David Byrne, former leader of Talking Heads, has written an article for Wired Magazine about the long-term prospects for the music industry when the costs of producing and distributing music are both approaching zero. What is the role for a record company when an artist can produce professional-quality music with laptop computers and distribute it worldwide through an inexpensive web site?

The answer is fascinating – there are big changes ahead, but there are still many business models out there for a business to team with an artist for financing and promotion. The article is remarkably insightful about the future of music distribution and may help you interpret the rhetoric from the recording industry, which only stands to prosper itself from a few of the options available to artists.

“What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that’s not bad news for music, and it’s certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists. . . .

“The fact that Radiohead debuted its latest album online and Madonna defected from Warner Bros. to Live Nation, a concert promoter, is held to signal the end of the music business as we know it. Actually, these are just two examples of how musicians are increasingly able to work outside of the traditional label relationship. There is no one single way of doing business these days. There are, in fact, six viable models by my count. That variety is good for artists; it gives them more ways to get paid and make a living. And it’s good for audiences, too, who will have more � and more interesting � music to listen to.”

It’s a must-read if you’re at all interested in the entertainment industry or the business of business. The companion piece, a conversation between Byrne and Thom Yorke, leader of Radiohead, is also fascinating for a level-headed evaluation of Radiohead’s online distribution of its new album – the unique conditions that led to Radiohead’s success with the experiment and the implications for other artists.

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