Billboard
November 29, 2008

COMMENTARY: THINK GLOBAL, HEAR LOCAL

ROBERT KASHER

The Increasingly Digital Music Business Needs To Break Down Borders


The mobile revolution has the potential to give music distributors a
new lease on life -- as only they have the resources, connections and
marketing savvy to address the global market. Technology, not
government, is pushing a new global agenda based on the opportunities
presented by the digital world. And this needs to prompt us to build
the infrastructure to make that potential a reality.

Digital technology lets us access anything, from Sa Ding Ding's latest
Chinese pop video to Iranian folk music and Ukrainian hip-hop. Jazz
fans in Tokyo can keep up with the latest releases from their
favorites in New York and Paris. Latin music has found a growing
market in India as Indian music has in Brazil, all because music that
previously was felt to be marginal now finds the interested on the
Internet.

This lets previously isolated cultural communities expand
dramatically. Armenian music, for example, is no longer trapped in its
geographic base in the Caucasus and a few concentrated pockets of
population around the world. It can reach the Armenian diaspora, a
market four to five times larger than the local one. Likewise, Jay-Z
fans in Dacca, Bangladesh, give his music a twist by mixing it with
local beats and vocals.

Despite these advances that are reshaping the tastes of listeners
around the world, we are burdened with a distribution and licensing
system that remains locked into geography. Latin America still lacks a
good digital and mobile distribution system in spite of the fact that
mobile adoption there covers almost 98% of the population.

Aside from piracy, we also lack consistent international structures to
handle the copyright and tax issues that a truly global marketplace
would create. How can we address the first issue without a global
consensus on the second?

We have structures in place in the international music community to
address these issues. But when we look at providing "global"
solutions, we invariably run through a series of international music
divisions that are jealously guarding their turf. If we can't break
down the barriers within corporations, how can we address them across
countries?

Conferences and conventions bring together the players who can solve
these problems, but there are still too few forums for them to
communicate. Since the Internet lets so many artists create global fan
communities, promotion is far ahead of the law. By using viral
marketing and social networking, artists are breaking out of the legal
structures suited to the era of vinyl and establishing an ad hoc
infrastructure for the digital world.

With rare exceptions, individual artists lack the clout and resources
to adequately tap the opportunities that are opening for them. That's
where an industry long battered by technology should be able to make a
stand for its survival -- by opening itself to new ways of thinking
that define the world not in the narrow terms of geographical
territories but as an open series of communities that can transcend
old boundaries. ****

Robert Kasher is founder/leading executive of the Global Reader
service from MPS Mobile.