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Pearl Jam open Pandora's box

Own-label downloads cut out the middle man

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It is a small enough thing for one major band, in this case Pearl Jam, to begin selling its own songs on its own website, and we’re not surprised that this has happened and was reported a few weeks back.

Most attention went on the band's decision to offer their live performances without encryption or any other form of Digital Rights Management. These “digital bootlegs,” were seen to be the band’s property and are from their US and Canadian tour and can be bought for a one-off fee of $9.99 as each show is completed on the tour.

What would happen if more and more bands decided to bypass their record labels and did this, not just with one record, but with all of their music? In fact we find that there is indeed an underclass of young talent that has done just this, and more and more they are beginning to find their voice on the internet, but without promotion no superstars have yet emerged “sans” record label.

Will it happen? Well, another system out this week from Pandora Music may well have a bearing on the matter.

Pandora refers to its initiative as the Genome Project for music - a piece of recommendation software that analyses songs and finds more of the same.

We’ve tried it and found that it really works: put in one song and the search engine will find songs that are extremely similar and you do find new acts worth listening to. They say that there are more than 400 pieces of data that they have to collect from the lyrics to the beat, to the instruments etc, to make it work. They call it an “online music discovery engine” and link you to iTunes or Amazon so you can go and buy the track once you’ve found something you like.

Pandora charges $3 a month, which is probably enough to make a living. But since it is showing you music you have never heard of, then why can’t the system show you new works that are published over the internet, but not through a record label? Then they could take a cut of the music sale price.

In the end, like video search engines, this is like the chicken and the egg. If a video search engine is not there, then there is no route to market for video that isn’t owned and published by huge concerns with multi million dollar advertising budgets. Ditto music. So Pandora, or something like it may soon be driving sales of completely original music, and then “would be” Pearl Jams could also benefit from cutting out the record label.

Copyright © 2005, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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