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Talking Head opens ears on music's future

Former Talking Heads band member Jerry Harrison says the future of digital music may not involve either cyber stores or physical ones. What then?

SAN FRANCISCO--If there's one business where the intersection of new technology and old is creating confusion, I can't think of a bigger muddle than the recording industry.

So it is that I had a chance to listen to an interesting discussion on the future of the music business here at the wrap-up day of the iMeme conference organized by Fortune magazine.

Jerry Harrison, who used to play with the Talking Heads (and is now chairman of iLike) offered a provocative and entirely insightful comment about where things likely may be heading.

Nowadays our choices are still limited because of the restrictions imposed by device-specific sites. But at a certain point, Harrison said we may not even need to go into a store (online or physical) to legally get music. Instead, Harrison suggested that customers may simply beeline straight for the band's URL to effect the transaction. "Once you have DRM-free music, then it doesn't matter where you go," he said.

How might the studios respond? I'm sure the control freaks within the industry can be counted upon to respond in the wrong way. But an EMI representative participating in the panel seemed ready to go with the flow. Of course EMI is already stepping out ahead of its brethren. The company is making DRM-free songs available to Apple and, and has also licensed its catalog to PassAlong Networks.

"Our general strategy is to enable consumers to have proper access," said Lauren Berkowitz, who heads EMI's digital music operations in North America. She added that the economics of the business are changing, but that's OK because there will be "lots of ways to monetize content."

"We want them to be able to buy and enjoy their music wherever and whenever," she continued. "We're all in the music business. It's not necessarily the record business."

Not the standard fare I've become accustomed to hearing from music industry suits.