The downloadable music sales figures for videogames "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" should open a few eyes in the music industry. In just eight weeks, "Rock Band" sold 2.5 million songs as new levels to the music based game. "Guitar Hero" sold 5 million in three months.
It's ringtones all over again. Fans who won't pay 99 cents to download a song to play on their iPod will pony up $2.50 for that same song as a mobile phone ringtone or as a playable level in a music-based videogame.
Why? Because they're not buying a song. They're buying an application. They're buying an experience. Both ringtones and videogame downloads allow the fan to do something with the music than just listen to it, and by doing so brings them closer to the music itself. Now THAT's worth $2.50.
And therein is the larger point. Allowing fans to do what they want with music is the way to profit off of the digital music transition. Yes, songwriters should be paid for their work. Of course artists should be compensated. But those concerns for too long now have dominated the digital music debate.
I say let those issues work themselves out, and instead focus on the source of payment and compensation -- the customer. Remember them? My hope is that the music industry this year begins to appreciate that more than ever before, and starts taking appropriate action as a result.
It's gonna be a tough year for record label employees. EMI's restructuring will result in some 2,000 jobs lost, and other labels are likely to continue their cost-cutting and executive shuffling throughout the year as well.
On one hand, this is an exciting time of change, experimentation and opportunity. But as this week's news shows, this challenge is not without consequences.
Putting a face on the fallout of these changes in Barney Wragg. He was as smart, funny, insightful and honest as they come in the digital music space, and I'm sorry to see him go.
This is a guy who convinced the EMI brass to remove DRM from digital files, a move that snowballed into the avalanche of DRM-free activity we see today. (Of course Amazon had a lot to do with that as well.)
While Wragg's departure was consensual, and not a result of a job-slashing layoff, the fact that a proven winner in the digital music space like Wragg can be affected by these changes is a wakeup call to all.
I'm not going to point fingers or assign blame for his leaving, or for anybody else for that matter. I'm not saying anything negative about EMI or its restructuring plans, or making any judgments about his replacement. EMI has seen a good deal of turnover in its digital music department in the last few years, and I'm interested in seeing how the new leadership handles the transition.
There's no doubt that record labels are going to look a whole lot different in the months and years ahead. Here's hoping the new look is one for the better.