He's Not Spiderman, Paul Maybe SuperMan

In the new issue of GQ, we hear from the man who stands behind it. Manager Paul McGuinness has written a fascinating article: How To Save The Music Industry.

There is no doubt this is a business in peril. Every economic quarter brings more bad news from the commercial frontline. Put bluntly, falling CD sales are not being matched by rising legal digital downloads, and all the mooted new revenue streams of sponsorship, sync deals and direct sales are not taking up the slack. Even the live scene, supposedly the last refuge for working musicians, is suffering, with major stars failing to sell out dates.

The battleground of the music industry (and, indeed, every creative industry) is copyright, and McGuinness has placed himself at the forefront of this campaign for several years.

McGuinness’s GQ essay is an interesting and well-informed attempt to define the problem and suggest possible solutions. McGuinness, at his most optimistic, envisages “a world of millions of micro-payments, paid daily and triggered by technology that will track every use of a song, identify the rights owner and arrange instant electronic payment. Music subscription will be the basic access route to enjoying tracks and albums, but by no means the only one. Households will pay for a subscription service like Spotify, or they will pay for a service bundled into their broadband bill, to an ISP such as Sky and Virgin Media. But many customers will also take out more expensive added-value packages, with better deals including faster access to new releases. There will also be a healthy market in downloads to own and premium albums.  iTunes will be fighting its corner in the market, probably with its own subscription service. And a significant minority will still buy CDs, coveting the packaging, the cover designs and the sense of ownership:

The Edge/ Paul McGuinness/Bono - U2

Quote from Paul:

“It is two years on from my Cannes speech. Some things are better in the music world, but unfortunately the main problem is still just as bad as it ever was. Artists cannot get record deals. Revenues are plummeting. Efforts to provide legal and viable ways of making money from music are being stymied by piracy. The latest figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) shown that 95 per cent of all music downloaded is illegally obtained and unpaid for. Indigenous music industries from Spain to Brazil are collapsing. An independent study endorsed by trade unions says Europe’s creative industries could lose more than a million jobs in the next five years. Maybe the message is finally getting through that this isn’t just about fewer limos for rich rock stars.

Of course this isn’t crippling bands like U2 and it would be dishonest to claim it was. I’ve always believed artists and musicians need to take their business as seriously as their music. U2 understood this. They have carefully pursued careers as performers and songwriters, signed good deals and kept control over their life’s work. Today, control over their work is exactly what young and developing performers are losing. It is not their fault. It is because of piracy and the way the internet has totally devalued their work.

So how did we get here? How is it in 2010, in a world of iTunes and Spotify, of a healthy live music scene and hundreds of different legal sites, that making money fairly from recorded music remains so elusive?