Friday, October 06, 2006

The Music Industry

In early September I went to see Devo with a group of friends, and acquaintances. While having dinner beforehand, I was talking with a friend about a compilation project she was undertaking and mentioned that I may have a couple of songs that would fit the profile. She asked if she could borrow the CDs in question, in order to burn the songs onto her computer and I said sure; which was when a person in our party shot us a look that could’ve killed us with its intensity.

It turned out that the person formerly worked as an A&R rep for a now-defunct major label. He claimed that the label went under due to music piracy. I found it difficult to muster much in the way of sympathy, as cool as the guy was.

Frankly, the music industry has no entity but itself to blame for its current woes.

Looked at in the abstract, it’s easy to argue that their product really hasn’t changed all that much since its inception, and that the industry has become complacent since the universal acceptance of the CD format.

The nature of its complacency is in the assumption that if they kept a lid on any technological advancement, people would still buy their product, at whatever prices they chose, ad infinitum.

The real folly in this line of thinking comes shining through when you take a good look at DVDs…It is not uncommon to walk into a grocery store these days, and be able to purchase a recent movie, of usually decent caliber, in the letterbox format, and with a few extras thrown in for the measly amount of $10. Meanwhile, new CDs are still in the $15 - $18 range. When you realize that production costs on CDs aren’t really a match for the average movie budget, one has to wonder why the prices are kept at such a high amount.

The industry would have us believe that this is due to piracy, as if the movie industry does not have this to contend with either.

Admittedly, due to site restrictions, this is a rather shallow treatment of the very real problem that exists for both industries. However, it seems that if the music industry would like to survive the coming times (there’s no real solution to piracy, in this day and age), they should re-think its fatal dependence on a pricing scheme that alienates the average fan of music.

Buying new music has always been a gamble, and it is not an exaggeration to postulate that a CD containing an average of 8 – 12 songs, maybe a third of those songs will have a lasting impact on the listener. Outside of material fetishists like myself, I can’t think of many who are willing to take that bet. Even for an artist they admire. Better to copy from someone who is willing to spend that money.

--the beige one, 484 words.



Blogger thelyamhound said...

Nice. An interesting expansion of the review format, too.

Interesting aside: one of the reasons I've always looked at the music and film industries from the vantage point of a theatre practitioner with some degree of envy is that they have a clear advantage in being a distributable product. If the democratization of media continues to erode the profit margins of the distribution companies, do they lose that competitive edge? Does all art then become the province of, at best, passionate multitaskers, or, at worst, obsequious dilletantes? Will professional artists only exists insofar as society opts to subsidize them, should the mechanism of distribution break down?

Interesting questions, posed--perhaps inadvertantly--by an interesting post.

3:14 PM  
Blogger JJisafool said...

I generally agree, so of course I'm going to start nitpicking.

It isn't quite fair to compare DVDs and CDs, as DVDs are (generally) a secondary product while CDs are a primary. By the time a movie of any merit whatsoever makes it to DVD, it has already had a box office run as a revenue stream.

And, no, in case you go there, this isn't the same as a band touring. Bands tour in support of album sales, while movies run for their own revenue and then can count on DVD money later.

Oddly, shitty movies cost more in initial DVD release than good ones, as producers figure they won't sell many beyond those to Blockbuster and NetFlix and such.

But, y'know, yeah, the music industry has always cried and whined, and yet cause their own problems by their unwillingness to adapt. Instead, they litigate.

But, y'know, no way in hell Ly that democratization of media and narrowing profit margins destroy distribution as a benefit. Just ask Apple. Or Google. The nimble will continue to benefit.

Perhaps in music alone this could happen, but I still don't see it.

1:45 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

I see your point, JJ, though I hesitate to consider any organization with such demontrably abysmal taste in art as the major record companies as "nimble," or even "potentially nimble."

What interests me, though, is that numerous artists on the indie scene have noted that even moderately successful records (on an indie scale, of course) usually cost the artists money, since profits often fail to cover studio time. This despite the fact that production costs are down and retail costs are up. Meanwhile, 9 out of 10 musicians I've talked to have implied that touring yields more profit than recording.

None of this means that distribution will cease to be a benefit that favors popular music and cinema over theatre or other patently ephemeral arts, but it seems like it could narrow the gap, or even pave the way for those fusions and alliances for which I have such wood.

2:34 PM  

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