During the conference itself, there was plenty of emphasis on the issue of downloading of digital music and its affect on the music business. On Thursday morning, a panel of label executives was convened to discuss just that issue, and although there was a bit more optimism on their part than might have been found at a similar session a year or two ago, the general tone was not particularly upbeat.
Record labels panel
photo: Mike Levine
The Label View
"Last year we saw a two percent increase in business," said Chris Morris, music editor of The Hollywood Reporter, and the panel's moderator. "That's not enough to pick up the slack for what we've lost."
Abbey Konowitch, a senior VP at Hollywood Records concurred. "Obviously, it's not fixed," he said.
There was some optimism on the subject of ring tones and music for video games. "No one questions the fact that when you're getting something over your phone, you're going to pay for it," said Steve Greenberg, the president of Columbia Records. "No one has a problem with that."
Of music in video games, Island Records president Steve Bartels said, "It's been a huge platform for artists to get their music heard."
Bartels probably summed up the general attitude of the panelists when he said, "As technology is our friend, it's also our foe."
Napster creator Sean Fanning
photo: Mike Levine
Appearing on Friday morning was somebody who the record execs would certainly have considered their foe, at least until recently: Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster. Fanning participated in an interview session, mainly to plug Snocap, the new service he's planning to launch. It appears that Fanning has changed sides, because Snocap would provide services to labels, rights holders, and other entities involved in the legal downloading of music by, cataloging digital music files using "acoustic fingerprinting" technology, and acting as a clearinghouse for rights holders. "There's a need for something like a music registry," said Fanning, "that facilitates rights clearance on a major scale."
Fanning threw out some amazing numbers: during the heyday of Napster, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 million downloads a day. By comparison, Apple's iTunes Music Store, the leader in legal music downloading, has had 100 million downloads over a period of 14 months. "I respect what they've achieved," Fanning said of Apple, "but it's just the first step in a long road."