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April 17, 2014

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CES 2009:

Musicians cash in digitally despite piracy concerns

Rapper Akon says ringtones have become a lucrative business

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Justin M. Bowen

Akon and Rio Caraeff, executive vice president at Universal, talk with Bill Werde, editorial director for Billboard magazine, about music in the digital age.

Akon and CES

Akon and Rio Caraeff, executive vice president at Universal, talk with Bill Werde, editorial director for Billboard magazine, about music in the digital age.  Launch slideshow »

Beyond the Sun

Akon can see the future, and it’s full of dollar signs.

The rapper said he believes the digital age of music presents artists like himself with a range of lucrative possibilities.

“Creatively, I always think financially, too,” he said Wednesday during a keynote address that was part of Billboard’s “Digital Music Live” series at the Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Thiam, said he believes serious money is waiting to be made through untraditional digitized music – through ringtone downloads, especially.

Ring tones make it possible for a single song to be sold three times, he said.

“Literally, for one song you can sell it for $10 if you chop it three ways,” he said. “You’ve got the instrumental, then you’ve got the chorus, then you’ve got the verse,” – all of which can be sold as ring tones for $3.99 a piece.

“I’m taking it straight to the bank,” he said with a laugh.

The chart-topping rapper said digital downloads will be crucial to the music industry’s future.

“The future is leaning toward technology and it will be a key instrument in finding new ways to distribute music,” he said.

The rapper said he has changed his approach to the recording studio to succeed (and cash in) within the digital music arena.

“We would mix it and master it but I would always play it back on the cell phone to see how it sounds,” he said.

Universal Music eLabs executive vice president Rio Careff said the Internet will play a crucial role in the future of his industry. He called YouTube “the new radio.”

“That’s where people go to hear new stuff,” he said during the keynote presentation.

Still, he admitted that how to capitalize on more traditional, full-length audio downloads and fight piracy remains a challenge.

Akon said the illegal download largely depends on the stage an artist is at in his or her career. He said the Internet is a great way for new artists to get out there and get heard.

“(But) once you become worldly known or hugely popular, it becomes a problem,” he said.

Careff said he thinks the legality surrounding downloads will be a moot point in the coming years.

“It won’t be about selling (or stealing) music, it will be about marketing music,” he said.

Careff said partnerships with other industries, such as phone and cable companies, might pave the way for digital downloads to be included in service packages as a value-added service.

“The services that you already have will eventually have unlimited music integrated into them,” he said. “You’re just going to get unlimited music with it through these services. Maybe it will be included in your car payment.”

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