Yesterday I went over how I think the music industry got itself into the trouble that it is in now. Today I'll give you my attempt at fixing those problems. Below is my advice on how the industry can make a few necessary changes that will allow them to not only survive the digital revolution but prosper in it.
I should say there are two basic principles that run through all of these suggestions. First, the record industry needs better management from the top down. Second, file sharing can't be stopped completely but by giving people most of what they want (e.g. the ability to share music) while cracking down on those who really are thieves you can dissuade the great majority of people from trading (which should be good enough for your bottom line)
That said, here is my advice to anyone who runs or would like to run a Record Label in the future.
Streamline the Business: As I laid out yesterday I think the record industry has been badly mismanaged in the last decade or two. Very much so.
I'm told there are departments with hundreds of people who deal with booking concert venues alone. That's ridiculous. A computer program could do that for gods sakes, it requires at best one person. There are only so many venues and the people running those venues will decide what acts they want. All the label needs to do is work out the scheduling.
The record labels are rife with these examples. As I've said before I don't think most acts are going to go without the record labels. But the fact that a few artists could go without them shows just how little they are doing right now and just how much they could be streamlined.
Share Expenses Where Possible: There are few things that the record industry does well but one of those things is collaboration with their competitors. This is something that should be pursued further. There are things like manufacturing which every record label does EXACTLY the same and which get cheaper as you scale up.
Labels should identify those things and collaborate on them just as they do when funding things like the RIAA.
Cut Costs on Your Product: Look, the last couple decades were good times. I know. But now everyone knows a CD only costs a $1 to physically manufacture and if you streamline your business it shouldn't cost that much on the back end either. Time to face the reality, prices need to come down. If you haven't managed to streamline down enough to get the cost of a song to at least $.69 than you need to try harder.
Redesign Your Product: I hate to be the one to say this but the reality is that the days of CDs with full color booklets and fancy packaging is over. Record Labels need to lower the cost of their physical product by as much as possible. Still make it look good, but maybe just an insert rather than a booklet.
That said, they need to listen to the words of Radio Head's lead singer and realize that people want a physical product! But here's the trick...they also want instant gratification. So give them both, use the physical product to sell your digital downloads. Make songs available for $.69 per track or allow people to buy (and download) the whole digital album and then have the CD shipped to them for a little more. Customers get everything they want and the record labels get people to start buying whole albums again rather than individual songs. Everyone wins.
Make Music Available for Free (but NOT downloadable): People like to share music and people sharing music MAKES MONEY for the record labels. As long as those songs aren't being stolen while they are being shared. The record labels' task is to make their music available far and wide just as long as it can't be downloaded. They need to stream in a way that makes it easy to send, embed, share, and in any and every way distribute (again, as long as it isn't downloaded)
In fact, they need to go further.
There are plenty of companies out there doing innovative things with music. Buy or emulate companies like Last.fm and make some money while you are at it. This is one of the only items on this list that will cost the labels money but its the most important and there are plenty of ways to make money off it if they try.
Bottom line: all a person should need is a computer and an Internet connection to access and share every song available for purchase. But if they want to walk away from the PC, they have to buy it.
Use Watermarks & ISP Filtering: Labels need to watermark their music. No if, and, or but about it there is no reason that a law abiding legal purchaser of music should have a problem with a watermark as long as its just that. Not something that tries to transmit data back or anything like that, just a mark. Labels need to earn the purchaser's trust and that means a watermark that is benign.
Then they need to spend some money and hire people to create a filtering mechanism for ISPs. Software that they will then GIVE to the ISPs for FREE. Don't expect the ISP to protect the label's product, they need to create a division of their business that works with ISPs to filter music. In fact they should pay the ISP to do it! Then, if they fight it, the label can sue them for aiding pirates!
Carrot and a Stick.
That said, they can't go overboard. Filter p2p networks and that's it. If someone e-mails a song to a friend they need to let it be (unless the person is making a mailing list or something). Be reasonable with your customers (by giving them a wide berth) and they will be reasonable with you (by paying you instead of trading)
Sue, Sue, Sue...but give on "out": I'm pro-lawsuit in the music industry. That's big for me too because I'm a big proponent of Tort Reform. But File Sharing (now that DRM is all but gone) IS stealing and I have no problem with people who steal being sued for it. But for it to be effective you have to do it right and that means not looking greedy. Most people like justice and most people believe file sharing is stealing but no one likes revenge and no one likes greed.
The irony of the RIAA suits is that the record labels come across as greedy when they really never see the money. The Defendant's don't have that kind of money so they just declare bankruptcy which means the person's life is ruined (to an extent) while the record industry looks greedy for getting no money. Its stupid.
So my advice is this: Sue people's pants off. Dramatically increase the lawsuits both in how many people you sue and in how much you ask for in penalties...and then give the person an out. Make the law suits massive to send the message that p2p IS WRONG but then let people off by having them do (a lot of) community service. It still reinforces that p2p is wrong but it also helps the community, allows the traders to go on with their lives and keeps the record labels from looking greedy. Everyone wins.
Plead Your Case: Most people know that things don't come for free and most people don't have a problem with that. Further, those who do have a problem with that will never be convinced. So focus on putting serious effort into explaining the logic behind paying for music to those you can convince. Maintain a list of artists who have been dropped from their label because they had poor sales and remind people that p2p deprives fans of music when this happens because these artists will probably never release another album. Map out every conceivable way that p2p hurts the industry and detail it for people.
If you sell your product for a reasonable price (see above) and you spend some marketing dollars pleading your case most people will side with you in the end.
Support Alternate Uses: Things like remixes SELL the record labels' product and need to be embraced. There is a problem in that a remix that is too close to the original product is a bad thing but labels still need to empower these people in every way possible. Perhaps a review process or something like that would do the trick but whatever it takes the labels need to make it so that these people can do their thing.
Addendum: For the record, when I said "p2p is wrong" above I meant "if the people selling the music don't agree to it". I don't know of anyone who has tried to make their money off the p2p model (a.k.a. giving away their music for free in order to make it off other revenue like concerts and other items) but if they did I wouldn't have a problem with it. My issue is with people who use p2p against the wishes of the people who created the content.