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Big labels are f*cked, and DRM is dead - Peter Jenner

Clash, Pink Floyd manager lifts the lid

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Interview Few people know the music industry better than Peter Jenner. Pink Floyd's first manager, who subsequently managed Syd Barrett's solo career, Jenner has also looked after T.Rex, The Clash, Ian Dury, Disposable Heroes and Billy Bragg - who he manages today. He's also secretary general of the International Music Managers Forum.

And he doesn't pull his punches.

The major four music labels today are "fucked", he says. Digital music pricing has been a scam where the consumer pays for manufacturing, distribution, and does all the work - and still has to pay more. Labels should outsource everything except finance and licensing.

But he's also optimistic that for almost everyone else - indie labels, musicians, songwriters and budding entrepreneurs - as well as network providers - the future's going to be pretty bright. The Big Four know that the DRM era is nearly over - and within two or three years, he predicts, "most countries" in the world will have a blanket licensing regime where we exchange music freely, for a couple of quid a month.

In the future, he also suggests, artists, co-ops and managers will raise their own investment on behalf of artists - and pick and choose their marketing teams.

Jenner is organising a conference in London on November 15 to discuss these issues. Billed as an "Urgent Blue Sky Debate", for once a music event may live up to its billing. Earlier this year, France almost voted to legalise P2P and bring in a blanket license - the necessary stepping stone to the future.

While Jenner elaborated on these in a report for MusicTank recently - it's only available to the public for a fee. So we were delighted when he dropped by Vulture Central yesterday to lift the lid on the business. Strong language follows.

You said that at In The City, the big label executives have lost their faith in DRM - they don't believe in it any more.

They don't. Not anymore.

And that was done by Sony BMG - what the fuck was that [rootkit DRM] about? The other was iTunes - and they've seen how kids don't like it. The unitary payment doesn't suit the technology, it doesn't suit how they're actually using downloads - which is to explore and move around. You don't want to pay a dollar for each track when you want to explore music.

And they're pretty crappy services, too. eMusic works, but when the others time-bomb the songs it's more annoying than the per-machine restriction. Because it's suddenly robbing you of something you had.

Oh yes.

And three years later you go, "Oh, shit!" - You basically have to pay twice for it.

Yes, that's outrageous. You've got to provide stuff that people can keep, and they don't mind paying you $3 a month for.

So how long can the big labels keep up this charade?

Earlier I was talking about the ground moving underneath the industry. At In The City people are beginning to realise they have to do something. So I think in two or three years blanket licenses will be with us in most countries.

And France nearly voted for it this year.

Yes, it got shot down - but the people who shot it down really shot themselves in the foot. They tried to get away from being too unpopular by saying "it's like a parking fine" - and the court said no - if it's an infringement of copyright, it's an infringement of copyright, and there's a huge fine.

So of course they can't enforce the law - it's completely unenforceable.

With the DRM, I think they've realised it just isn't working. People don't like the CDs, they find their way around it; they don't like the DRM, they don't use the DRM services; they resent - as you say - having subscriptions wiped.

Rock manager Peter Jenner

So do you think a blanket license will be introduced bottom-up through industry agreement, or top-down as in France - where there was some political leadership? It just isn't on the mainstream media, or think tanks' radar just yet. And I don't see much political leadership.

No, the political people have to be just well informed enough so they don't fuck it up, and they have to be encouraged to help it. I think it would be wonderful if the government could lock everyone in a room - the music industry, the unions, the performers, the record companies, the publishers, the ISPs - and tell them you can't be let out until you sort it all out.

They won't do that, but I think some way will be found to get that result.

So it's a fear of losing the distribution channels?

They won't have any control over distribution. A blanket license is a blanket non-license, really - it's simply saying "we won't sue you". But if you have commercial services exploiting music, we will want to pay you more. You're licensing the anarchy.

It's interesting where we'll end up drawing the line between commercial and non-commercial, but in the end the numbers will be so huge it'll iron itself out. Someone from England might pull in a lot of hits from Spain - but again, it doesn't matter. I don't then worry how they'll pass the money to each other, but it'll all come out in the wash.

Like it does today with collection societies?

Yes

I saw some reaction to the first step - "Value Recognition Right" here in the UK, and very few people seemed to understand it - especially not from the value-for-money point of view.

It was a very important first move but it was also a bit clunky. "Value Recognition Right - what's that? You're inventing a new right to make people pay - but you're also suing people - huh?"

But if you say that if mobile phones and ISPs want to distribute music in a non-commercial fashion, then they should pay for that right.

And if you swear that you're not going to listen to any music, you're not going to pay. It's going to be very hard for you not to pay, and the network is keeping an eye on you to see you don't download any music. And if you do without a license, we'll sue the hell out of you - because you've been offered a cheap deal like the TV license.

That's a lot cheaper than a TV license.

And fairer. If you don't have a computer, you don't have the internet, you don't have a 3G phone - and you don't listen to music - you're not going to pay!

They had to do it I think, and it was necessary to flush out critics who have no realistic alternative - other than that artists should go begging...

The "freedom" people are telling us I have to go out and sell more T-shirts - it's an argument I find tremendously insulting.

To me if someone gets some earning from their creativity it's one less person who's going to spend their life on a production line, or in a cubicle

Well, all the people who are writing this have salaries

Or they're rich tenured American professors.

They're getting paid very nicely, thank you. No, I certainly agree.

I don't think the positivehello side of Recognition Rights came in. Here's some place you won't be sued - you can do what you like with it - explore the world's music, share it, download it.

So the Big Four can't give up control?

Well, they know that they've built their power around their monopoly, and their manipulation of the market, and that's how they cover up their incompetence - by being "the only people who know how to buy stuff in", and so on. They've spent a lot of money establishing it.

And it's only through distribution, through black boxes, and their control of the existing copyright regime.

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