RIAA Record Label Founder Says Internet Not Music’s Enemy

Just shortly after Stevie Nicks said that the Internet has destroyed rock, the founder of Elektra Records, an RIAA record label according to RIAA Radar, says that music has a bright future and the internet is not the enemy.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There’s a fascinating article over on CNet which shows that Jac Holzman, founder of Elektra Records and helped bring you artists such as The Doors, has had some positive things to say about the digital age.

He helped push the record industry to adopt the CD and was quoted as saying “I think the music industry has a bright future” when discussing the internet. Here’s two excerpts from the article:

In music, Holzman saw the rise of the LP, 8-track tape, DAT, compact disc, MP3, and BitTorrent. After all that, new technologies don’t spook him. On the contrary, he says many of these technologies helped make a lot of artists and industry people rich. When it comes to the Internet and digital distribution, Holzman is confident music labels can capitalize on them too. He says they really don’t have a choice.

“I was having lunch with a very dear friend of mine [in the record business] sometime around 2000,” Holzman said during an interview this week with CNET. “We met right around the time when Napster came together, and I said ‘There are opportunities and there are potholes. How are you preparing for a digital future?’ He said to me, ‘Jac, I just want it to go away.’ Well, you can’t continue that conversation.”

Holzman suggested that the big labels goofed when they sued Napster out of existence. At that point, the rise of the CD had left the industry without an effective way to sell individual songs. Before the CD, the 45-rpm vinyl disc was the perfect singles vehicle. The costs of manufacturing CDs, however, made that format more suited to selling full albums, according to Holzman.

“With Napster, it would have been easy to proliferate singles,” Holzman said. “You would have had no manufacturing costs. You would still have the value of the single as a calling card for albums and you could have sold [songs] for something like 79 cents, made it affordable. You would have had ability to count because all of the transactions went through a central server at Napster, unlike peer-to-peer where you bypassed servers. Now, would P2P still have happened? Yes it would. But we would have established a principle of being paid for digital music.”

Holzman also sees positive things when it comes to the re-use of copyrighted works through fair use. Additionally, he thinks that suing music fans is a mistake and that ISPs should share some profits from the music that has been flowing through their networks.

All this comes after Stevie Nicks, in spite of the evidence that suggests otherwise, blamed the internet for destroying rock as well as John Mellencamp saying that the internet is the most dangerous invention since the A-bomb.

So where does this leaves the mainstream American music industry? I think it shows that everyone in the RIAA ranks don’t universally have the opinion that the internet is destroying music. Even within the RIAA, there are opposing views with the digital age and how it affects music. It’s a lot like the misconceptions of those who support digital rights. Those who support a loosening copyright laws don’t necessarily all say that copyright laws should be abolished and that everything should be free. In fact, many who support a more liberal copyright law even say that they are more than happy to pay for copyrighted material.

In the ranks of the RIAA, not everyone is of the extreme point of view that the internet should just be dismantled. Do such people exist? Yes. Are they all of the same opinion? No.

That doesn’t mean that the debate hasn’t shown signs of polarity. I think it’s the extreme points of view that do have this affect though. If one person says that the internet should be abolished, a large number of people with various points of view will rally against a call like that.

Overall, it’s very refreshing to see something like this surface.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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