Total Music

John Gruber comments in his usual incisive way on the claims that Universal Music are looking to start their own subscription service called Total Music. For a variety of reasons, not only the technical and financial ones that John details, the plan seems like the flailing about we’ve become used to hearing from an industry staring into an abyss and refusing to acknowledge the numerous bridges all around.

The original Business Week piece contains an amusing quote from Irving Azoff, who says:

Doug is doing the right thing taking on Steve Jobs,” says ex-MCA Records Chairman Irving Azoff, whose Azoff Music Management Group represents the Eagles, Journey, Christina Aguilera, and others. “The artists are behind him.

Sure, the Eagles, Journey and Christina Aguilera may be behind such a plan, and they may sell a lot of records, but they’re hardly a representative sample. Most likely they were picked because they’re the lowest common denominator for the Business Week readership but even if you add in a few of their peers, the vast majority of artists are going to be opposed to such an offering because it will either lock them out entirely or require them to sign the sorts of horrific deals major labels are known for.

Even if the major labels do get such a programme to market (about which I’m sceptical) and become uncharacteristically inclusive and giving, they’ve shown over the past few years that they are less and less capable of breaking new acts beyond one-hit-wonders. A subscription service might make that easier as less commitment is required to check out new acts, but that’s not much of a long-term strategy.

Music as a commodity may work that way, but artists need commitment from fans and support structure in order to attain longevity. A subscription service from the major labels would make it easier for us all to have a “free” supply of wallpaper music for background listening, but a more fundamental change of approach is needed from the major labels if they actually want to build up artists who might in the long-term bring them more profits. If the labels won’t do it under their own power, other people will step up who can help artists get the funding to do it themselves.

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