J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Notes From Underground - #1
Eulogizing the Beast

Welcome to the first installment of Notes From Underground, one of the new features here on J's Indie/Rock Blog. This, along with the Now Boarding new album reviews and the Return Trip older album reviews, concert reviews and the weekly playlists and podcasts, will create a more expansive content for you to peruse on a more frequent basis. I intend to update the site three times a week: Mondays (with either a new or old album review), Wednesdays (with the playlist and podcast) and Fridays (with either concert reviews or the Notes From Underground feature). Notes From Underground is my chance to share some of what, musically, has been on my mind, whether it's industry related, album or artist related, or just an excuse to talk music with the hippest, most knowledgable group of people on the planet, mp3 blog readers/college radio listeners. Your participation is encouraged and welcomed. Just leave it in the comment box below and you know I'll be involved as well. Keep it respectful if there are differences, but feel free to air your thoughts and opinions. I, of course, hold all editing rights in the comment section. Let's get started.

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This New York Times op-ed piece about the music industry is a great tracer of every wrong turn the business made in the last decade. From the elimination of the single format while heavily pushing singles-oriented artists, to waging a Quixotian war against P2P download services while refusing to come up with viable digital models for themselves, it's been a strange, painful trip for the music industry.

CD sales continue to plummit, off almost 20% from last year, continuing a 7 year trend in declining sales, all this despite a near 50% increase in digital/online music sales. A day late and a dollar short. After attempting to fight off the scourge of illegal downloading (and being told by the Supreme Court that Sony vs. Universal (a.k.a. the Sony Betamax ruling) was going nowhere), they've begun to somewhat embrace digital services with all the greed and thoughtlessness that characterized the last decade's decline.

They got things right by allowing people to again purchase single songs, but their model for price is absurd. Basing it largely on the retail scheme of brick and mortar stores, the larger and more widely used services charge anywhere from 89 cents to a full dollar per song, some services rounding out an even $10 or $12 for an entire album. When the consumer is only receiving a digital copy of the music (and in some cases, a digital copy that isn't even as portable, thanks to copyright infringement encoding, as their previous CDs and cassettes), why should they want to pay the same price they were paying for a physical cd that at least came with liner notes, a case and the ability to be easily copied for fair use?

So, how does the industry fix this? It's weird for me to sit here and try to give advice to the monolith that my station so rabidly abhors, but there are consumer-and-artist-friendly services out there who are pushing these boundaries. Here are some suggestions:

1) Make the price more accessable. Emusic, my preferred service of choice, has a pricing plan that gives you a certain number of downloads per month at a certain price. The average price per song? 26 cents. On average, users are paying anywhere from $3 to $4 per album. This makes sense, especially since I'm not longer actually gaining posession of a physical product. Oh, yeah, and while you're at it, do away with this ridiculous proprietary format nonsense. Emusic's service provides music in the across-the-board-standard MP3 format. My main reason for purchasing a Creative Logic Zen mp3 player, as opposed to an IPod, was it not being tied in to the Draconian m4a format of ITunes.

2) Less money on brick and mortar CD production means more money to use on artist development, right? Pushing single-heavy artists in a non-single environment was a huge mistake - but so is abandoning album-oriented music. Independent music is a viable and profitable scheme (witness the Arcade Fire's recent stint at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart) and in the digital age can lead to even more sales. Now that I can once again, easily and readily, sample and purchase single songs by artists in order to try them out, I will probably be purchasing more music than before. You hear that? I'll be giving you more purchases. And with your savings on physical CD production, you'll be earning a similar amount of net profit.

We can debate how long the 'album' format is long for this world (and in fact, that may be a topic for a future Notes from Underground) thanks to the digital age, but I think my two points are fairly sound. If you disagree, let me know in the comment area. Also, what are some of your suggestions for how to make the industry work in this age? Most importantly, how can independent music take advantage of this? Indie-labels have already been at the forefront of making themselves available on the internet and through download services, so really it's the majors playing catch-up. How can they continue to lead the way?

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4 Comments:

  • At 3:18 PM, April 07, 2007, Blogger Beth said…

    One of the big problems I see is that there are too many independent artists and too many labels to keep treating the music industry like we have been in the past. We can't expect the same numbers of sales because the music buying public's taste is more varied now and their attention is spread over too many artists. Also, there is a lot more types of media trying to sell themselves and get noticed than there has been in the past (DVDs, TV series box sets, movies, video games, etc). Americans aren't really affluent enough to keep all of these industries as fat and wealthy as the music industry used to be. The record industry can keep trying the same old stuff on older people and folks not terribly interested in music.

    Meanwhile, I'm going to keep stealing music from the internet and buying CDs and shirts at concerts. You and I, however are not typical music buyers, so basically I have no idea what the answer is.

     
  • At 9:43 PM, April 11, 2007, Blogger Satisfied '75 said…

    sweet feature. f the riaa

     
  • At 8:41 AM, April 12, 2007, Blogger J. Neas said…

    Beth - There have always been a lot of diverse, small and independent labels vying for, especially regional, attention. Now, granted that was in a day when radio was a regional concept - not a national conglomerate. MTV had yet to begin to obliterate regional differences. So I don't think that the diversity of labels is the problem - money is money for the industry, no matter where it's spent.

    I can buy your argument about the ubiquity of more diverse media (DVDs, etc.) and think that may play a role, but music fans are music fans. Is that new season of Family Guy really going to stop people from buying the new Daughtry album? Let alone the people who are out for the new Andrew Bird or Wilco or VNV Nation?

    I think you hit a key point by saying the industry can keep trying the same ol' stuff on 'folks not terribly interested in music.' The industry has never really been driven by music geeks. It's just that the geeks obsess over the industry, while the industry couldn't care less. You, myself and anyone reading this blog, by and large, are not your typical music buying public. And that's something we just have to live with.

    And F the FCC while we're at it, Satisfied.

     
  • At 9:43 PM, April 12, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post. I enjoy QFS
    -Jorge

     

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