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Op-Ed: What If We Had Elections In The Music Business? – By Bob Lefsetz

Maybe we do.

The hoopla surrounding the sales of AC/DC's "Black Ice" at Wal-Mart has superseded the scary underlying fact. That even including digital downloads, album sales last week were down 25% from the equivalent week in 2007. And 2007 SUCKED!

If the major labels didn't have the power known as their catalogs, we'd have a different music business today. They've been using this asset, along with their publishing companies, to generate leverage and collect revenue, insisting time and again that they're just about to turn the corner. I'd love a referendum, I'd love to vote Doug Morris out. Because he and his consigliere Zach Horowitz are holding back the future of the music business.

How about a competition between Doug Morris and Steve Jobs. Let the public vote. It's winner take all. If Doug wins, he gets the iTunes Store. He can bundle tracks as albums, raise the price, he gets free reign. And if Steve is victorious, he gets to purvey Universal music however he sees fit. And as goes Universal, so goes the music business.

The labels don't have Hilary Rosen to protect them anymore. She was paid beaucoup bucks to take the heat. But when she was finally gone, scooting off to punditland, she said the labels' failure to license Napster was their downfall. And to this day the labels refuse to license P2P in the U.S.A. And Mitch Bainwol cannot protect the arrows of the public shooting straight for the heads of the labels.

To the degree the public still cares. Jimmy Iovine may no longer go on record, doing his best to fly under the radar, but Nine Inch Nails leaving Interscope is a bigger story than any band the label has "broken". All the money's in live because the labels won't authorize sales in a form that the public desires. A lot for a little.

It's like the labels are landlines holding out against cellular. Losing connections along the way. With the public desiring mobility, the labels are selling physical discs, trumpeting their superiority, which is akin to stating that sex can only be had in the bedroom. Whereas where you do it, sometimes even in the great outdoors and office buildings, is frequently the special sauce that makes coitus exciting.

In the seventies, to work at a label was the ultimate goal, and you sometimes got there through the farm team known as retail. And a job at a record store was only marginally easier to get than one at Warner Brothers. But today everybody under the age of thirty has been laid off at the label, or is working for bupkes with no upward mobility. And Tower Records has closed and the geek at Best Buy knows less about CDs than you do about LCDs, and you're not even working there.

If America can elect a black President, we can have a nation where music files are easily acquired, sans copy protection, and easily transferred. Don't say "No way", instead cheer YES WE CAN!

The record business is mired in a quagmire as sticky and without future as Iraq. And its recipe for success is to double down, the equivalent of a surge. Suing more people.

But suing people didn't work in the first place. The army wasn't big enough. The insurgents would not let go.

This war against consumers is unwinnable. And it's ruining the business' economics. The only people who won't admit this are those with the power, trying so desperately to hold on to it.

But holding on to the old ways, aligning with despised power, got the Republicans neutralized in Congress, going from the majority to the minority. And caused them to lose the Presidency.

John McCain tried to throw the long ball. He signed Sarah Palin. Just like the labels made a deal with MySpace. But just like Sarah was the wrong female, MySpace is the wrong social networking site. And Sarah may be a female, but she was not the woman the female electorate was clamoring for. Women wanted Hillary. They wanted intelligence and experience. Someone who'd fought her battles not by her looks, or through flirting, but hard work. To the degree MySpace is shiny, it's definitely not what the public wants.

Nor is the music being purveyed. All those simpleton Top Forty hits? If not being tuned out in droves, all that's selling is the track. Labels lamenting single track sales on iTunes is like the Republicans decrying early voting. The tide has turned. Change has come.

Power is being bled by the old powers at the labels as we speak. Bookers no longer focus on SoundScan, but ticket sales. They don't care if there's a record on the chart, just whether fannies will fill the seats. And the best way to get people to pay is to have a career act, that doesn't focus on extravaganzas, scorched earth publicity campaigns, but their long term viability. People want to believe in acts, but the labels keep selling singles.

It will take a while for new behemoths to rise. Developing and selling music. But one thing's for sure, the day of the major label dinosaur chairman is dead. Overpaid as his staff gets laid off. Selling what most people cannot relate to or don't want ninety days after its peak. New executives will put their heads to the ground, listen to the audience and build a new coalition between acts and the public. That's where the nexus is. Contrary to the majors labels' belief that it's between them and radio.

Radio is dying. Barack Obama's campaign would not have been victorious without the Web. Obama used the Internet both to get his message out and raise funds. Knowing that a little from a lot is better than a lot from a little. Anybody who hopes to thrive in the recorded music sphere in the future needs to learn these lessons. YouTube is your friend. As are blogs and iTunes. You don't battle the masses, spread into nooks and crannies, you entice them, you bring them in. Music should not be free, but a fair and equitable sales proposition must be proffered.

We need unity in the music world. We don't have it today. And we must blame the old white men, wedded to antique business models which haven't worked in the twenty first century. It's a new dawn. Only when we all come together will our great national nightmare of declining revenues at record labels and traders' lives being ruined by lawsuits end. We need leadership. Right now we've got none. But it's coming. Because the public DEMANDS it!