In the City 95

By Tony Martin, 16 October 2008

They don't know what's going on, ha! They really don't.

Having just emerged from In The City, an international music seminar based in Manchester, not only am I convinced that they don't know what's happening, but also that they're really scared. You must have realised by now that I'm talking about record company executives. You didn't? What, you thought that the music industry was out there on the cutting edge, ear to the ground, all those movers and shakers. ......................Nah.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that each and every delegate had been issued with a shovel when they registered, enabling them to disappear and dutifully bury their heads in the shag pile of the Holiday Inn, where the conference took place. Their sad greying pony tails may still get erect at the prospect of signing the next Big Thing, but they wouldn't know how to use the Internet and W3 to help the next Big Thing to stay bigger for longer, even if it dropped on them from a great height, slapped them across the face and whistled the latest Oasis tune. They don't know it exists.

You'd better get that coke habit in line guys, you're going to be out of a job.

In the City 95 - Tony Martin

You're getting this perspective on the proceedings from The Music Network. We've seen this stuff from most angles: As recording artists, freelance music programmers, producers and remixers. We now have a company that authors and designs Web for the music industry. We also have our own record label. I promise we're qualified.

Last year's event saw the inclusion of some heavy duty hints that technology was going to change the industry. It was said that a sea change was afoot, akin to what happened when CDs came on the scene. A lot of the big boys in the industry acknowledged that some stuff was happening, but dismissed most of the advances as being purely technology driven, with no place in the real world. Toys for geeks.

This year, they all knew what the web was. They all said things like "URL", threw the occasional "well, when I was surfing the net the other day..." into the conversation. In fact they mentioned anything that my Grandmother could have gleaned from the half dozen or so inter-net based magazines that are now around, or the two or three national TV shows dedicated to the subject. Stuff from the movies or the almost daily media coverage of the medium. Well done guys.

Their real knowledge of what was going on was beautifully demonstrated by their absence from key debate panels, not only by this, but also by their lack of representation in the audiences of the key discussion groups. They don't even want to learn!

At one of these discussions, named "Hype or Hypertext", the only representation from the majors was one Hunter Dubose from EMI's tech development division. Now, most of the record companies on our little planet were actually at the conference, so where the majors were I really can't fathom. Must have been powdering their noses, I guess.

From the start, Hunter was fighting a losing battle against one Ricky Adar, the young and dynamic MD of the audio-online company Cerberus. You see, Hunter's hands were tied by the lumbering corporate that fills his pay packet every month. Cerberus are right at the vanguard of what's happening with audio on-line. They have signed around 250 labels to their company, they have a roster of 75 000 tunes that you can download at full bandwidth CD quality to your computer at home. It'll cost you only 60p a time, with around the same royalty going to the artist that would have been dispatched had you caught the bus down to the record store and bought the tune there. This is really freaking the majors out. They wouldn't place their huge catalogues with Ricky Adar's company. They're like, "Why would anyone want to do that?

The majors, or in this particular instance, EMI's Hunter Dubose, were contesting that the delivery mechanism was insecure. That people could copy the stuff and distribute it freely after download. That the key encryption software that Cerberus have in place was fundamentally flawed. In short, they were missing the point.

While getting his shit together, Ricky Adar, (formerly involved with the satellite industry, he left when he got bored) has been working with MPEG. These are the people responsible for audio compression techniques, reducing large audio files to something that you won't have to wait a year to download onto your machine. Together with Cerberus, MPEG have been getting this down to a fine art (i.e. MPEG level 2 compression) Currently, on the Cerberus site you can get download audio at around 17:1 compression ratio. This alone makes on-line audio a realistic proposition.

The point that EMI missed was that in the future, the near future, people will expect to be able to download audio to their computers at home as a matter of routine. Just like they will expect to request movies of their choice with the video-on-demand set-ups that the cable companies will be offering the majority of households. I don't think that they will forsake their CD collection in favour of having their selection of top tunes sat on their hard drives, but they will want to augment their music collections, maybe check stuff out before they go buy the physical version in the town centre at the weekend. When Hunter dismissed what Ricky was up to, Ricky just turned round and said "so what's the Major solution, then? How are you solving all the problems you say my system has?" Hunter couldn't give any answer other than they were waiting to see what develops over the next few years. Hunter didn't seem to realise that Ricky Adar is what's happening over the next few years. The big companies are sitting round thinking the Techno Bogie Man will go away. I tell you, it won't be long till they're queuing up outside the door of Cerberus saying "Please Mr Adar, can we license your audio delivery software from you, and pay you a f**ck of a lot of money in the process?" Ricky must be rubbing his hands with glee. Come to think of it, so are we at Music Network. Aside from the impressive display of wares from Rise Media (fronted by Simon Scott and backed up with excellent graphic design from Malcom Garret, a big name in the world of tasty record sleeve apparel), we were the only company selling Web authoring, management and design.

This once again demonstrates the gaping chasm that has emerged between media saturation of 3W and the Internet, and the actual mechanisms that are in place to manufacture the stuff. I was amazed that we were getting huge multinationals approaching us, a couple of musicians who have decided to get some web stuff together!

The Music Biz is catching up. Slowly. Kind of. They haven't yet realised the huge premium they will have to pay to the likes of the Ricky Adar's and the Music Network's of this world, for failing to invest in R&D and capitalise on the huge technical and human resources they already have in place. Because they're giants, they move slow. Because the guys at the top are fifty-ish, they're scared to admit they haven't quite grasped this Internet thing, for fear of losing their jobs. So they wait and pay the price for ignoring the members of staff on the payroll with imagination, who must be tearing their hair out at the catalogue of missed marketing opportunities that are flashing past them! Having already been an artist on one of these labels, I think it's a tragedy that the Internet isn't being used to a greater extent to support and develop groups fan bases. It's a missed opportunity. It's lost revenue for the artists. It's criminal.

Check out the Music Network site. It's still very much under developement, but worth a look.

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