Yes, you read the headline right. It was recently brought to TMVs attention by a post on industry agent provocateur Wayne Rosso’s blog that an iconic rock legend that has sadly passed actually had the forethought to look into the future and predict peer-to-peer consumption of music via subscription. This particular legend also went as far as writing a business plan for the new music consumption model. So, who was this rock icon you may well ask? The often-presumed crazy man Frank Zappa….
Obviously, he was in no way crazy on this point because lo and behold the music industry has suffered almost immeasurably due to its early turn of the century efforts to fight peer-to-peer instead of working out how to monetize it. Yet if P2P file sharing was predicted by an artist such as Zappa in 1983, one rightly must ask how could the music industry get is so wrong in the 21st Century?
Zappa’s whole business plan was based around the home taping movement and the music industries attempt to get all music consumers to re-purchase all there music on CD. A great quote from the business plan from Zappa is “Music consumers like to consume music…not pieces of vinyl wrapped in pieces of cardboard.” TMV says welcome to the 21st Century.
Going further to reinforce his point Zappa states very clearly that piracy is not based on stinginess alone as “people today enjoy music more than ever before, and, they like to take it with them wherever they go.” He goes onto make the following suggestion to license and set up his proposed peer-to-peer network….
“We propose to acquire the rights to digitally duplicate and store THE BEST of every record company’s difficult-to-move Quality Catalog Items [Q.C.I.], store them in a central processing location, and have them accessible by phone or cable TV, directly patchable into the user’s home taping appliances, with the option of direct digital-to-digital transfer to F-1 (SONY consumer level digital tape encoder), Beta Hi-Fi, or ordinary analog cassette (requiring the installation of a rentable D-A converter in the phone itself . . . the main chip is about $12).
All accounting for royalty payments, billing to the customer, etc. would be automatic, built into the initial software for the system.”
Now for this to be theorized in 1983 and for no-one NOT ONE PERSON in the music business to take it seriously is a big mistake as the scourge of illegal P2P currently reinforces. Overall, what Frank Zappa was proposing was a subscription-based file sharing service, which if you think about it, he came up within 1983 was decades ahead of anyone working in the music business at that time.
Did home taping kill the music business? NO. Will illegal P2P kill the music business? NO. Do not get me wrong illegally sharing music hurts record labels and artists. However, the music business is finally coming to welcome the “rather late but better than never” view that they do need to engage with new innovative models and work out how to monetize them instead of fighting technology. Fighting technology is a losing game!
So can we attribute the origin of P2P and subscription to Zappa? Probably not, in all totality. Yet the fact he wrote a business plan outlining his reasons, current gaps in the market he perceived at that time, certainly reinforces the view that the music business seriously miss-judged Frank Zappa. Would he agree with the fact that P2P in its current form is not good because it is ripping of artists? Who knows? One thing though is for sure and that is that P2P in one form or another is here to stay. Just like the war on drugs it is un-winnable – so we need to look at alternatives to make money from P2P.
On a final note, it also illustrates how the industry missed a big opportunity to monetize P2P instead of having it grow in to the revenue killer it currently is for recorded music. The key is access and access to all music consumers in the form they choose to consume. That means interoperable hardware devices and digital music services. Until we as an industry achieve true cross platform, device and service wise interoperability, we will never realize the true potential of music consumption in the digital age.