So Tower Records is closing down.  It’s so sad to see the iconic Tower Records on Sunset with a “going out of business” banner hanging from it’s roof.  I’ll always associate that place with Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” and Use Your Illusion I&II by Guns N’ Roses.  I know it seems weird, but as long as I can remember, the sunset strip was G n’ R, and when that album came out, they had coverage of people lining up and going nuts to get the albums.  Can you imagine anyone lining up for an album today? I mean, people line up for videogames, and they still line up for movies, but not music.  Actually, I’m pretty sure people would line up for a relaunch of Crystal Pepsi before they lined up for an album.  I know I would.

And inspite of iTunes being a success, and the RIAA suing everyone they can find sharing an Avril Lavigne single, it’s hard to say that music has the same value that it once did.  However, that doesn’t mean music isn’t still profitable.  Take a look at the fortunes being paid for Music Publishing Companies (the people who make money everytime a song is played in a restaurant, a movie, a stadium, etc), or the gigantic concert money being made by U2, The Rolling Stones and Jay Z.  Look at the empires built out of music inspired clothing.  The truth is that the only part of music that has actually lost value is the sale of the physical media of albums and singles.  This of course, is a huge threat to the labels who make their money directly off of album sales, but not off concert or publishing (although it varies by record contract). 

So what’s the solution?  It might be a little simpler than many think.  Record labels as we know them, need to fold.  Indie Labels like Secretly Canadian, Matador, and Arts and Crafts will all be fine, but the conglomerates like Universal Music, BMG, and Capitol are finished.  Time to liquidate.  But where do all the people, the archives, the resrouces all go?  Where anyone goes, the highest bidders.

The people and systems that make up record labels should be absorbed by multinational corporations and advertising agencies.  Before explaining any further, I want to discuss the fairly recent trend of branding as a part of advertising.  Not necessarily the branding in terms of logos, but rather the efforts on the part of advertisers and corporations to associate their product with more esoteric looks and feels.  Specifically they want to be “young” or “edgy” or “patriotic.”  The product itself is no longer differentiated enough from its competition, so the battle is not the superior product but the superior product association.

So what I propose is that these companies start their own music division to scout, manage, and market musical talent who are also signed to the company label.  Everything the artists produces is then company property (standard for most places) for a set period of time.  The company has the right to use the songs in their advertising, their name in the label, and their product appear in the video (if they choose).  The album is then released through the website of the company 1 track per week for 13-17 weeks.  After the 17th week, the entire album is available for download as long as the company wants to keep it up.  For those still in need of the physical copy, you can purchase limited edition vinyl or CDs of the album after the final track has been released (but these will really only serve as collectors items and not the basis for the business model).  There will be no copy protection on the songs, and users are free to rip, burn, or fileshare as much as they want.  By utilizing high speed servers, it’s pointless to grab the track from bittorrent or limewire, when you can just download it from the corporate site.  The publishing rights to the songs remain profitable, the artist retains exposure and the opportunity to make money through this contract as well as touring or other venues.   For the company, they would have the opportunity to brand themselves along side the artist to accurately reach the specific demographic they desire.  For example, maybe an investment company wants to attract Baby Boomers, so they release the latest Bob Dylan album, along with some of his back catalog.  Maybe Red Bull wants to grab a hip hop market, so they release the new Young Jeezy album.  In both cases, the company starts drawing traffic to their site, and branding their corporate identity with an artist who speaks to their demographic.

But what about artistic integrity?  To be honest, is it any different making money for NBC Universal than Chevy? or Microsoft?  They are all multinational corporations, seeking to exploit for profit.  If you are a real artist, and you have real concerns about your integrity, then stick to the indie labels and carve out your fan base that way.  To be honest, is it any different now?  And while many will fear that the corporations will go too far, they have marketing departments who understand the demographic.  They know that they will gain integrity, respect, and brand loyalty if they permit their artists to work without intrusion.

It may not be the solution that the music industry was hoping for, but in the end might be the best way to preserve a profit making structure that benefits artists, consumers, and corporations.