Instant Pop: The Problem With Play’n’Buy

18 Jan

There’s been a lot of talk about the best way to combat the issue of piracy in the music industry over the past decade, yet nothing seems to have been able to stop file-sharing sites from spreading songs and albums across the internet as people become more impatient and want to have their music as soon as its played. Well, that’s what Sony and Universal are planning in the next step against piracy.

The idea goes like this: on the same day that a single is broadcast on your radio airwaves, you’ll be able to buy it the very same day. If you can imagine an advert for this, it’d be like one of those cheesy “buy now pay next year” clips where you know there’s a catch. But hey, it worked for Critics Choice Jessie J whose single ‘Do It Like A Dude’ went to Number 5 after it was available on the very same day.

So great: the artists are getting what they need i.e. some cash in their back pockets, reclaimed from pirates. I really believe that artists should be paid for what they do, no matter what my personal opinion on them is. Two weeks ago I was complaining about The Vaccines and Brother but I wouldn’t want them to go hungry because people weren’t paying to own their music. At the end of the day, being a musician is a full-time job for many bands, and not paying means they don’t get a pay-packet at the end of the month.

On the other hand, there’s something a little bit sly about this idea. Firstly, it has been put forward by Sony and Universal, two of the biggest music companies around: wouldn’t this have had more credibility if a smaller indie label was fronting this? Okay, many smaller labels like Island have been taken over by the larger corporations but are still operating as if they were indie labels. And having a name like that would have attached some more gravitas to it: somehow having a huge corporation backing this scheme smacks somewhat of greedy fatcats wanting more money in their pockets than a bunch of artists needing some cash to pay the rent. The involvement of these conglomerates seems to devalue what the campaign against piracy should be about.

On a more frivolous (but not unconnected) level, what about the millions of us who’ve heard a single, loved it, then got tired of it after ten plays? I’ll put my hands up to this one: I loved Lady Gaga’s single ‘Paparazzi’ so bought the single from iTunes. I listened to it in a Recently Purchased playlist (alongside Broken Social Scene and Delorean) for all of 3 days. In my book that’s about 6 times. Then I deleted it. That was 99p down the drain for me, but 99p in Sony’s coffers.

It was simply because I’d heard it once, maybe twice on the radio after The Fame Monster was released and had an impulse to go and buy it. In the old days I guess it would have been played for up to six weeks in advance of the single actually being released, as Universal chief executive David Joseph says, and it would have saved me a quid: I’d have been sick of ‘Paparazzi’ well before I could buy it. So my point is: instant pop will leave a lot of people out of pocket as they consume music they realise they don’t actually like while, you guessed it, filling the pockets of executives at Sony and Universal.

So there we have it: the story of why instant pop will cause problems. Of course, the upside is that if everyone raves about the newest release by Lykke Li or James Blake then we could see a bit of a shake-up of the charts and R’n’B could finally be toppled from its pretty unworthy throne at the top. And that can’t be a bad thing.

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