Music brass sing the blues

State of the industry has execs talking

Passion for music is higher than ever but "distribution sucks," Quincy Jones said Tuesday during a Milken Institute Global Conference where a discussion on the sorry state of the music industry dominated.

The producer and composer called on the U.S. government to create "a minister of culture" because of the popularity of American music around the world.

He said the business model as he has known it for half a century "is over." "We're starting at zero," Jones said, because teenagers don't even realize that music is something previous generations had to pay for.

He suggested, only half kidding, a two-week blackout of music to drive home the point that music depends on profits, like any other business. Or he'd like to hire hundreds of teenagers for a few weeks then not pay them.

Sony BMG Music Entertainment chairman Andrew Lack was more hopeful, and introspective, blaming much of music's woes on executives who were too slow to adapt to a digital world.

Lack said sales in the U.S. could grow in 2009 over this year. He said two recent developments "may change the business model."

First, Nokia's "Comes With Music" initiative will introduce millions of users to renting or buying of music via cell phones. Second is MySpace Music, a joint venture among Sony, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and News Corp.'s social networking giant.

"The narrative in this beleaguered music industry may -- may -- be changing," Lack said.

Indie911 CEO Justin Goldberg pointed out that only the recorded music industry that is suffering while live music, festivals, movie and TV music are thriving.

One simple suggestion for boosting recorded music's fortunes would be to embrace better packaging, with exotic art, extensive liner notes and jewel cases that don't crack the moment you get them home.

Goldberg also lamented Napster being "sued out of existence," since it was a place where just about all serious music fans gathered.

Jones, in fact, has partnered with Napster creator Shawn Fanning on Fanning's legal music-sharing Internet venture called Snocap and his "acoustic fingerprint" technology.