Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rolling Stone - The Record Industry's Decline

If there was one thing I learned about the music industry during my yearlong foray into its rigors, it's that -- just as in every area of business I've ever researched -- only a handful of people have any idea what the fuck is going on. From the retail manager to the label CEOs, from the artist & repertoire to the artist themselves, from rock n' roll to drum n' bass, from compact disc to mp3, there is only one solid, ubiquitous piece of information: I know I have no idea what will happen to this industry tomorrow.

Ever since vinyl demolished the first established music industry monopoly, which at the time was sheet music, music sales systems have taken on the characteristic of perpetual reincarnation. While unpredictable, it is today's major label heads who deeply understood this unpredictability, and were the ones who, despite their age and apathy to the cause (and probably music in general), understood how important it was to put Kurt Cobain's face on MTV.

But a new era has emerged. And in this period of change, the nature of music sales (and music itself, in fact) has become too turbulent to predict. The sales model has shifted. There is no more need for a deliberate campaign to get people into record stores. Every second online is another possible sale to a customer. There is no reason for anyone to buy more than a single track, unless the album is an absolute opus, beginning to end, track by track.

So in this time of change, where do we look to predict the future? As music lovers of course, please continue to not give a fuck about the future, and fuck this article, go put on The Hives real loud. That's what I'm going to do.


If you're interested in what is happening, and what has happened to the most recent of music industry phenomenon, I present The Rolling Stone's latest article on the industry, entitled Rolling Stone: The Record Industry's Decline. Die, All Right!


Lauren said...

Looking at the history of music, even on a surface level, will show that it is indeed in constant flux as you have pointed out. Who can predict where the age of digital media is bringing us in terms of how we obtain our musical media... However, the industry has always been just that: a profit- and market-driven industry. Perhaps dismantling the current trend of monopolies at the top of the media pyramid will shed some light on this circus of speed capitalism that seems to be playing out... stop the rich from getting richer and give a voice back to those who are most in tune with the music itself: the artists and the fans.

I personally have a voracious musical appetite; I love downloading and sampling the new and innovative music that is constantly being served up. It is clear that to stay alive the industry will have to reinvent itself once more. I just hope that out of the ashes comes even more skillful and passionate musicians, loyal fans and tracks i can rock out (or trip out :P) to! \m/

Anonymous said...

Jeah, where's zangief in all of this. I like whats been said, true observations, the ones that keep looking for the answers to the music biz are the ones that will reap the rewards. I guess you can say no longer is the artist and the manager separated solely, to be a good artist you can allow yourself to look for the best possible managerial decisions. The disclaimer in that last comment is obvious, make good music first.

Joe said...

To me the most interesting question is: What would you do if you were in charge of a record label today? How do you continue to sell your product when it has lost economic value in the consumer's eyes.

What I would do:
1. Stop suing individual downloaders. This is horrible public relations, period. How can you play the sympathy card (i.e. "A great American sector has been damaged enormously") when you're suing grandmothers for downloading mp3s of "My Humps"?
2. Accept that record sales will continue to go down, but continue to support and expand for-pay download services like iTunes. iTunes has brand recognition now, so leaving it to start something else would be suicide.
3. Continue waging war on websites that share music illegally.
4. Tie in song/record sales to things which have tangible value for the consumers, for instance, t-shirts, or concert tickets. Would you pay $12.99 for the new My Chemical Romance CD which you could get for free on the internet? Probably not. Would you pay $20-$25 for the new CD plus an MCR t-shirt? No? Well what if it was a good band and not a lame emo one? To me that sounds like something I would pay for. Another option would be, sell songs/concert tickets together, and make sure that people who buy the songs get first dibs on tix.
5. Expand non-record sale revenue. The article mentioned that labels now want a cut of touring revenue. That's a good start, but how about this: The White Stripes are playing London, England: why not simulcast it to major theatres around the world? I would pay $5 to see the concert on the big screen at Conestoga. Come to think of it, I'd probably pay $5 a week if they simulcast a good band every week. With music at a height of it's popularity these days, there must be some way to make money off of it...

tmac said...

Thus is the beauty of capitalism. Anyone who embraces the concept can yield a maximum of zero empathy for the record magnates, as they're forced to innovate or die in response to the changing market conditions. And who wins? Yes, us, the consumer. Does it make sense that the record execs get to pick some flaming loser like Joel Madden to force feed down our throats and force us to like them? The near elimination of entry barriers to the music market for artists means the power has shifted to the artist and away from the suits; as it should be. And we as the consumer get a full spectrum of music to choose from and enjoy with the click of a mouse.

And given that the demand is not going away, there will always be ways to monetize the product... just think outside-the-box and the money will come.

I love capitalism; all you gotta do is vote with your wallet and your voice is guaranteed to be heard....

M.C. Fazeli said...

1. The music industry must abandon current media models altogether and look towards new evolutionary models for content and media creation and distribution

2. The industry must fully support online distributions and create sales applications / centers that are platform, device, and file-type independent

3. incentives must not be shallow or cheap... t-shirts won't work, neither would most other goods because of the desire to get repeat buyers for multiple items... people would not want to own low quality mass produced items with minimal style

(they also won't want multiple t-shirts, sweaters, hats, bags, etc. from different bands)

4. The industry needs to move away from the album paradigm and instead focus on the release of singles... artists must realize they can no longer package filler with their hits because people wish to purchase in an atomic fashion.

But the entire industry needs to shift... it's not that albums are made and sold as single songs... no... albums become an afterthought and singles are made to be sold as singles... releases are dispersed rather than bundled... this creates a dynamic feel for users who constantly get fresh material, and allows artists to become creative in new ways

Meanwhile, shit will no longer be made, and albums can be created as special discount offerings (14 songs for the price of 8 or 9) with special bonus content

once 14 songs are released, an album can be created...

5. to promote online purchasing rather than piracy, the entire industry needs to move towards content creation / generation, and constent dissemination of such content (videos, blogs, pictures, podcasts, vlogs, contents, etc.) that are ONLY accessible to paying users through online secure accounts...

imagine iTunes with an entire new platform built ontop of their store to bring in such huge amounts of dynamic content for paying users

band websites would then become two tiered... one tier is basic information for all, the second forwards users to the login page that is universal for all bands under a record label for the premium content that comes with the purchase of music (with some time expiry or other expiry)

There are many other points that were made and can be made, but those are the key ones... finally

6. STOP suing individual and go after distributors... and focus attention on creating rather than perserving

NeilV said...

Wow, lot of responses. I have so much I want to take issue with here but I guess just a bit at a time.

It seems like we all agree that it's the artist that will really get the freedom out of this situation. I think as this dawns on more and more people, they'll see how pigeonholed mass-market music was. These will be the 'old days' where we had 4 choices instead of 4000. It's a testament to the ability of media to brainwash too.

Simulcast concerts? Yes please. Lauren pointed out how ridiculous it is that wrestling gets theatre viewing and concerts don't. I wonder though if it would work. Would people line up to go see it? I think most of us here would.

More later.

joe said...

Just a brief response to Tim's post:

Does downloading songs from the internet really count as voting with your wallet? I do it all the time obviously, but I don't think its a sustainable practice, because clearly the cost of making that song was not $0. There will always be a need for someone to pay for production, schedule tours and distribute CDs and swag, so I think there will always be record companies, no?

And I think that if Joel Madden didn't exist it would be necessary to invent him. If 14 year old girls want to spend their money on mildly-subversive pop-punk, and Joel Madden delivers the goods, isn't that the perfect example of capitalism in music?

NeilV said...

Fourteen year olds are free to buy Joel Madden like Eskimos are free to eat blubber: It's the only thing available.

That leads to a lot of money and time being devoted to the Joel Madden bandwagon.

I'd rather see a bigger variety of music, with an even spread of different types of music and images and art.

I just don't think as many people would buy Joel Madden if he wasn't constantly being shoved down optic nerves courtesy of the MTV pipe.

joe said...

Consider the book industry. No MTV or radio for books, right? But if you polled people for their favorite novel, you'd get a large number of people who would say one of Harry Potter, Dan Brown, LOTR, Catcher in the Rye, + a few others, and all of the other millions of novels in the world would have much lower numbers. (And many are widely available!)

My point is that pop culture exists in music, in books, in every art form, and the people who watch MTV now will be watching the online version of mainstream culture in the future, they won't be at Sneaky Dee's watching The Coloured Lights. What MTV watchers are looking for in music isn't the same thing that TCL fans are looking for.

Chris: "t-shirts won't work..."
I think you're right in the sense that the house/trance/industrial/jungle/ permafrost/semi-tundra/electro-beats/ UK garage/liquidfunk community isn't really into band paraphernalia. But substitute "t-shirt" for "glow-stick" and I think you'll see my point.

M. C. Fazeli said...

Joe: I'd wager that there as many semi-tundra and permafrost fans as there are those listening to alternative-funk-garage-seattle-rock and we-can-write-songs-that-make-fun-of-the-current-administration -alternative-rock!!!

Besides... glow sticks are hardly incentives unless the record label plans on selling me a BOX of glow sticks with every album... Otherwise, bust it and dance in circles making ridiculous moves to your music, and wham, it's done... no repeatability!

Hence, I think your idea is still flawed! In all seriousness, there's no way that merchandise can sell more albums since people don't want to have the same t-shirt or glowstick as every other sucker and wear it to school or to a party and find 3 others wearing the same thing. Besides, how many BAND shirts could you possibly have before you're labeled lame? Not to mention the quality would likely be low, the artwork horrendous, and the novelty non-existent. It's like those toys you get in cereal boxes!

Mladen The Terrible said...

Good point on that last post joe.

You know heroin is one thing, but money is one hell of a drug.

tmac said...

Joe - it's not downloading songs for free, it's the fact that we're no longer buying CDs in the stores - hence the record companies are forced to adapt and innovate to come up with new and refreshing ways of monetizing music that people will see value in and purchase, benefitting everyone.

NeilV said...

Joe, regarding your comparison of the music industry to the book industry:

You mention some best-seller books as having propogated without the use of any sort of propaganda machine, and claim that as proof that people will choose their 'mainstream' regardless of any vehicles of media.

I agree with that idea, and agree that this thing can happen in music as well, with certain albums just rocketing without a necessarily huge marketing effort (The Killers' Hot Fuss is an example).

But not every mainstream media hit is Lord of the Rings or Nevermind. A lot of the options that are 'also' available are simply there as the result of the 'big 5 labels' having direct control over the music industry space. To reiterate, I feel that once the non super-viral hits are decided by the people through the multi-channeled Internet, people's taste will become a lot more varied than it is now, and it will be a more enriching experience for artist and listener alike.

Joe said...

I guess I'm just questioning whether its a good thing that the record companies are in trouble. Shouldn't that result in less choice and variety? People can create music independently for sure, but how far can you really go without a record company? I don't think I want to see the day when the top 40 is filled with acoustic guitar-strummers doing Free Bird covers on Youtube.

So Tim in what way would you pay for music then? I don't really see how everyone benefits if there is less money in the industry.

Anonymous said...

im not so knowledgable in terms of business and the economy and all that shit... but they way i see it... the less focus on selling albums, the less likely i am going to find/be exposed to musicians that are making music for money (Master P and his No Limit Souljahz). The more focus on live shows - the more likely i am going to find some real fucking honest and awesome music around... cuz its a lot harder to fake a live show than it is to fake a recording. So I say fuck the CDs, labels should gear towards touring... if they want some of the profit, they should put more money into extensive touring... promote a real band that wants to be on the road 300 days a year... and fuck that movie theatre idea would be aweosme. but if you got the money to do that, just take the fucking band to every little city... if they're real musicians they will love it... master p might not be so into playing to a crowd of 60 in caledon ontario, but jack white is clearly down for it (just youtube "white stripes secret show" for an example). im in italy right now, the music industry here is fuckin retarded. not an ounce of reality in any of it, all love and flower and moonlit stars and any music they steal from another country is only appreciated as a novelty. for instance, seven nation army is fucking huge here, but no one knows any of the words, they only know "duhhhh, duh-DUH-duh duh duhhhhh duhhhhh" because del piero got the italian footballers to sing it after a big victory. hahahhaa. it's all fashion here, the guys are all gay and wear ludicrous hair gel and tight shirts and music is simply another accessory to their fashion statement. the internet's ability to murder this bullshit must be harnessed into a giant spiritbomb! well i dont really have a point... but money money i am saying smart stuff too look at me yay ! -j

RikkiDee said...

Good Charlotte helped me through a lot of dark times in my life, try LISTENING to Joel's lyrics before hating on him