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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2012/01/29
by Mike Gruenberg

Sharing the Music

In My Life

In 1962, a comedy writer named Alan Sherman released an album that consisted of unique song parodies. The most famous of the songs contained on that album was called “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” which described in humorous detail the travails of a young boy away at summer camp. Sherman’s song is sung to the melody of Ponchielli’s, Dance of the Hours. The album was different from anything previously heard on the radio and it became the fastest selling record in history at that time earning Mr. Sherman a gold record.

The album was an overnight sensation, but in 1962, record companies were not as efficient as they eventually became in quickly distributing their products across the country and the world. Their antiquated distribution methods meant that demand sometimes exceeded supply at the local record stores, which was the case for this particular in demand album. His song was being played constantly on the radio, but many of the record stores did not have the product to sell.

One of my friends had the record and let me borrow it so I could listen to it. A week later, when I went to return it, my friend told me that another guy in the neighborhood wanted to hear the album and if I didn’t mind, would I bring it over to that persons’ house. I did and a few days later when I went to retrieve it, he told me that his cousin wanted to also hear it and yes, I brought it there too. Since this was getting a bit complicated, I devised a “lending library” system amongst our circle friends for this record, kept a schedule of who got the album, how long it was supposed to stay at each stop along the way and where it was destined to go next.

After approximately 3 months of travel around the neighborhood, I brought the album back to the original owner of the record who lent it to me. Much to my surprise, all the guys in the neighborhood who listened to the album and had it delivered by me, got together and decided that my organizational efforts warranted that I become the new owner of the record. To this day, that record is in my collection with the names of everyone who heard it written on the back of the LP cover. One could easily say that this was an early example of “music sharing.”

This operation of physically lending music on LP’s and 45’s to friends was an integral part of my teenage years. My friends and I constantly lent each other records. That practice dramatically changed many years later with the introduction of cassettes since with that new tape product, it was now easy to make a copy of a record on a cassette, share it with friends and thus save the vinyl from excessive wear and avoid the possibility of scratches on the record. Even more appealing was the fact that the cassette allowed you to hear your home-made recordings in your car, which was not easily done with your records. So, cruising down the highway listening to the latest tunes courtesy of a friend or your own taping efforts was very common in the 70’s and 80’s. Unfortunately, cassettes produced at that time were not built to last. More than once I had to extract many feet of tape from the cassette player in my car because the tape had a tendency to break.

By the 1980’s and 1990’s, the quality of cassettes improved, but by then, music copied on to a CD became preferable due to ease of use and better sound quality than the cassette. Oddly enough, cassettes are making a comeback today because independent artists and small record labels like the ease of recording them and the low cost to produce multiple copies of the latest tunes of their new artists on this medium.

Sharing of music is not a new concept and up until Napster, record companies took a low profile in their protestations of this practice. Moreover, the record companies were in a growth mode and could overlook possible copyright infringements. After all, these companies were issuing the same music to the public for many years on vinyl, 8-tracks, cassettes and CD’s and giving no discounts for buying the same music on different media over and over again. Because of Napster’s popularity, record companies began to scream that they were losing revenue due to this unregulated on-line sharing of music. At the same time, the music business was suffering a drop in revenue which caused them to look even more closely at the effects of online music sharing. Perhaps they were right that music sharing was cutting into revenues and artist royalties. Maybe so, but studies and surveys have since then shown that file-sharing services like Napster, in fact had a favorable effect on sales. It turns out that consumers who were introduced to wider catalog of music through a service like Napster tended to buy more music by those artists at legitimate music outlets. Call it music sharing or access services; the music buying public will spend money on finding the music of their favorite artists.

The latest upset in the file sharing controversy involves a guy from New Zealand whose new name is Kim Dotcom. According to an MSNBC story, “Prosecutors say Dotcom was the ringleader of a group that netted $175 million by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorization. His lawyers say his company, megaupload.com, simply offered online storage, and that he will fight extradition.”

Bottom line is that file sharing is here to stay and if under control by the music industry, legitimate file sharing entities will provide record companies with sorely needed new revenue. In a recent story in Billboard, the music industry magazine, Executive VP of Global Business Development at EMI Music, Mark Piibe said, “We think the presence of access services can expand the whole market”. Furthermore, subscription services like Spotify have grown dramatically in size which shows there is a market out there that will satisfy the music buying public, the record companies and the artists. Much like professional sports, there is an incredible amount of money that consumers are willing to spend on music for a value product.

File sharing is here to stay along with MP3’s and all the devices we have now and whatever new ones that developers can imagine that comes down the pike in the future.

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