The Null Device
What's wrong with the recording industry today (an ongoing series): introducing Sony Music's latest star signing, the late Michael Jackson, whose $250m, 10-album deal dwarfs that of any living musician in history:
Sony and Jackson's estate have already planned a series of releases including an album of previously unheard songs scheduled for the end of this year, a series of Best Of collections and expanded reissues of Jackson's best albums, Off the Wall and Thriller. The Wall Street Journal reports speculation of a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas based on Jackson's music.10 albums. So that's Jackson's half-dozen or so albums "remastered" and bulked out with demoes and remixes in the currently fashionable styles, plus his songs sliced and diced across a number of "greatest hits" albums (presumably each with a unique rarity, requiring fans to pony up for the whole thing to get it; it worked for Warner with The Smiths, though that was in the pre-iTunes age when you actually had to buy the filler), an entire album of unreleased tracks (which will have to be different than the bait placed on the "greatest hits" albums as not to cannibalise sales), and perhaps some tangentally Jackson-related third-party tie-ins. Perhaps they'll do something grisly like digitally splicing Jackson into posthumous duets with up-and-coming Autotune stars or something. (Unfortunately for them, the experimental software for replicating musicians' styles doesn't look like synthesising vocals any time soon, though perhaps virtual-actor technology will soon catch up to the point where we (and, more importantly, Sony's shareholders) can see all-new Michael Jackson albums roll off the production line.) In any case, he's going to be one busy dead guy.
It's not clear what Zombie Michael Jackson will do with the money, though industry sources say that the "fruit and flowers" part of the budget will be smaller than for most living artists. Sony Music (whose fortunes, along with the rest of those dinosaurs of the age of scarcity, the recording industry, have been better in past decades) will presumably have to cut A&R budgets and the development of new artists, but at least they can count on the late Michael Jackson to personally lobby for copyright extension when the time comes around next.
The ghost of Tupac has reportedly instructed his clairvoyants to renegotiate his deal.
The New Labour government is planning to rush through draconian new copyright laws in the form of the Digital Economy Bill. Drafted by the recording industry and big media, this bill will nobble the internet in Britain. (Among other things, wireless access points in cafés, libraries and pubs will be too great a copyright liability to operate, and ISPs will be obliged to block file exchange services like YouSendIt if they allow users to potentially infringe copyrights.)
According to a leaked memo from the BPI, MPs are resigned to passing this without debate, and the compliant New Labour leadership are determined to force it through in this form. In fact, the BPI fears this bill being subjectdd to parliamentary debate, knowing that were it to be so, the whole odious, iniquitous package would crumble like a vampire in sunlight.
Which is why it's important to contact your MP and ensure that they put the pressure on to get the Digital Economy Bill into the light. And you can contact your MP here.