Saturday, May 10, 2008
THROWING OFF THE DRM SHACKLES at LAST.FM
(The new album cover - I hope you like it!)
One of the biggest stories of 2008 in the music business has been carefully buried or under-reported by the media: DRM, or digital rights management is gradually going the way of the compact disc.
It is clear that the people have spoken, and they like getting their music downloaded directly to their computer. They spoke REALLY LOUD in April when APPLE became the #1 music retailer in the US, beating out Best Buy for the first time (Apple was #2 in December 2007, and had been behind Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Amazon.com as recently as last June.) Paid downloads accounted for almost 30% of all music sold in January (for my catalog it accounts for at least 75% of sales every month).
Many people think that the main thing stopping digital sales from REALLY taking off is DRM - the various systems that have been set up to stop people from copying and/or sharing music they buy on the internet. This is the big draw-back with iTunes - you buy the download, but they limit how many copies you can make, and how many computers you can put the song on. Personally, I have no problem with this - the limits are plenty for my personal use, and as an artist I like the idea that one person is not allowed to buy my album and then just electronically give it to millions of folks. But the reality is, if someone wants to do that, they can - just by buying my CD, ripping it and away it goes, onto Limewire, or wherever. So why penalizes the people that prefer to pay and download the songs in the first place?
The walls have started falling fast this year: In January AMAZON announced that songs from all four major labels could be downloaded through Amazon MP3, their digital download store. They are the first retailer to reach agreements with all four of the major labels, so now you can download Justin, Beyonce, Mariah, Madonna and mental patient Britney if you choose to.
Now CBS, one of the last old-guard companies, had entered the fray with an update to a company started back in 2003: Last.FM
This year CBS announced that Last.fm will offer on-demand streaming of millions of tracks from all four major labels and a HUGE host of indies. There is no fee for the service - it is an "ad-supported" business model, with subscription upgrades if you desire. This service competes directly with Rhapsody and other streaming music services. The celestial jukebox has arrived, and it is sitting in your computer right now.
How huge is the "host of indies"? Well, as a test, I went on Last.fm today, typed in "George Kahn" in the search engine, pressed enter, and within 15 seconds I was listening to "Midnight Brew". No password to enter, no registration, no software to download to my computer.
I did not tell Last.fm to list my music in their service - obviously someone else did (CDBABY perhaps). And I certainly hope that people will click through to buy a song or a CD after listening. In the meanwhile, you will have to excuse me - I am going to type "Grateful Dead" into Last.fm and enjoy my afternoon.