Shawn "Jay Z" Carter signing with LiveNation demonstrates that one of the most entrepreneurial artists of our generation has decided that the business of recording music is advertising. The No. 1 digital music retailer, iTunes, has understood this for some time — Apple sells iPods, and iTunes is a service to make it relatively cheap and easy to fill those iPods. Carter will be happy to make a little chump change from digital sales, but the MC knows the real money is in branded events and merchandise. What the labels call "piracy" is actually free distribution of promotional material, and such a model is not without precedent.
It's called radio, and more recently, music videos. In both cases, record labels basically paid to promote album sales — either through payola, in the case of radio, or through seven-figure film budgets, in the case of music videos. The content itself was given away for free. Thankfully, digital tools make recording and mastering that much cheaper as well. The only change in thinking (and artist contracts) required is to see the recordings themselves as a loss leader for stuff you actually can sell, like tickets and T-shirts, fan club memberships and licensing rights.
The new MySpace Music, like industry-backed efforts with MusicNet, PressPlay and Bertelsmann's Napster, is doomed to failure because the labels persist in seeing recorded music as a profit center, not as a promotional platform for leveraging artists' brands. Of the four majors, only EMI hasn't signed on with that effort yet, and if former Googler Douglas Merrill has any sense, he'll tell the company not to bother. (Photo by AP/Peter Kramer)