This is a system of music distribution and government funding that, in my opinion, could create a new artistic society, perhaps a complete rebirth of the arts as we know them, similar to the Renaissance (Okay, maybe I'm giving myself too much credit).
This idea was originally posted by me in Comment 6907514 of Apple Responds to iTunes "First Sale" Question, in response to a small thread suggesting that government funding of the arts could help break us free from this current pre-packaged commercial culture that most people don't realize is sucking the life from the arts. It has been revised slightly here to help clarify some points and correct minor grammatical errors, such as the inclusion of a superfluous "and."
Why not distribute a small amount of money indiscriminantly to all PG13-rated or less musical groups, with additional funds based on popularity of the music over time? This would be a flat fee based on a number of possible criteria, such as number of songs/albums created, length of those songs, etc. That way all groups get an equal chance at the start. People can then pay an access toll, like driving on toll roads, to obtain an account with the music distribution system. I suggest an access fee rather than a tax, so that those who don't listen to music at all, or who prefer the commercial system, will not feel they are being taxed unfairly.
As for promotion of music, as part of the free music deal you have to agree to see random banners displayed for all music groups, with no distributor-specified weighting. The user should be able to limit the banners seen to only their favorite genres, or music with their preferred level of profanity. That way all groups get an equal chance at promotion. The promotion of music outside of the distribution system should be extremely limited and regulated to prevent creation of a bias against those with less of a marketing budget who still might have good talent.
Users who download an inordinate amount of music could be required to obtain a higher-use access account, for maybe something like 2x the price, or could pay on a per-song basis.
I think this sounds like an ideal system of artistic distribution. One only has to work out the optimum access fees and popularity payments, figure out how to prevent "bombing" the system to artificially inflate popularity, and correct any other bugs or loopholes that might be discovered.
Who rates the music?
Music is rated by its creators based on absolute criteria established at the creation of the distribution system. For example, when you go to a movie, if it's rated PG, you know there won't be any bare breasts (recently; the Airplane movies were rated PG, but would not be rated PG now) or F-bombs, and the profanity will be limited. PG-13, there won't be any full nudity (and still usually no nudity), and less violence and sexual content than an R-rated movie. G-rated movies need no explanation, but for your sake I will provide one. G-rated music may have no profanity, no implicit or explicit sexual content, no suggestion of violent behavior, and only limited allowance for romantic themes or discussion of frightening topics like war.
A similar system could be established for this government subsidized distributor. For example, if a song has a certain level or type of profanity, or references a certain level of violence or sexual conduct, it receives a well-defined rating based on that level. These ratings would be double-checked by the people entering the music into the database, and could also be contested by popular vote.
How do you determine popularity? By what's played on the radio? What if musician A has more money than B and pays Radio Station Y to play his song twice a day instead of once a day?
How do you regulate what get's played? Stuff played at 1am has less of a chance of being heard than stuff at 12 noon.
Popularity is also determined by popular vote (by the number of times a song is downloaded). This system I propose is an exclusive system; you cannot commercially distribute your music if you also distribute it in this system, and vice versa. The only external distribution allowed would be free-of-cost or at-cost distribution, to prevent unfair biasing.
This will require the creation of entirely new content to fill this system; all the old-world music will still be under traditional commercial distribution.
So basicaly you're describing radio, except now instead of being able to change the station when the commercials come on, I'm going to have to watch blinking ans ever increasingly annoying ads just to listen to my music?
No, there will be no radio. Songs and/or albums in this system are only heard by the request of the user. By "banners" I didn't mean user-created banners. All banners would be mostly the same; they could include the band logo, the band's genre, and a brief description of the music. When a user is searching a particular genre for something they want to hear, within (or beside) those ranked search results will also be random results from that genre that might be similar to their query, but might not receive the highest ranking for whatever reason.
Limiting free speech much?
This is no better or worse than limiting picketers to a "free speech zone" during the Olympics every time they come to the US. Everyone would be free to comment on the music, but explicit promotion would be restricted to the system to ensure that everyone has a fair chance starting out. The good music will become more popular, and word-of-mouth advertising (and popularity rankings of the system) will still allow the good music to gain more success than the bad music.
so it's not quite like radio, instead I have to subscribe and I have to pay more just because I appreciate music more? And why should it cost more to me? If the artists are getting paid the same anyways, it doesn't matter if I download 1 or a thousand songs, they're all getting paid so there is no loss to them if I download more.
No, it's nothing like radio, because the listener determines all the playlists, and those playlists can be any length. You have to subscribe because taxing those who don't listen to music would be unfair (remember this is a system for government support of the useful arts). The subscription price would serve the same purpose as a tax: covering the costs of the service. There is a loss to the government if you download more music, as creators (not distributors -- there will be no other distributors in this system) are given extra money when their songs are downloaded more than other songs (this serves as a measure of quality; the best music will be rewarded by becoming popular and earning money. The random banner requirement is placed so that people can't complain that new songs don't have a chance because the old songs stay at the top of the charts (like MP3.com)).
Therefore, if you download more music than average (say, at least 150% of average), then you should have to pay more money than average. It's the same way with conducting transations. If you exchange money more than usual, you pay more sales, income, and other taxes than you would otherwise. This allows casual listeners access to the system without significant cost, while still rewarding the best musicians for their contributions.
No, given a choice between the system you have set forth and a system based on the current distribution methods, I think I'll take the current system.
The problem is with your interpretation of the system (no personal offense intended, of course). It will be nothing like the old system. You are applying attributes from the old method to the new way incorrectly. This will be an entirely new way of thinking about music distribution.
Please feel free to comment on this system with additinal ideas, reasons why it will or will not work, and so on. I'd like to create an open and lively discussion to help promote a better future for the arts.