believe, whole-heartedly, that "music is a product" and anyone who hears it without permission (i.e. file sharing, YouTube, hearing it on a radio station or podcast where it hasn't been sanctioned, etc.) is stealing, you've empowered the entire industry to take us all down the drain.

And while copyright law has been pushed and stretched over the years to legally say that such an act is indeed "theft", no right-minded consumer is going to buy into that load of crap. Ever.

Some say, "So what? Copyright is in our favor and 'the law is the law.' Sooner or later, we will come up with a format that will have enough added value and people will "buy." But guess what...

They won't.

Generally speaking, people don't want to buy music. And here's the ass-kicker... they never did. True fans, audiophiles and collectors buy CDs and other merch. They always have and that's not going to change. But for everyone else, it's really about 'time-shifting.' Most consumers bought and still buy music so they can time-shift it (play it back when, where and how they want). I don't just mean now that everything is digital either. That's why the average music listener has always purchased music - not because they wanted ownership but because buying an album or CD was the only way to time-shift their musical experience.

The days of consumers purchasing music, en masse, are gone.

I'm here to tell you that the emperor is naked, to ask -- no beg -- you to change how we view our work. To view our work, our music, for what it really is... an experience. Almost all experiences that we can and do pay for (an amusement park ride, a massage, etc.) are viewed as a service. We need to view our work in the same way.

To be clear, I'm not saying we need to stop trying to sell digital downloads or that we all need to start our own subscription service. There isn't going to be one way to make your money and every artist's recipe for success will be different. What I'm saying is that it's time we stop framing this problem around IP and ownership and start framing it around listener experience and satisfaction.

We need to get honest with our fans – and ourselves. We need to start looking at music as it really is, an experience NOT a product. Only then will we find the solutions for which we are so desperately seeking.

- Jeff MacDougall


Editor's note: Calm down, breathe, and then comment. Intelligently. Please. Jeff is very active in the Hypebot community and will reply to questions and critism.

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