Saturday, March 14, 2015

Music Matters panel hosted by Goodman School of Business at Brock coming up this week

As many readers of this blog know, I have had more than a passing interest in the music business for most of my adult life.  I worked for 40 years in radio, both music and talk formats, and have been involved in one way or another in the sale of recorded music for about 20 years now.

While I don't play a musical instrument myself (my mother once suggested I take up the accordion; thankfully Walter Ostanek 2 was not borne out of that suggestion), I have always told people I play CDs instead.  For years people knew what I was referring to but as the next generation comes along, one wonders how long CDs will remain relevant in the music business.

When I began in the retail music business, cassettes were quickly being phased out in favour of the CD format, which began to overtake other formats around 1982.  At the time we all thought CDs would be around for a long, long time, but it turned out we were wrong.  Oh, other formats have tried to dethrone the mighty CD, such as minidisc and DAT format tapes, for example, but nothing else was able to grab a foothold on the market the way CDs had done years ago.

All that changed, of course, with the dawn of the digital age.  It was the widespread availability of iTunes on your PC as well as your Mac in 2006 that dealt a crushing blow to the traditional music business as we knew it, although the downward slide had begun before that with illegal downloading of music from sites that began popping up like musical weeds, as it were.

There was a time when you paid for your music like you paid for everything else you consumed, like gas for your car or food at the grocery store.  The ability to download music for free changed the playing field forever so that now, an entire generation is growing up not knowing what it's like to actually have to pay for music they are listening to.

There is a practical explanation for why digital downloading is so popular, aside from the obvious fact it is often free.  It enables the listener to pick and choose only the titles they want to hear; you in effect create your own playlists and nobody else makes that decision for you.  Gone are the days you bought a recording containing about a dozen or more tracks just to get the one track you fell in love with on the radio.

I get that.  You're essentially renting the music for free or a small fee rather than buying it forever.

But at what cost do you achieve that freedom of choice?  If you are not willing to pay for the creation of the music you are listening to, how long before there is simply no new music to listen to?  And how do musical acts in this digital age make a go of it if people are not willing to pay for what they listen to?

These and many more questions will be addressed this coming Thursday evening at 7:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at Brock University, as the Goodman School of Business at Brock hosts a panel on success, marketing and making money in the era of free music.  The panel discussion runs through to 9 pm and costs only $5, with all proceeds going to MusiCounts, a non-profit organization that supports music education in Canada.

The panel will discuss the challenges facing the industry, ethics and social responsibility, what's involved in making music in this new digital age, and how to ensure new talent is nurtured in this new economic climate.  Don Cyr, Dean of the Goodman School of Business and a musician himself, describes the panel as a candid look at the intersection of art and business.

The panel will be moderated by Todd Green, Goodman School of Business assistant professor of marketing, who researches corporate social responsibility in the music industry.  He is particularly interested in exploring the difficulties musicians now face in this new reality as they try to earn a living.

Joining Todd on the panel will be broadcaster and musician Alan Cross, who has spent more than 30 years in the music business and is perhaps best-known for his radio show "The Ongoing History of New Music"; musician Murray Foster of The Cocksure Lads, Great Big Sea and Moxy Fruvous; Ivar Hamilton, vice-president of marketing for Universal Music Canada; Noah Mintz, an audio mastering engineer; and Eric Alper, director of media relations for eOne Music and a well-known music commentator.

Whether or not you feel downloading music for free is considered "stealing" or not is a big issue here, and one I am certainly expecting will be addressed during the panel discussion on Thursday evening. I have my views on the subject as no doubt you do, too, and they might very much differ.  But perhaps it is time for that frank, open discussion of the matter and see where we go from here; clearly we cannot go down the path we've been following the last several years without some effect being felt by the musicians and the industry they are a part of.

If you want to attend, you can pick up tickets either in person at the Brock Centre for the Arts box office or by phone at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

I hope to be there Thursday evening, and I hope you will be too.  Let's discuss it, shall we?

Have a great weekend!

March 14th, 2015.

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