The Grammys and Digital Music

The way digital music is delivered took a step forward Sunday night. You see, during the Grammy broadcast, several artists banded together to cover the Beatles’ Across The Universe. It was a song to benefit the Tsunami relief efforts. Now, the song was pretty horrible, but that isn’t the point. The point is that they made the song available for purchase and download through the iTunes music store almost immediately following the Grammy broadcast. This is awesome and hopefully a pre-cursor of things to come.

I would love to see this sort of thing happen for EVERY performance in an awards show. For example, I would have loved to download the Alicia Keys performance of If I Can’t Have You, or the incredible Piece of My Heart covered by a post-cancer treatment Melissa Etheridge. Why couldn’t these tracks be made immediately available? If they were, I would have bought them.

Now I’m not legally bound to buy them. I could have very easily taken the audio from the TV broadcast and converted those performances to WAV or MP3 files. I have that legal right. It’s something I’ve been doing for years by saving the TV audio stream to Mini-Disc. So why would I buy them from iTunes? Simple, it’s convenience. If I could have those songs by clicking once, it would be far easier than transcoding the performance off of my DVR and to an MP3.

Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening soon. For example, every Grammy show, some RIAA rep comes out decries the evil of downloading music and how it’s destroying their industry. I just don’t buy it. It’s the industry that is shooting themselves in the foot.

Online music has multiple flavors (MP3, AAC, WMA) from different stores (Napster, iTunes, MSN Music) all of whom have two fatal flaws:

1. The quality isn’t as good as a CD.
2. The multiple formats are not compatible with each other.

So the tracks I buy on Napster cannot play in iTunes and vice-versa. Also, I can’t put tracks from Napster on my iPod. Likewise, I can’t play iTunes tracks on an iRiver player. I can play NEITHER format on My TiVo media center. And the music industry wants me to embrace this nonsense? I don’t think so…

Until there is a universally accepted format with DRM that works on all players and media centers, digital music distribution will ALWAYS lose out to illegal MP3 downloads. MP3’s play everywhere, and right now they are free if you know where to look. Free and unrestricted will win over the current system always.