Music's future digital and online: experts

The recording industry must change its view of copyright and the way people access music if it is to survive and flourish, according to a panel of music industry professionals.

The recording industry must change its view of copyright and the way peopleaccess musicif it is to survive and flourish, according to a panel of music industry professionals.

As the popularity of digital music formats and online downloads — paid and unauthorized — continues to rise, music's former gatekeepers will have to reimagine the ways in which they seek to make money, the panel told an audience of internet, new media, music and intellectual property professionals in Toronto on Friday.

"There's a lot of positive stuff going on that you don't hear about in the news," said Sean Hutchison, director of digital business development for EMI Music Canada.

Last month, EMI Group removed the digital locks on songs it sells through Apple's iTunes music store.

"A lot of what the labels always did is control distribution — that hasn't changed that much," Hutchison said.

No matter whether people choose traditional physical media or digital formats for their music, they need a way to get it, and they are likely to go to big brands like major record labels to get it, he said.

"We need to re-embrace distribution."

A big problem facing the music industry is the difficulty of licensing rights to distribute music on the boundless internet, because thelicences are issued by geographic territory, according to Tony Tobias, president of Pangaea Media and Music.

"Digital was supposed to save us, supposed to transcend and help us deliver," he said. "We have less access to digital platforms than ever before."

Richard Kanee, supervising producer for interactive music and youth services at CHUM Ltd.'s MuchMusic, agreed.

"You think digital is easy but you can't imagine how horrible it is," he said, describing the complex process companies have to go through to gain music rights licenses.

Vered Koren, vice-president of content and business development for Hip Digital Media, said one way to capitalize on the internet is to associate artists with international brands, such as soft-drink makers.

The beverage makers would pay for rights to a certain number of copies of a track, which the drink's consumers could obtain by redeeming a digital code — an arrangement currently in effect between Pepsi and singer Joss Stone.

"Pepsi's a big company. It brings credibility to Joss Stone and vice versa," Koren said.

'It has become voluntary to pay for music'

"I don't like Pepsi deciding my music," said Jim Griffin, managing director of digital media consultancy OneHouse LLC, based inThe Plains, Va.

While Griffin saidEMI has the right idea — opening up the music it sells in unlocked formats that allow the audience listen to it when, where and how they want —he was skeptical about the idea of controlling the content.

"Better than 90 per cent of the audience that listens to music uses the MP3 format," Griffin said. "It has become voluntary to pay for music."

Ashift is coming in music due to the widespread availability of internet access and the coming growth of high-speed wireless networks, he told CBC News Online.

"We have to stop thinking about copyright as something that can be used to stop people from making copies [of music]," Griffin said.

The old way of thinking, prevalent in the music industry, addresses the market for music "as they wish it were," he said.

"EMI is addressing it as it exists today, by making MP3s available. They do not view copying as a compensable event."

The future of music will be in flat-fee services, such as cable or the internet, especially once high-speed Wi-Fi internet access becomes prevalent, he said.

"Why would you carry [music] with you on a chunk of plastic when you can get it everywhere?"