Can the music business kick and scream its way into the 21st century?

These are interesting times for anyone involved with the business of making, buying, selling or simply listening to music, writes Dominic Dawes.

The deal between MySpace and the major music labels has finally been announced. In my last blog I discussed the ramifications of this deal, and wondered aloud why the music business had been so self-destructively reticent to understand, let alone embrace, the digital age.

So, no surprises this week, as the argument rages on between those who claim 'free content' doesn't necessarily mean 'going bankrupt', and those - pretty much the entire music business - who are rabidly pulling their hair out and howling 'Stop! Thief!' at hordes of disinterested twelve-year-olds.

The latest instalment of the great music debate began a couple of weeks ago, when Warner Music Group announced that it has appointed industry veteran Jim Griffin to push through a new plan. The scheme was to convince ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to include an extra monthly fee to the consumer, in return for unlimited access to all known music in the universe. Well, all of it that's owned by the majors anyway. Which is, to be fair, quite a lot of it.

The point of the plan is: you pay more for your internet access each month, the extra money goes to the labels, and they promise to stop getting all hot and bothered about you downloading their music for 'free'.

The general response to this plan has been mixed. Well, not exactly mixed: more a combination of horrified spluttering and downright contempt, with hordes of bloggers crying 'MUSIC TAX!!!' and scurrying down into their broadband-enabled bunkers whimpering and muttering about the end of freedom.

There are decent arguments on both sides, to be fair. Warner's plan is part of a wider change; from seeing music as a product, to seeing it as a service. This is not so different from other 'subscription' models now being considered by everyone from Sony to iTunes, as the principal means of ensuring the next generation of pop stars will have enough pocket money to get smashed in Chinawhite's.

Some in the business are asking us to consider how we really value music, which seems like a reasonable question, while many consumers and bloggers have rightly pointed out that the music biz is being run by people who don't yet understand the internet - and therefore see only a threat and not an opportunity.

There's evidence for their view, too, most notably the news this week that's free, full-track preview streaming service is driving impressively increased actual sales of music - both digital and physical.

In the end, I'm with the bloggers on this one. Mainly because it's funny to see people who have in the past been accused of fleecing the public, sounding like raving socialists and pleading for legislation the minute new technology threatens their businesses. That's the free market, chaps: either innovate and keep pace with the times, or disappear in a puff of obsolete business practices.

In addition, this week there was a curious story about Citigroup's inability to sell on EMI's debt possibly indicates that things are a great deal worse than we thought at one of the world's biggest music companies.

Are we witnessing the end of the music business as we know it? How do you want to consume your music? Would you rather your tunes were free at the point of use? And if so, which method of allowing artists to get paid would you favour?

We live in exciting times, and it's a fair bet the world of music will look very different just a few short years from now. How it ends up will be up to labels, innovators and artists. But it will also be up to us - the consumers.

Technorati Tags: digital music, Downloads, EMI, iTunes,, MySpace, Sony, Sony BMG, Universal, Warners