File sharing: who should be innovative?

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The great debate of whether file sharing is acceptable or not has risen its ugly head once again. This time, all manner of artists from different genres have become involved, leading to some rather heated discussions.

An article in The Times, featuring quotes from the members of Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Blur, got Lily Allen in a huff. The article in question talked about Business Secretary Lord Mandelson's proposal to cut off people from the Internet if they file share. The bands came back saying that it would “criminalise” a huge chunk of their fanbases.

Radiohead guitarist, Ed O'Brien told The Times: “Every generation has a different method. File sharing is like a sampler, like taping your mate’s music. You go, ‘I like that, I’ll go and buy the album’. Or, ‘you know what, I’ll go and see them live.’”

Once Lily had seen this article, she wanted to voice her opinion. She said: “The Featured Artist Coalition also says file sharing's fine because it 'means a new generation of fans for us.' This is great if you're a big artist at the back end of your career with loads of albums to flog to a new audience, but emerging artists don't have this luxury.”

She goes on to mention the likes of Spotify and MySpace which let you try before you buy, which has been useful to bands for gaining new fans and widening their audience, but people like to have music that is their own, and they can do what they want with, such as putting it on their MP3 player.

At the end of her blog, Lily says: “I want to get people working together to use new digital opportunities to encourage new artists.”

So whose job is it to find these new opportunities and use them? Is it the record label, as they're meant to promote the artist, and where their main aim is to make money (they are a business, after all), or is it the artist, who creates the music and seems to have the biggest problem with people getting their work unlawfully?

As in most of these situations, there are many different viewpoints that can be discussed. But, the simple solution seems to be to make music more affordable for the consumer. Paying £20 for an album in HMV that doesn't have any extras seems a bit excessive in this society. But, with the right marketing, privileges and perks, the real music fans would be quite happy to pay that, and more.

A good example of this is Green Day's Ultimate Collectors 7” Vinyl Singles Box Set. It includes 42 singles on 21 vinyls, and is limited to 2,500 sets. It costs $150 (around £100), but people are prepared to pay this for something which is limited, and has had time and effort put into its production.

The pay-what-you-want way of releasing music is also very successful. Music Alley reported that “Radiohead made more money before In Rainbows was physically released than they made in total on the previous album Hail To the Thief.” Luckily, Radiohead aren't on a record label, so own all the rights to their own music and can distribute it how they want, but it's something record labels should take into consideration. Radiohead also gave the fans the chance to get a special £40 boxset, which had extra material, art work and vinyls in it, and many fans chose to get the digital album as well as the box set.

Matt Bellamy, of Muse, in reply to Lily's blog, is hoping “the end result will be a taxed, monitored ISP based on usage which will ensure both the freedom of the consumer and the rights of the artists.”  He also said: “Broadband makes the internet essentially the new broadcaster. This is the point which is being missed.”

Again, it's another factor that now should be considered when releasing music.

Whether it's record labels who come up with the ideas, or the artist themselves, to sell music now, you need to take into consideration what the fans think, want and value. If it's a band that appeals to a younger audience, maybe a poster, t-shirt and physical album deal would suit them, and for a fan of a band who are all about musical innovation and quality, a box set similar to that of Radiohead's In Rainbows would be more appropriate.

Whatever happens, it'll have to happen fast to keep up with the ever changing technological age we live in.

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