Thursday, November 20, 2008


There continues to be a lot of talk about the The Long Tail (first appearance here), which, among other things, describes a niche strategy for businesses, including music, made possible by internet marketing and distribution. The Long Tail seems to have the simultaneous effect of supporting large numbers of niche products by better making matches between providers and consumers while at the same time strengthening the numbers of a much reduced number of leading products @ The Head.

It strikes me that the greatest difficulty posed by this structure is that The Head and The Tail are, ultimately, delivering something very different to the market,  leading to some of the substantial conflicts over intellectual property raging at the moment. @ The Head, a small number of products are being produced and delivered in mass, and income is a direct result of the sale of these products, which for music, are recordings. But @ The Tail, recordings do not very often have primarily a direct income-producing function: recordings are essentially calling cards, advertisements, and momentos for live performances. This creates a fundamental conflict of interests between artists @ The Head & @ The Tail when it comes to issues like licensing for internet broadcasts or file sharing. It is difficult for me to recognize a possible resolution to this conflict within the structure of contemporary performances rights organizations, in which larger producers @ The Head, tend to have voting control and at the same time, one has to recognize that facts on the ground have long been established by consumers who simply copy & share with all of the encouragement of the corporate structures that created the devices with which they copy & share.

Performance rights organizations are already intensely engaged in this problem of products and market environments, the structures of which are, for the two ends of the market, essentially inversions. It is probably not very difficult to create two parallel systems for compensation to cover this, but it will be a very delicate operation to determine what music belongs @ The Head and what @ The Tail, as well as to design mechanisms for the smooth movement of work from one end to the other, as market interest for work becomes either more general or more specialized over time.*

(As a composer of concert music, & one whose work is located very much and mostly contentedly in The Tail, I cannot realistically anticipate ever making significant income from sales of recordings.  Live performance licenses, however, do provide a real source of income to me. GEMA, my own performing rights organization, has gone one step in the right direction by allowing members to place recordings of their own works on their own websites without a licensing fee. I still have no intention of investing much energy in recording, but having a few more calling cards or free samples is probably a good idea.)

* This is a critical issue in performing rights organizations as well, as voting membership is awarded after producing a certain income level for a certain period of time and is then, generally, irrevocable, thus filling the voting membership with authors who are no longer productive or whose interests in the most current market conditions are somewhat limited. 

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