Coolfer posted an interesting link today, to an article about Thrill Jockey and record labels’ reistance to downloading. Basically, owner Bettina Richards has decided to offer only full albums online, and lets people stream the albums for free so that they can decide to buy, or not. She also has all the liner notes readily available to browse while listening.
Richards makes an interesting point: “ITunes sells a lot of MP3s to sell MP3 players — they’re not in the game of label survival. I am.” Often, people don’t talk about the fact that iTunes is a warm up to the iPod. It’s well designed and popular, but the money comes from the hardware. Labels, so far, don’t quite have that luxury. Until they do – the U2 iPod being a good example of what’s to come. I’ve said it before that I truly am expecting Starbucks to come out with their own iPod as well, and I’m sure other folks will follow. Maybe the Zune folks over at Microsoft have something up their sleeve. It’s like the Hello Kitty phase that little girls go through when they are eight. People see these things as fashion and they identify, however silly it may be, with the design of the thing – branding is powerful. Using music and musicians as this means of identification is nothing new (see NKOTB lunch boxes) but suddenly it seems more necessary for survival. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the music itself.
So, going back to how small indies try to preserve their modestly good intentions. Rune Kristofferson of the Norwegian label Rune Grammofon distributes through Thrill Jockey mainly because his principles are in line. But still, he comments: “My main priority is the physical product, and I’m not even sure if I want us to continue being a label if downloading will take over.” Now this is less nihilistic than it sounds, I think. Maybe the perceptions of what record labels do are enough to get people into this business, and I’m willing to bet that the combination of finding out what really goes on, and the way technology is changing the industry, are going to drive a lot of people to re-evaluation. The concept of a record label is something we have in our minds that is becoming less and less the truth as the months go by. Fascinating, and a bit unfair, that there was definitely a stable period of standardization on which many people founded these beliefs, and now they have very much crumbled. I think it’s a glass half-empty/half-full kind of a thing.