It's The Experience That Makes Music Valuable; Not The Legal Rights

from the proving-the-point dept

Ethan Kaplan strikes again. The always-thoughtful (and thought-provoking) former recording industry tech exec has put up a blog post that not only explains why is so popular, but also reframes why the record labels have failed to embrace almost every cool new internet service. You should read the whole thing, but the short version is that users care about the experience, the big labels care about the legal rights. And it’s really the experience that makes things valuable. But, if you (like the labels) have bet on the licenses, rather than the experience, then any time someone else makes the experience more valuable, all it does is highlight just how little value there really is in the licenses.

Value in the music business though is an odd thing: the more value added to the music by the fan directly, the less influence the rights holders have over it, and the more influence the creators of representational systems (i.e., and rights creators have (i.e., artists going directly on with stuff that their labels don?t own). And rights holders do not like being taken out of the value equation.

Call it Kaplan?s Law: the more value a non-music company adds to the fan/artist relationship, the bigger the threat to those who?s business depends on being between the two.

To some extent, this is a (better) rephrasing of a point I tried to make a few years ago, that those who focus on “copyright” as the key to success in any industry are using copyright as a crutch. Rather than building real value and business models that users want, they’re using this crutch which provides a simple business model. It makes them lazy, uncreative, uninterested in real user value — and violently against any sort of innovation that increases value while diminishing the importance of that crutch.

The really interesting points are when you remove that crutch and realize that for a business model to work, it has to provide real value that willingly brings users in. Until the music industry figures this out, they’re going to continue to miss the boat on important innovation on both the product side and the business model side.

But artists don’t have to miss that boat. As Kaplan suggests, now is the time to focus on the “experience rights,” not the “legal rights”:

To artists: own your experiential rights. Participate in technology and hold your representatives (lawyers, labels and management companies) to the standards you want your content held to once you lose control of it.

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Comments on “It's The Experience That Makes Music Valuable; Not The Legal Rights”

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:Lobo Santo (profile) says:


Oh noes!

Then all we’ll have left is talented artists who becomes hit-sensations will their self-produced distributed-at-near-zero-cost-digital-music and live shows that lots of people pay to see! Whatever will we do?


The world could use fewer cookie-cutter autotuned shit bands crammed down their collective throats, thank-you very much.

It will be a better musical world when the ‘old guard’ labels die–better still when whiny AC shills learn to think.

Huph (user link) says:


Well, not to rain on the “indie party parade”, but I have quite a few musician friends who are in actual debt themselves from financing recordings, pitching records, self-financing their booking and touring, etc, and the collection agencies are none too friendly about it. My older friends with/who had label deals which never recouped luckily do not have thousands of dollars of debt (or much much more) hanging over their head.

I don’t think being in the grip of a label is a good idea at all, but I can understand why a mostly penniless artist would prefer that someone else take financial risks with their career.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:


A couple hundred dollars worth of equipment can net more than passable recordings, and if you have a friend with said equipment then you can probly use his for little to no cost.

Why/to whom would one pitch a record? If you’re carrying around more CDs than you can sell at a gig, you’re doing it wrong.

Booking/Touring – you talk to the bar/club owner or manager. Generally, the idea is to make money off playing live.

Sounds like your friends just aren’t financially savvy, and maybe they really should have somebody else doing the money handling for them.

ECA (profile) says:


Legal rights= money..

If they can SELL the rights, they can make more and more money, even on OLD obsolete copyrights..ask time/Life.

but, something that hasnt been talked about in most of these articles.

CONTROL of distribution.

MPAA/RIAA have many controls in/on the system. they have made the deals, long ago. The corps, control most of these with contracts.

Any group not wanting to use the corps to distribute there goods/songs/movies..tends to have the fun of wondering around the country TRYING to sell corps music.

darryl says:

Lets be a bit honest !!!

Ethan Kaplan is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University in Sweden

So lets face it, he is neither a tech or an exec

He is not even a professor..

Anyone who thinks that comeing up with your own “SELF LAW” is a moron, who wants to try to give himself far more credit than he deserves.

Call it Kaplan?s Law: the more value a non-music company adds to the fan/artist relationship, the bigger the threat to those who?s business depends on being between the two.

(I call it ‘Hansens’ law),,, great company !!! (you probably miss that reference)…

Call it Kaplan?s Law: the more value a non-music company adds to the fan/artist relationship, the bigger the threat to those who?s business depends on being between the two.

As ‘assistant’ professor (is that like a secretary ?) who states the bleeding obvious, and BASICS of economics, that put otherwise says.

“If you provide value to your client, your client will use their ‘disposable and descretionary income’ on the products and services they see as ‘best value’.”

I call this “Darryl’s common dog fuck law” (The DCDFL)

Look at that, I can even give my law an acronym…. ๐Ÿ™‚

(CDF, or “common dog fuck” is a very old term from the milary, that means, ‘it’s common sense, you idiot’…

kyle clements (profile) says:


CDs benefit from economies of scale. Printing 100 copies means a high unit cost, while printing 1000 copies is a lot cheaper in the long run. Plus, the designer and photographer only have to be paid once, so more copies means more money in the end. The risk is, of course, vastly overestimating the size and passion of your fanbase.

While decent recording gear has gotten cheap, performance gear is still quite expensive. It can easily cost a few grand for the speakers, mics, cables, instruments, and mixers. While touring does bring in a good amount of money, it can take a while to recoup those initial losses. And if they bought it all at once, and they aren’t playing often enough, the interest on their debts may be growing faster than their tour income flows in. Either way, they should be playing more often, and only buying gear when they can afford it.

Sounds like they need a manager.

Kaden (profile) says:

Let's take another shot of Google juice, Darryl

Ethan’s former gig:

“Ethan Kaplan is the head of all technology over at Warner Bros. Records. This works out well since the two things Ethan loves most in the world are music and technology. At WBR, Ethan?s responsible for all consumer facing web properties, technology initiatives, business development and research/development.”

ECA (profile) says:

sugestion for u 2

I would point to the grand old opry and the fun they have had with female artists.

Corps wish to make money as long as possible with what they have.(this is not the old way)

they will NOT pick up a new group/person, until that PERSON/GROUP has a good following.

The corps contract makes DEMANDS of the artist. what took the artist years to create/make, is demanded in 1/2-1/4 of the time, to KEEP them popular and in public view.

After being published/played by the corp..the musician does NOT OWN the music, any more.

Nicedoggy says:

Who new selling music to people who don’t even have a credit card was so profitable.

The lowest part of that social piramid is where there is money to be made, and failing to cater to them is just dumb.


The quick uptake by Cricket consumers – many of whom do not have credit cards – is a rare success for the music industry, still reeling from a piracy-induced decline in CD sales and struggling to boost music sales via digital means.
Revenue generated by subscription plans offered by new entrants such as MOG, Rdio and Thumbplay has been disappointing so far.

Last year, paid subscription plans saw revenue shrink 5 percent to $201 million, even though the number of subscribers grew to 1.5 million from 1.2 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Including CD sales, downloads and other forms of music, the value of U.S. music shipments fell 11 percent to $6.85 billion from $7.68 billion a year ago, the RIAA said.

Music companies, which get a cut of the monthly bill from each subscriber, hope the success of a music plan that is bundled together with cellphone service can be repeated.

On the bright side of things, Yay! music sales shrinked.
The recording industry must die!

Anonymous Coward says:


Dang..another double post last nite. So sorry,I was under a lot of pressure after I told the orchestra players I will CwF until they come up with a take that got some RtB. They told me their union will $$/&#” and then %&/($ me (and they mentioned my mother in that context too). They insist to be payed per take or per hour.

Can one of music industry experts here suggest an alternative business model for this scenario?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Lets be a bit honest !!!

Ethan Kaplan is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University in Sweden

So lets face it, he is neither a tech or an exec

He is not even a professor..

Not that I expect Darryl to come back or admit he was wrong, but that’s a totally different Ethan Kaplan.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Let's take another shot of Google juice, Darryl

SO what you are saying is that he is a failed non-professor.

No one claimed he was a professor other than Darryl, and Darryl was wrong.

Anyone arguing that Ethan is “failed” at anything doesn’t know Ethan.

This is the same dude that Mike spent a year making fun of because he couldn’t get the record labels to change?

When did I make fun of Ethan? If I remember correctly, I did no such thing. I did write a blog post about how Warner Music should promote him.

Sounds like he is the assistant visiting professors of sour grapes.

Pssst. There are more than one Ethan Kaplans.

Hephaestus (profile) says:


With the glut of “Quote” musician’s and artist’s “unquote” out there the likelyhood of making it big is minimal. The top 5% of professional’s artists is about 10,000 bands in various languages and nations, plus legacy content. This is out of 5 million bands and artists on MySpace and other social media. In most nations there are only about 200 to 300 performers in the publics eye at any given time. Unless you are talking vatican city or monte carlo where you have 4 and 12 local bands, choirs, or artists respectively. FYI – they are really small nations.

The problem isn’t one of cost, it is one of being heard, of having talent, and the size of the local market. If you can make people feel good, strike a cord, or just entertain consistantly you can do well. Other wise no mater how much money you spend will not help you.

Anonymous Coward says:


It gets back to the same point I always make: signal to noise.

There is only so much space for signal. Only so many radio stations, only so many delivery systems, and most importantly only so much time in the day.

People don’t want to waste hours of their day on crappy music. They want music they can enjoy, musical experiences they can perhaps share with loved ones, or friends, or whatever. They love the common experience of enjoying the latest hot track at the dance club or head banging with friends a la Wayne’s World in the Pacer. Music isn’t just a solo experience, it’s also a shared experience, artist to listener, and listener to listener.

As it gets cheaper to record and “make available” music (I don’t use distribute, because putting a song on a webpage that nobody visits isn’t distribution, it’s just making it available), you have more and stuff to filter through. That becomes the noise, very little of it becomes signal. The amount of time to listen, the amount of attention, the amount of airtime, pandora time, however you measure it is always limited, it doesn’t increase. So more and more stuff gets ignored.

Instead of the top 5% being the public eye, it becomes the top 1%. For the 99%, it gets ever so much harder to make it to the point of getting any real attention.

I don’t see it getting better for musicians, I see it getting worse.

Gwiz (profile) says:


It gets back to the same point I always make: signal to noise.

I tend to get annoyed with this point being spun as a negative.

Your signal is another man’s noise and vice versa, so your point really is moot.

The fact that there are hundreds of avenues to discover new music out there now, instead of being spoon fed a few top artists by the labels is a huge plus in my book.

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