By William Hillis

THE MUSIC PATRONS' NETWORK - Classical musicians can save classical music by using technology to grow their own audiences. This solution is fatefully rooted in the reasons why "purveyors of live classical music are struggling."


The majority of the music industry, including record labels and music publishers, have been controlled by an oligopoly of multinational media corporations. Their operations are vertically integrated, and focused strategically on the control of rights, venues, and promotional resources.

In the late twentieth century, since the number of promotional channels was limited by the constraints of contemporary media (radio, and TV before cable), music industry profits were maximized through the promotion of a few superstar performers. Resources were appropriated accordingly; and classical music, with its higher costs in talent, development, and authorship, was starved as a result.

In particular, the industry's administration of rights as enforced in the courts has translated into effective control over the creation and distribution of content. Much of the industry's revenue depends upon the enforcement of rights, which in recent years has been undermined by Internet file-sharing, largely through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. However, what is bad news for the media conglomerates is good news for classical music.

In United States courts, brokered P2P networks have been charged responsible for enforcing copyright laws, while decentralized P2P networks have not. File-sharing has since moved to decentralized networks, but an opportunity for classical music remains in brokered P2P systems. Because of the intrinsic, time-tested value of classical music, it does not depend upon expensive, multimedia saturation campaigns in order to find listeners. Classical music therefore can benefit from a system that allows music lovers to find what they want and support it by direct transactions with classical artists.


A. Design and deploy a brokered P2P network for distribution of original sheet music, both new and in the public domain, and for instant payment of royalties for music not yet in the public domain. B. Rather than use live performances to promote CDs, freely distribute digital audio files to promote performances. Using the network to promote sheet music sales as well will reconnect artists directly to emerging composers (as composers benefit from having their music performed), creating opportunities for collaboration and profit-sharing not available under record company contracts. Profits will be realized by making music, not by selling recordings.

C. In tandem with the brokered file-sharing network, deploy a structured environment for the creation of self-governing groups built around enthusiasts, composers, and performers of classical music both as individuals and as ensembles. These relationships could contribute to the development of on-demand performance ensembles based upon input from group members.

D. Target optional subscription to artists rather than the file-sharing service. The record companies have tried to adapt by offering subscription services for downloading popular music, but their subscribers still function as consumers of content. What is recommended here is a network of patrons, each connected directly to their favorite artists for free tickets or discounts, solicitation of appearances, and other opportunities.