Gary Robinson, the head of Emergent Music has an article on his blog about the Three Steps To Freedom. His opinion on this definitely counts, because EM might very well be the future of music. I’m going to chime in with my thoughts here and copy them over to EM’s forum as well.

There are a couple of things that major labels have traditionally done:

  • Paid cash up front to make high-quality recordings
  • Promote the music to get it in front of large quantities of people

While people may question the quality of the pop music released by the majors, I don’t think you can question the quality of the recordings. They are slick, well-produced, well-mixed and well-mastered. This particular service of the majors is becoming less important because of inexpensive, high-quality recording gear. To some extent, increasingly intelligent software is even making mastering engineers less crucial. I’ve got a decent home studio, and creating a similar studio today would be dramatically less expensive than it was a few years back.

The second part, promoting the music, is where EM is looking to fit in (and take over!). The current promotion system is broken because it costs a fortune and leaves a lot of great music unheard.

I agree with Gary’s 3 steps, except I don’t fully agree with the third. The first two steps: building a large pool of music that steers you toward music you like, and making that music convenient to download are right on. Setting up a subscription service to reward the artists, however, is not necessarily the winning model.

Right now, the offerings from PressPlay, MusicNet and Emusic are all subscription-based. Ignoring the fact that PressPlay and MusicNet have ridiculous DRM and Emusic has no filtering that I’m aware of, I still have a problem with those services as subscription offerings. Why? Because I don’t think there will ever be a single site that has all of the music that I could want and I don’t want to have to spend $70 a month subscribing to different services for the freedom to download the songs that I like.

What I would like to see is a site that offers both models: subscription and a la carte purchases. If I come to the site, preview a song and decide that I really like it, I’d like to be able to pay $0.25 or $0.50 to download a good MP3 of that song. I realize that current payment systems make charges that small impractical, so I’d be willing to prepay a few dollars (say $5) for some number of credits. That works great for a site that has some music that I like but that I’m not so avid a fan that I’m willing to sign up for recurring fees. Some day, we may even get real micropayment systems that allow for inexpensive, per-song purchases.

However, when I do find a site that regularly offers lots of good music that I really enjoy, I may sign up (and it may be financially beneficial to me to sign up, if I can download a greater number of songs through the subscription price).

I’ve thought about this topic quite a bit, and believe that easy, DRM-free music downloads are the future. I can’t wait to get there, because I feel that the artists are the ones getting shafted the most right now and I want to see them break free from the past.