Highlighting the flaws of the music industry, musician and computer programmer Todd Rundgren says, "music is a service, not a product" and should be marketed accordingly.
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Todd Rundgren's is a multi-faceted artist: he is a songwriter, video pioneer, producer, recording artist, computer software developer, conceptualist, interactive artist, and CEO, Rundgren has made a lasting impact on the form, content, and delivery of popular music.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Rundgren began playing guitar as a teenager, going on to found and front quintessential '60s cult group The Nazz. In 1969 he left the band to pursue a solo career, recording his debut offering, the legendary "Runt".
But it was 1972's seminal "Something/Anything?", on which he played all the instruments, sang all the vocal parts and acted as his own producer, that catapulted Rundgren into the superstar limelight, prompting the press to unanimously dub him "Rock's New Wunderkind." This was followed by such landmark LPs as "The Hermit of Mink Hollow", "A Wizard, A True Star" and such hit singles as I Saw The Light, Hello It's Me, Can We Still Be Friends, and Bang The Drum.
Additionally, as a producer, Rundgren has brought his creativity to bear on albums by Patti Smith, Cheap Trick, The Psychedelic Furs, The Tubes, MeatLoaf, XTC, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall & Oates, Paul Shaffer, and many other artists. He is also highly regarded as a film/TV composer having scored projects ranging from "Pee Wee's Playhouse" to "Crime Story" to "Dumb and Dumber" for which he received BMI's 'Film Composer of the Year' accolades.
In 1974 Rundgren formed Utopia, an entirely new approach to the concept of musical high adventure, and embarked on an extensive round of recording and touring that continued throughout much of the '70s and '80s. Utopia combined technical virtuosity and creative passion to create music that, for millions, defined the term 'progressive rock'.
By the late '70s Rundgren began programming personal computers and since then he has been involved in the development of products ranging from digital artist's tools (Utopia Graphic Tablet System) to computer generated kinetic art (FlowFazer, GrokGazer) to interactive music (No World Order) to enhanced CD (The Individualist). His skills have been applied as a consultant to companies in diverse areas such as communications (General Magic) and digital video (NewTek).
Rundgren continued with his groundbreaking efforts in converging media and technology. In 1993, he established a new musical genre when he composed, produced and performed the world's first interactive audio-only CD-ROM project, "No World Order", which was licensed to both Philips Interactive Media and Electronic Arts, and was released simultaneously with his record company's release of the traditional non-interactive, linear version of the album. In 1994, "No World Order" won "Best Composition/Arrangement" from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, and the "Best Interactive Disc of the Year" Award from Video Magazine.
A unique validation of Rundgren's many contributions to the arts came in May 1995 when he received the prestigious Berkeley Lifetime Achievement Award from the Popular Culture Society at UC Berkeley along with fellow recipients Robert Altman, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, David Hockney, Liza Minelli and Brian Wilson. Bestowed annually, the awards "honor artists who re-define a genre, show excellence through diversity in their art, communicate the essence of a time period, or work towards positive social change." In March of 1996 Rundgren received further recognition at the 19th Annual Bay Area Music Awards with a Lifetime Service Award.
Todd forgot to mention sheet music as a product. Scott Joplin sold over a million copies of "Maple Leaf Rag" before recorded music began. He also made a piano roll which was another popular form of recording. On a separate not, further back in ancient history Australian Aboriginal songsters held a form of copyright over music they composed for their tribe.
I do think that the major record companies have caused their own downfall by being greedy and forcing poor quality content at high prices. Over time I remember liking every song on albums I bought and then it maybe a few, and then only one. They are stupid by because they did not nurture or support their main resource - the artist - to produce brilliant work. It takes time to create great music and no amount of technical wizardry can turn a lemon into gold.
Let me start by saying that I think Todd is brilliant and I am a big fan.
I think that Todd is right with his analysis about what is wrong with the "music industry", the lack of vision displayed by the industry leaders, the stupidity of going after your customers, and how changing technology has brought about the profound changes in how music is and will be delivered (the internet and the digital age.)
But I don't think he has it exactly right with his analysis of how music evolved from a service(before records could be produced and sold)to a product industry, and now back to a service. I won't pass judgment on the quality of today's music with this post, except to say--some is great, some stinks, and some in between (or to echo Ray Charles--there are two kinds of music in this world, good music and bad music). I agree with the first part--the important insight that music evolved from a service to a product industry, which explains how some of the most popular stars of the day (Madonna, Beatles, Michael Jackson, etc.) were able to become rich, unlike the giants of prior ages (how much money did Mozart or Bach make?).
But I don't think the second part--the industry evolving back into a service industry--is exactly correct. Seems to me that in the early days, as Todd points out, music was a service in the sense that musicians delivered it directly to the customers, at least until the radio and then, as Todd points out, the introduction of the phonographic record. Then, as Todd points out, it became a product industry, with music delivered in a form that allowed ownership or control of the "property rights" to the music--and allowing some (creators or controllers) to earn revenues and sometimes become very rich. But in the evolving present (and future) age, I think it is more useful to think of music as "digital product" with characteristics of a public good (economists definition, Microeconomic theory). Basically, I am referring to the distinction economists are fond of making between "public goods" and "private goods". Public goods, by definition, have unique characteristics--they are not depleted when they are consumed, and it is difficult or impossible (or at least extremely costly) to exclude individuals from using (consuming, enjoying, benefiting from) once provided. Because of these two characteristics (non depletable, non-excludable, consumption by one does not preclude consumption by another (unlike that cheeseburger), and the marginal (or extra cost) of providing "an extra unit" is essentially 0. So what is being delivered today is a digital product with strong "public good" characteristics.
I think that this distinction is more useful when trying to understand the problems of the evolving music industry. Private markets for public goods do not work very well--companies are reluctant to produce a good with these characteristics unless they find ways to "profit", which is inherently difficult. So they try to scare their customers (law suits) into not taking advantage of the age of free music, try to suppress free music (close down Napstar), or co-opt the government with tax proposals to extract revenues from internet users. TV had similar problems--after all, open air programming (wireless) is a good example of a public good, but managed to survive and thrive with a combination of 1)advertising revenues, 2)public support for some stations (NPR), and finding ways to control access (evolving from wireless to wired Cable, which at the time was acceptable to customers because of the greater variety of programming offered and quality of signal). Stopping "free music" in the digital age is just about hopeless, given the variety of ways that the customers can find and share music--hundreds of songs on a single DVD or CDR (mp3s or other compressed formats), file sharing. Attempts to do so--strict control over the internet, no music allowed, no blank CDRs, could become a "cat and mouse" game, or require very heavy handed "authoritarian" measures that is counterproductive and undermines values of a (reasonably) free society. Imagine being pulled over by a cop and arrested for "possessing" a CDR (or MP3 player) with unlicensed music on it. Sound ridiculous---perhaps--about as ridiculous as being pulled over and arrested for possession of a plant would have sounded to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln.
My conclusion is that the best strategy is to learn to live with the age of free music. Perhaps the day of the billionaire rock star is over. However, some customers will continue to desire the physical objects (commodities) for things they value--collections, official CDs, etc.,; some want to see live performances, and advertising (though annoying) revenues. As with TV and radio (and internet) advertising provides another source of revenues. And some additional support-- through internet access fees (or even taxes)-- sounds more promising than the other ideas sometimes put forth. But I think that we should all have a healthy distrust of government meddling with art and music, given the co-opting of government officials by company officials that appears to be commonplace.
Todd, keep it up--love the music. (As a Rhapsody subsciber, I had mostly stopped buying CDs, but when Arena didn't show up on Rhapsody initially, I ordered it. By the time it arrived I was already listening to it on Rhapsody, so I gave it to my youngest son, who had been playing Johnny Jingo over and over again in his room. On our last car trip to the Cape (with my grown kids visiting), I played them "Back to the Bars" and my own mix of Todd favs. Loved the show at the Paradise Boston (approximately '82) and was sorry I didn't get to AWATS. Keep it up.
Dr. T (firstname.lastname@example.org, home for the "Art Punk Band" and the album "Zeno and the Happy Cats" (and others) on the free Creative Commons music site Jamendo.com. (Google in quotes, comes right up, if interested). Cheers, Ted
His central argument is spot on - music is a service. Commodifying art cheapens it. With artists getting fewer record sales, the money is now in performance and participation. That should separate the wheat from the chaff
While I didn't agree with everything he said (like being unable to listen to more than one piece of music at a time - I mean, you can, but who'd want to?), Todd's comments are on target, and I agree with jbapowell that he could've given more details to a new model. The music industry's biggest problem is that it's no longer really a music industry. MTV has turned it into a media industry, where cute dancing karaoke "singer's" are considered music 'stars.' Let's face it - Brittany Spears does not deserve a grammy for her 'music'. Perhaps it's the music education system's failure, although I blame it on the greed inherent in all business. Greed is turning our culture into rubbish. It certainly turned the music industry into shit.
The idea as music as a service is interesting, and while it could work, I suspect it will continue to be segmented into pop promotional performance versus freakish phenoms of musical mastery, because until the greed gets siphoned out, the lowest common denominator will win - and that's the cute dancing lip-syncing media mavens.
I like the message of music as a service rather than a product, but there's no development of his proposed solution. How can he toss up the idea of a subscription model or a comparison to cable service without addressing licensing, downloading, sharing, pricing, etc...? Wish he had spoke more on this.