David Bowie Wasn't Just An Incredible Music Visionary, But An Internet & Business Model Visionary Too

from the rip dept

As I'm sure you've heard by now, famed musician David Bowie passed away yesterday at age 69 due to cancer. As someone who influenced so many people in so many different ways, it's great to see basically everyone celebrating his life and his music. But, given that this is Techdirt, I also thought that Bowie deserved a shoutout on topics that we discuss around here as well: Bowie wasn't just an amazing music visionary, but he was similarly visionary about the music business and the internet as well.

All the way back in 1996, he was the first major musician to release music only on the internet, launching the single for "Telling Lies" as a direct download off of his website, and announcing it in an online chat session. Yes, nearly 20 years ago, Bowie embraced internet distribution for his music.

Then, in 1997, he went way beyond basically any other music business model experiment by issuing Bowie Bonds, creating a financial instrument that was backed by the royalties from his music, without losing control of the actual music itself.

That same year, he also became the first major musician to "cybercast" a live concert online. Other musicians had tried similar things around that time, but Bowie was by far the most well-known (though the technology basically sucked for all of them, including Bowie).

Just a year later, in 1998, David Bowie launched BowieNet, his very own internet service provider (ISP), saying:
If I was 19 again, Iā€™d bypass music and go right to the internet.
Again, that was 1998 -- the same year that Google was founded (and a little site called Techdirt first came online too, but we'll leave that aside for now).

By 2000, he was already talking about just how revolutionary the internet was going to be for music:
There's so much good stuff in that interview. He talks about how he doesn't view himself in the music industry at all any more because of the way the industry works, and how much he just wants to do his own thing. And the internet is incredibly exciting to him. He talks about how he got into music because it was a rebellious thing to do, but then:
It had a sort of 'call to arms' feeling to it. This is the thing that will change things. It is a dead-dodgy occupation to have. It still produced signs of horror from people if you said 'I'm in rock and roll.'... Now it's a career opportunity. And the internet carries the flag of being subversive and possibly rebellious and chaotic and nihilistic.... Forget about the Microsoft element. The monopolies do not have a monopoly....

... I like the idea that there's a demystification process going on between the artist and the audience....

... I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think what the internet is going to do to society -- both good and bad -- is unimaginable. I think we're on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying....

... The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment ā€“ the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it's going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.

... Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here ā€“ the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the grey space in the middle. That grey space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.
That same year, Bowie also launched BowieBanc, an online banking operation, that offered ATM cards and checks (with Bowie's image on them), exploring new ways of connecting with fans and building his own brand online.

Given all this, it's hardly surprising that in 2002, he gave an interview to the NY Times in which he predicted the end of copyright altogether, as well as record labels, as they would no longer serve a useful purpose:
His deal with Sony is a short-term one while he gets his label started and watches the Internet's effect on careers. ''I don't even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don't think it's going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,'' he said. ''The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it's not going to happen. I'm fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing.''

''Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,'' he added. ''So it's like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left. It's terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn't matter if you think it's exciting or not; it's what's going to happen.''
It hasn't totally played out the way he expected, but there's no doubt that Bowie's ability to be a visionary wasn't merely limited to the incredible music he wrote, performed and recorded, but to the internet and music/internet business models as well.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 11:07am

    If only labels were run by people with such vision and enthusiasm for opportunity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 11:21am

    Wow. Those are some very interesting business ideas he came up with. It's a shame they didn't catch on! :(

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Mark Wing, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 11:39am

    David Bowie was a visionary who pushed the bounds of genre and gender. There weren't very many artists in the 1980s not influenced by him. The world is a worse place without him. RIP David Bowie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    mrharrysan, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 12:11pm

    I've come out of the shadows to pay my respects...
    RIP Mr. Jones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Jim Tyre, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 12:43pm

    The first cybercast

    Hi Mike,

    Just a minor quibble, and taking nothing away from Bowie, but his 1997 cybercast was not the first by a major musician. The Stones did one in 1994.

    A fun piece about a very non-famous band that also talks about The Stones first live internet show is at https://player.vimeo.com/video/56349011?autoplay=1

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 12:54pm

    ''I don't even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don't think it's going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way,''
    Genius that he was, he clearly didn't reckon with the power of corporations to buy laws to stop the "inevitable".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Shmerl, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:14pm

    Re:

    They can't stop it. Only slow it down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:31pm

    Copyright isn't gone, but it sure is ignored and irrelevant for lot of people.

    Bye bye Bowie.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 1:38pm

    Re:

    The world is a better place for having known him. -FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 3:35pm

    Heroes

    Life on Mars

    Rebel Rebel

    Starman

    :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 4:51pm

    Not sure when it happened but pleased to see that Chris Hadfield's cover of Space Oddity is viewable again:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Whatever (profile), Jan 11th, 2016 @ 6:38pm

    RIP to the Thin White Duke

    David Bowie was a powerful performer and a grand speaker, someone not afraid to make bold predictions. He was also very smart, generally covering his ass financially on the other side to make sure that net, he always came out ahead.

    While predicting the death of copyright, he also issued the famous Bowie Bonds, a securitized bond of his (gasp) copyright work. So while talking about the death of copyright, he essentially sold of his copyright for a then staggering 50 plus million as an investment. This could only be done if he believed and could convince others of the long term value of his back catalog.

    Much like Trent Reznor, David Bowie has played with many of the potential routes and concepts that they internet brings and can offer. I think both realized along the way that certain things just don't work as well online. Getting there early means that where they moved to next is probably a better indication of the future than their words of 10 or 20 years before.

    David Bowie saw the future, took the best of it, and left the rest behind. Now he is gone and the world is a poorer place for his loss. RIP, say hi to Lemmy for us :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2016 @ 9:06pm

    Re:

    *pauses YouTube playlist of Bowie tracks*
    *cancels torrent downloading Labyrinth*
    *closes tab buffering a Venture Brothers episode*
    *deletes unlicensed Bowie photo from Facebook status*

    Hey man, copyright is the law!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2016 @ 5:37am

    Wasn't he also the head of the evil organization "the guild of calamitous intent"

    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), Jan 12th, 2016 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re:

    But he needs your money now more than ever, and he's got a successful Hollywood film director son to feed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2016 @ 9:35am

    You can watch the full video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiK7s_0tGsg . The part about the internet starts at ruffly 7 minutes but, just watch the the whole thing, it's awesome.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    FRM, Feb 3rd, 2016 @ 9:27am

    David Bowie hae been a case tottaly. All of his works, his influence. He can make it even after death. ery impressive story.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Jazzy, Mar 12th, 2016 @ 1:18pm

    copyright

    The post says that Bowie was "keen to have copyright go away," but that's not true and it even says so in the linked post. In 2002, he predicted that it would go away, but said, ". . . authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing. . .You'd better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that's really the only unique situation that's going to be left."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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