Ringtone Revolution

Open letter to the RIAA, ASCAP, and BMI:

We know DRM isn’t going to stop the piracy of music. Most of the published catalog of songs in the collective archive of all RIAA member companies is already in the clear. New releases are leaked faster than they become available through the iTunes music store. Instead of swimming against the current trying to devise new ways to keep the songs from getting out recognize you already have a model that works. You have a model that’s limiting and no one is complaining about. You have a model with people dying to pay more for less.

Ringtones are where the money is. The general public will fight tooth-and-nail to get a full length song for free, but they’ll pay 99-cents-per-ringtone for a mere 10-15 seconds of polyphonic noise barely identifiable as a rendition of the latest joint from 50 Cent. Capitalize on that. Raise the licensing fee on ringtones and give away the full length song. Vanity knows know financial boundaries.

ASCAP and BMI, the songwriters and performers need their cut too. Get them their due the same way you always have – one public performance at a time. Cell phone companies have all kinds of tracking mechanisms built into phones already. One-way GPS systems can tell them where a customer is even when the customer doesn’t know where they are. It wouldn’t be hard to send a signal back to the cell phone tower indicating which rapper is dropin’ 808s from an LG 6600 outside the Space Needle at 2:01 on Thursday afternoon. If 20 people in a restaurant hear that cell phone ring it constitutes a performance in my book. Assess the cell phone company a fee for each ring. They’ll be sure to pass the cost along to the customer with the ringtone, adding a few extra pennies to generate a profit. Everybody makes more money in this new model and the customers won’t even complain.

Run television commercials and plaster billboards with a dial *555 campaign to get the latest ringtones from the one-hit-wonder-du-jour. We’ll eat it up. I recognize at least two or three feeble attempts to replicate a pop song every time I’m in a public space. But we need to be reminded so a marketing campaign is in order. Enlist that guy who reminds us not to steal movies when we go to the theater, he seems convincing.

Keep selling CDs or whatever the shiny disk of the moment happens to be. Keep licensing places like Napster and Rhapsody hand out music-on-demand. And by all means, let the legit music stores mess with ineffective DRM schemes to deliver licensed copies of tracks to consumers interested in paying for songs guaranteed free from virus infections, spyware and trojans lurking on the p2p networks. Let the podcasters play 64kbps versions of songs free and clear. These things are promotional vehicles to sell the next 15-second megahit.

Stop wasting time and money suing children and dead people. You’ve got the perfect money maker. Simon and Paula should be looking for the next generation of 15-second hit machines. Forget about that karaoke school dropout stuff on all the networks. The only thing you need now is a collection of tones appealing to people outside the ages of 15-25. Mom and dad need ringtones too.