Dumping Music and Indies
(Apologies for a bit of a wonkish, music-policy post. But it’s the sort of stuff I find interesting, especially after writing about the music industry in Korea for so many years. -Mark)
Maybe you haven’t heard, but most of the indie labels in Korea have joined together with the big pop music companies in a campaign called Stop Dumping Music, the aim of which is top improve Korea’s copyright laws and to get government protection from online music retailers selling music for around 600 won/song ($0.50) — or, with discount packages and streaming, as little at 60 won/song. After years of endless bickering, it is kind of amazing to see the music industry come together behind one issue, big pop labels and indie labels alike. But, to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I mean, obviously it stinks that the music sellers have taught Korean consumers that songs are worth just 5 cents each. But is this something we really need government mucking about in? And how much is this really hurting Korean music?
The music industry, from the tiny indie labels all the way up to SM Entertainment, are pretty united that the current state of affairs stinks. So they are holding events and protesting the Ministry of Culture, trying to change the law before it takes affect Jan. 1, 2013. There’s going to be a big rally tomorrow (July 10) at the Ministry building, and then other awareness-raising events. For example, there is going to be a fundraising bazaar on July 15 in Hongdae at Duriban, trying to raise the money for some newspaper ads (which are still surprisingly effective in Korea).
But could those crazy cheap rates have possibly helped the music industry? Koreans spent about 400 billion won (about $350 million) on music online last year, and one analyst predicted that could read 483 billion won this year. That would be by far the most ever spent on retail music in Korea, beating the previous record of 416 billion won set in 1996. Even at a trade level, that works out to a pretty good haul, historically speaking (topping $200 million in 2010, the last year I have numbers for).
Personally I am less worried about rates as I am about how the money already being spent gets divided up. Not only do the indie labels get screwed on how the big music portals share revenues with them, but there is a terrible lack of transparency, and most of the portals aren’t willing to open their books and show they are giving the indies their fair share.
Yes, I wish there was more of a live touring scene around Korea. And I wish more people were willing to listen to non-mainstream music and buy it. But the fact is Koreans are already spending money on music that they like. Maybe teaming up with the big labels will help the indie labels, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Growing the indie scene will continue to be more about the basics, of improving touring and promotion.
Despite all the changes the digital age has brought, I think bands like Chang Kiha & the Faces and Busker Busker have shown that the most important part of making a living in music remains old-school television (not to mention all the bands now appearing on Korea’s numerous audition programs, such as Top Band).