EMI and Sony are Not “The Music Industry”

Headlines from the BBC's iPhone app

I was dismayed last night to read an article in the BBC Technology section headlined:

“Music industry dealt piracy blow”

The article goes on to describe how the court ruling to not enforce the mooted “3 strikes” rule “will be a blow to the music and film industry, which wants the strict rules as a deterrent against piracy”.

I was similarly dismayed to see that the story was being portrayed similarly elsewhere. Josh Halliday wrote this article in The Guardian quoting the court as saying that “piracy is “destructive” to the creative industries”. The story is eveywhere. Linuxworld, Yahoo and more.

How many times do we have to go through this? It’s not piracy, it’s sharing and it’s happened for years, and it’s how music spreads. Remember “Home Taping is Killing Music”? More on this later…

“Big” Music does not represent the Music Industries

The record companies in question here – EMI Records, Sony Music, Universal Music, Warner Music and WEA International (as listed in the Irish Times) – represent only a tiny number of people whose copyrights are being allegedly infringed and not the vast swathe of independent artists utilising the openness of new forms of communication to spread their music freely and at no cost.

I plead that these articles are changed to reflect the reality of the situation. I also think that these articles deserve a mention on “Tabloid Watch” with the rather fantastic tagline “Blogging about bad journalism”. To be clear:

There has never been a better time to be an enterprising musician.

Now music is democratised. There are now millions of people in the world making thousands of pounds from their music as opposed to the monopolistic models of the past. Yes radio is still to a great degree, sewn up and consumed with the old ways of doing things, but the great news is that because people can share music online for free, the independent musician can have her music shared amongst many people. It’s more of a meritocracy.

It saves money too. No more pressing a thousand CDs and the cost of sending 100 of those out in a jiffy bag for radio producers and journalists to ignore, miss deadlines and go for the albums whose (paid) pluggers have shared the most coke and jack with. The BBC Introducing Uploader alone must save artists hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by removing the need for a padded envelope, a printed biog, pictures, CD manufacture and postage.

Uncharted Territories

I’m a musician, and I work and play in a number of different guises. Foremost, there’s Hope and Social as you probably know if you’re reading this. There’s also times when I play with Gary Stewart, Jason Feddy, I’ve played on records with Fossil Collective to name but a few. We are most certainly not represented by major labels such as EMI, Sony or for that matter “Indie” labels (to distinguish from Independent labels who are not owned by major labels).

Also, much of our enterprise is completely unaccounted for in the figures quoted by what are essentially lobbying groups such as the BPI, the above mentioned labels and the Featured Artist Coalition. We go under the radar (not for tax purposes, just to be clear, we’re accounting for our sales and performance income, it just doesn’t go through chart-eligible channels. If we sell a CD at a show, if we do a house concert and people buy our entire back-catalogue, if we run an event does that not count as part of the output of the music industries? As far as Big Music is concerned it doesn’t.

Why this is dangerous

Firstly it’s false, this information goes out to the public from such weighty institutions as the Beeb and the Guardian as if it’s fact. It’s not piracy, this is piracy.

Secondly, prosecution and hostility from these voices within the big music industry serves to further alienate people from music, and from artists. This is harmful to the music industries. Have you ever bought anything from someone who’s threatening to sue you? Me neither. Nice work Sony, you have just lost yourself a bunch of sales.

Thirdly, and this is the way it’s always been, the way music buying works is:

Recommendation > Listen > Love > Buy

Home Taping Did Not Kill Music

The form of recommendation can take many forms from a radio-play, a friend’s recommendation, a tweet, a blogger’s “Download This” page… Remember home taping? I do, and it led to me being an avid music fan and music buyer. As a child I’d record the charts to tape and the stuff I loved I would save for, and buy. The stuff I didn’t care for, well I didn’t buy it. Why would I? Why should I? Had I not had the opportunity to listen to that music, I wouldn’t have grown to love it, I wouldn’t have become a fan and I wouldn’t have parted with cash that I may well have spent on my football team’s new kit, ice-cream or guitar strings.

Fourthly, the assertion that those companies represent “The Music Industry” only serves to benefit those companies still trying to hold onto the stranglehold that they once had over the recorded music market. I am part of the music industries and I want representation.

Today, we have a wider range of channels to listen to. Radio still accounts for a great deal of music listening, but now we have Spotify, podcasts*, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Pandora (in the States), and a plethora of other ways to discover and share music we love. In the past, music sharing was sort of untraceable. It’d be tape-to-tape, CD copying, DVDs of MP3s or hard-drive sharing.

The Horse Has Bolted

Converting CDs Isn't Killing Music Either

There’s no way to stop sharing and we shouldn’t be striving to do so. That it takes place on the internet just means that in some ways it’s track-able and identifiable. It’s useless and impossible to enforce anti-sharing laws as it’s always been the case that humankind finds another way. If sharing music online becomes illegal then people will revert to DVD/hard-drive sharing or find untraceable ways of continuing to to share. Maybe we’ll swap CD’s with our friends again? Maybe we’ll borrow from libraries. To blame the internet is to blame the medium. To quote Steve Lawson “It’s like blaming Microsoft Excel for tax fraud”.


Without the back-channels of the blogosphere and twitter, it’d be easy to have this mis-information go un-checked.

As independent musicians, we must counter the lobbying of the majors, or the FAC and help educate politicians, the public and people such as Mr Justice Peter Charleton as to why there’s never been a better time for the music industries, and for enterprise in music. Also, we need to continue to share the idea that music has value and for it to continue we should enter into an exchange with artists. If we love it, buy it, share it, recommend it; and we must lead by example.

I urge you to buy, share and recommend music.


* incidentally BBC podcasts [and most all other podcasts for that matter] don’t result in the radio-type payment for licensed and copyrighted material that gets played on them. Are the BBC suggesting that they should also be taken to court for this? I expect not, it’s a thorny issue copyright.

Via the magnificent Helen Harrop and Ben Denison, I’ve just been pointed at “Life Is Not Read Only” which says what I’ve said above and more in a much cooler and brilliant format.


  1. Matt Stevens says:

    Great quote “It’s like blaming Microsoft Excel for tax fraud”.

    Top post – people sharing my music has changed my life massively for the better – it sure beats the preceding 15 years of obscurity when no bugger heard any of my music :)

  2. justdeano says:

    Great post Rich. I read that article too and thought it totally mis-represented the industry as a whole.

    It’s a fact that people have been sharing music for just about as long as recorded music has existed. Are they trying to suggest that the only legitimate way to get your music heard is to get it played on the radio, which in turn means that you almost always have to have a deal with a major label?

  3. Excellent Article!

    I would love to feature this on my blog if possible Rich?
    Let me know via email or Twitter if that’s ok.

    I couldn’t agree more with what I just read!

  4. justdeano says:

    I’m writing a post on my blog at the minute to support this. Kind of explaining how sharing music works for me as a consumer of music.

    Anyhoo… take a read of this http://www.lifesnotreadonly.net/ it was sent to me by a friend on facebook in direct response to me posting a link to this blog post.

  5. Matt Burrows says:

    Hux – there are many reasons why I love you. This is just one!

    It would be interesting to hear a few BBC employees’ opinions on this issue, although their contracts probably say they are not allowed!

    I presume the corporation’s official position is to general follow the government’s position.


  6. Tim London says:

    Forgive me, I’m going to prattle on a bit.

    While I appreciate your passion there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself before seeking representation in the media:

    What is the turnover of the ‘non-trad’ music industry exactly? And how does one come to the figure? You state ‘thousands’ and I would go along with that, at a guess. But is it millions? How many?

    And. Does your experience selling music to people who are prepared to pay even though they can get it free representative of all artists’? Are your fans typical?

    My daughter is nearly 17. I asked her: when would you pay for music? She answered: when I really really want it and I can’t get it anywhere else. She tells me none of her friends pay for music. I don’t know anyone under 25 who pays for music, even the most avid music fan, even other artists. They don’t pay because they can get it free. If there is an option to pay (and with bit torrent etc there isn’t) they won’t.

    I do know some people who still buy CDs, mainly older people and I do know a few people who buy new vinyl. I don’t know anyone under the age of 25 with a record player.

    This is all anecdotal, admittedly. Unfortunately, most of the information about new music consumption habits is anecdotal and I think it’s dangerous to make assumptions based on the action around types and genres.

    I want you to be right, but I know you’re wrong because the music industry as represented by the majors is still coining it and the music industry as rep’d by you is getting by, struggling, working part time or making music as a hobby.

    My own theory is that, as ever with the UK, there is a tribal movement of some people towards using the internet as a means to work with others, connect and create simple, cultural communities. For those, like you and the other commentators, and many other ‘future music’ fans, this seems to be the intelligent and obvious way forward.

    Unfortunately, there’s a generation being formed who don’t agree and who will expect their recorded music to be free unless they are forced to pay.

    The analogy with home taping is skewed – cassettes were noticeably inferior in sound compared to vinyl, inconvenient and not as much fun as a record. Plus you had to buy the blanks. Comparing that to an instant download, straight on to your primary listening device, that transfers to a phone, in your pocket, that takes no space, is instantly replaceable, which comes with art work, info and remixes – for free, in a situation where you will never hear the fairly subtle digital differences in sound between a 320 kps and a standard CD… well, there’s no reason to buy beyond goodwill.

    And goodwill as a foundation for thousands of musicians to make a living will need to be fairly wide spread, to say the least.

    There are ways to stop sharing, or at least make it more difficult and I credit a multi-million dollar industry with enough sense to want it to be difficult. But I don’t believe you can shut the door again, completely. It’s too easy to file share and there are way too many people doing it now for it to stop.

    But this is a gradual erosion, not an earthquake. It’s going to take years. And when the major companies are gone, so will the paltry 15% they used to give the artists. In its place will be… goodwill?

  7. Nick Tann says:

    Tim, the analogy with the taping thing is spot on. MP3s are inferior to cds large WAV files.

    I don’t see Simon Cowell cutting back becaus of “home taping” or and of the major artists.

    The majors see us (independent musicians) as a threat but not a great one. They still sleep with the major music press and media, effectivly blocking any indies from rising up through the ranks.

  8. […] There is, of course, an oft-overlooked voice in the music industry that Rich Huxley pointed out. […]

  9. JPJ says:

    “Great quote “It’s like blaming Microsoft Excel for tax fraud””

    Great as in it’s apples and oranges like all the other analogies pirates use?

    It doesn’t make any sense.

    There is no business model that can compete with free. The making of music isn’t a cost free exercise. All this talk of “stickin it to the big labels” is hogwash. You people will swipe from anyone.

    The only people you’re hurting are the artists, and you know it. Spare us your inane rationalizations.

  10. […] There is, of course, an oft-overlooked voice in the music industry that Rich Huxley pointed out. […]

  11. […] There is, of course, an oft-overlooked voice in the music industry that Rich Huxley pointed out. […]

  12. Chote Ustad says:

    Superb article thanks for sharing

  13. […] and very interesting comment (go have a read… it’s good stuff that comment) on my post EMI and Sony are not “The Music Industry” last week. Tim, likewise I love the passion, and I think that this all comes down to a matter of […]

  14. Hadi says:

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