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A proposal for a system to replace phonograph record merchandising.

A business venture proposed by Frank Zappa as a partnership with Rothschild Venture Capital. Interesting as a historical item, in that Zappa was proposing essentially iTunes all the way back in the early 1980's.

Zappa contends (rightly) that the majority of money and effort at labels is expended in promoting new material by established artist as well as new artists. Most of the new artists don't pan out (possibly because the middle aged coke addled executives who are more interested in which artist's manager can get them the best hookers than in the music itself, but that's just my opinion. Or maybe the execs truly have no taste in music) and cost the labels a lot of money. Zappa's points out that major labels have tons of catalog material by many many artists that music fans would love to have access to, if it were available in a convenient format.

"Music consumers like to consume MUSIC... not specifically the vinyl artifact wrapped in cardboard." (p338)

Obviously, that statement would have to be altered to plastic artifact wrapped in plastic to remain relevant, but that is a minor adjustment. He proposed to purchase digital rights to the best catalog material from all the labels and to "by phone or cable TV, directly patchable into the user's home taping appliances, with the option of direct digital to digital transfer" (p339). He proposed billing at a monthly rate with no limit on volume of material.

This was before CDs had even hit the market, and the internet hadn't been heard of outside of hardcore geek academia and the government. The idea of cable internet was even further out. His proposal was to use cable as the delivery system, and to provide album art, song lyrics, liner notes, etc of the currently playing song to one of the many cable channels "where nothing ever seems to happen (there's about 70 of them in L.A.)"(p.339). This would satisfy the "Fondlement and Fetishism Potential" of a segment of the music buying public that places a high value on that, while providing cheap and easy access to whatever music people want. Mindful of the social importance of music and desire to be hands-on that many music fans have, he also later proposed in-store kiosks that would allow you to select whatever songs you wanted from the catalog and have them burned to a CD while you wait.

As Zappa notes, "most of the hardware devices are, even as you read this, available as off-the-shelf items, just waiting to be plugged in to each other in order to put an end to the record business as we know it". (p340).


Source: The Real Frank Zappa Book, Poseidon Press, 1989, Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso.

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