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Copeland: Death of the CD?

NMC/Radio and Records eChart main column as published in the 6/7/02 issue of R&R At the EAT-M conference this past week in Las Vegas, Miles Copeland, the man who brought you Sting and IRS Records and now the CEO of Ark21, gave a stirring eulogy to the compact disc. He said, "The CD is dead."

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A fairly provocative and disturbing statement from a man whose career has been lived on the bleeding edge of the punk movement, the 80's British re-invasion and re-invention, and now, the re-defining of the very technology we will be using to listen to music.

It's easy to spout off about a revolution here, a death there, a birth of a new industry over here, but simple provocation of the audience wasn't Copeland's goal. He was not just trying to shock or get headlines. He was throwing his hands up and declaring that, sooner or later, the major labels need to embrace the fact that their beloved 5 inch plastic disc is no longer necessary, and that their relationships with their artist roster has to change if they want to continue to make money.

"You're going to have to become a true partner with your label," he told the assembled unsigned bands who were all hungry for any guidance they could get to acquire a recording contract. "But you have an advantage: you're hungry and agile, and the major labels will have to get that way if they want to succeed. They'll have to be willing to give away the music and push other parts of your careers, the concerts, the merchandising, the Internet revenues, and then share in the monetary success on the back end."

Copeland also outlined the guerilla tactics that the Net is making possible: building a regional, national or worldwide following through your web sites, your mailing lists and your live performances streamed online. He described how he takes artists that may not have backing bands and combines them with full bands that could open shows for them and then act as their "band" for the tour, and how those combinations can take advantage of both artists' Internet followings.

But his most powerful message was about removing "impediments." "You think you're committed now, that you'll be willing to sacrifice everything for your music, but you're probably not," Copeland warned. "You sign someone and they *say* they'll do anything necessary, they'll go anywhere, but then you find out this one's got a baby, that one won't double up in a hotel room, this one doesn't 'do' computers...you must be ready to do anything anytime anywhere to get ahead. You must be Net savvy. You must be willing to move with the technology, and if that means giving away MP3 files online because CDs are dead, then making your money playing live and selling T-shirts, that's what you have to do."

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