I was talking with family members this weekend who are admittedly not of the Internet, everything is P2P, generation about how open file sharing is likely to change the traditional roles of record and movie labels in the music and entertainment industry. While savvy about music, I was surprised that people within my family didn’t see the writing on the wall – that more and more we’re seeing examples of bands releasing their works directly to the public through the Internet, bypassing labels, and doing well because of it. Some go so far as to release entire new albums for free (and free of any DRM in pure, raw MP3 form) with the idea that by doing so, it will spread their music to new listeners who might end up buying their music or going to the shows anyhow.
So, for those who are surprised or skeptical of the importance (or rather, the lack of) that major entertainment giants will have in the next 5 to 10 years, consider the following disruptive technologies (things that distribute the once coveted “expertise” of those major labels to the masses) and you tell me if you think major labels stand a chance:
The internet + weblogs + peer to peer networks (P2P).
The internet is to weblogs and P2P networks as water is to sailing, agriculture, and modern plumbing. A huge amount of human beings on this planet have access to the internet in some form, and within the next 5 to 10 years, it might even be more accessible than water. Layer on things like weblogs or forms of self publishing and the ability to rapidly distribute files with very little effort, and you’ve suddenly made a record label less important for your band’s success.
Sophisticated recording software on the cheap.
Apple’s Garageband is a shining example of a tool that can get non technical musicians into the world of digital mixing. It’s not the best there is, but if you’ve never played with digital mixing, it’ll split your closed mind wide open. Because of this, and similar technologies, record labels are less relevant. When a band can mix and release entire albums on computers that cost $499, record labels become much less relevant.
Personal Media Players, or PMPs.
We’re seeing very popular forms of PMPs already with the audio only iPods, but we’ll see (or are seeing) the same kind of revolution with players that support video. When consumers forget about what a CD or DVD is, and only know their media as a digital file, record labels and movie studios and distributors will become less relevant to the consumer. Combined with the ease of distribution over the internet, independent creators of music and video content will distribute directly, and to every kid who is currently 10 years old or younger, it’ll be as normal as it was for people over 30 to buy CDs or even cassette tapes.
Digital video cameras.
High definition digital video cameras are on the cusp of becoming commodity electronics, meaning it won’t be long before everyone has one. Combine that with dead easy tools like iMovie and everyone will suddenly have the ability to shoot images of the same quality as movie studios. The talent required to turn quantity into quality will need to catch up with the pros, but given the current state of the Hollywood Churn Machine combined with the sudden influx of technology to the masses, where do you think the talent pool will shift?
The only thing, in my opinion, that will slow down the eventual unseating of big business and media is the lack of an easy, brain dead simple way of paying those who produce content for their efforts, either directly or indirectly (everyone needs to eat). Other speed bumps like weeding out what content is good from the bad will happen automatically (as it happens all the time currently with memes that spread like wild fire) and ironing out digital rights management issues (that currently penalize the majority of good, law abiding people, and do little to subvert the scofflaws) will sort themselves out as a critical mass of interest makes doing DRM right a highly desirable economic interest.
But despite all of this, I think one of my family members pointed out where record labels might retain some relevance – “They might help get you on Jay Leno.”
And at first I nodded my head in enthusiastic agreement, only to reconsider. The idea of there being a Jay Leno to call might be completely archaic in 5-10 years as the creation of media is distributed nearly as wide as those producing it. Weblogs taught as that far more people want to produce their own content for the world to see than we would have ever guessed. At best, record labels have a chance of converting their promotion skills to more fit the blogosphere and might become bloggers/advocates. Instead of taking in the majority of what the music sells for, they’ll get a small commission of every song sold that can be directly attributed to their efforts.
We’ll see if I’m right in 5 years.