More music at less cost ­— for now

Tom Genes
Tom Genes

The world of music distribution has always moved in a steady progression with occasional game changers like FM radio and the compact disc. But now, like most industries, the music world has been engulfed in a myriad of changes in distribution, licensing and playback devices that have made musicians, record labels and listeners’ heads spin. This relentless change in the rules has left one true winner — the music fan, both casual and ardent ones alike.

Music lovers can now find virtually anything they are looking for and most of it at very little cost. Even the most casual listener owns an MP3 device and has at least figured out how to listen to it if not actually yet how to add more songs to it. But it is that exact ease of purchase and sharing that may lead to the eventual demise of the entire industry.

The compensation of artist, primarily in the music world, will be a growing concern that may impact the availability of music but more importantly the sustainability of music creativity in the years to come. The key battlegrounds for this melee will be in Congress, in corporate boardrooms and on your listening device.

Here is a look at the latest trends impacting the distribution of music:

Internet rights fees: It’s a very complicated stew of who gets paid for what and how much. Companies like Pandora have locked in to paying artists fees that are wreaking havoc on their balance sheets all the meanwhile sending rather minuscule checks to the artist themselves. Meanwhile traditional radio companies like Clear Channel have cut separate deals with record labels directly bypassing the music license companies like ASCAP and BMI. This plan is based on future profits of the digital delivery system (Internet radio), however so far no one is making money through streaming activities. Pay to purchase companies like Apple’s iTunes meanwhile are making a bundle and sending respectable checks to the artist, however they have the consumer used to paying less than a buck for a song.

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The big boys entering the stream game: Google and Amazon have recently announced their version of software to allow you to listen to millions of songs on your Internet surfing device, and Apple is expected to introduce their version of iRadio very soon. This has quickly become one very crowded field, and less well-financed companies like Spotify and Rdio, though offering a great product at reasonable costs, have found themselves swimming with the sharks. Artists’ direct distribution: The long-term solution of this quandary maybe in the self-promotion, marketing and straight to consumer sales by artists themselves.

In the end it’s the music lover that is winning this game for now. We have more access to more music at less cost than ever before. However, eventually someone will have to pay the piper and the guitar player.

Tom Genes is a musicologist and can be heard on air Monday through Friday, 6-10 p.m. on KZYR. Genes hails from Flossmoor, Ill., and Vail.

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