The Record Industry’s Decline

Rolling Stone as an interesting article about The Record Industry’s Decline.

I think the article is a bit simplistic, since it only addresses one dimension of several issues, which are coming together for a “perfect storm” in the recording industry. Unauthorized file-sharing is only one of the problems, and the recording industry likes to point at that as being the overwhelmingly predominant issue.

However I would like to offer additional reasons for the decline:

More and more, better and better music is becoming available legitimately for free
For very little money artists can create music on their own computers or standalone recording studio machines. The large capital expenditure of a studio – or the rental thereof – isn’t a prerequisite for making good recordings anymore. If you have skill and imagination, you can make a great recording at home.

This free music can be distributed over the Internet, for very little or no money
The recording industry does not own the distribution channel anymore. Music makers and consumers can find each other without the help of a traditional supply chain. Anyone with a little marketing skill and imagination can.

I don’t even want to get into some of the misbehavior by the traditional recording industry. Let me just put it generically: Being abusive to your customers bites you when you loose your monopoly on the supply channel. And being abusive to your suppliers bites you just the same, when you loose your monopoly on the distribution channel. Those principles hold true for any business.

And there’s one more thing: There is so much opportunity to make music. Instruments are inexpensive, recording gear is inexpensive. I don’t know if there is any good data on this anywhere, but many people are becoming busy making music rather than listen to it, never mind buying it. With the advent of inexpensive and user friendly recording technology, you don’t even have to be in a band or ensemble to feed your music hobby. You can socialize on-line with fellow music makers, maybe even collaborate over the Internet. You have a band without having met. Actually you are likely in more than one band. You don’t really make albums – just songs or pieces. You share them freely with others just for the joy of making music, comparing experiences, learning from each other. You still buy the odd piece of music – but you spend more time, energy and money being a music maker than a music consumer.

I used to be a purchaser of music. A lot of it. But I never switched to Napster or other P2P technologies. Yet still I slowed down my music buying dramatically. As a consumer, I was turned off by the recording industry artistically and commercially. And coincidentally, but simultaneously all of the new wonderful technology and the Internet turned me into a music maker again, rather than just a consumer. My music money has gone to Roland, Korg, Yamaha, etc. rather than to Warner, EMI, Sony/BMG, etc.

So yes, I agree, the business of making a living from recorded music is pretty much a dying proposition for most of the established participants, and a non-starter for most beginning music makers. Niche businesses for recorded music (especially as an adjunct to movies, TV, video, advertising, etc.) will probably exist for quite a while yet, but there is generally an oversupply of competent to even outstanding recording talent compared to the needs of the market place.

It’s kind of ironic: Bands used to go on tour to promote their albums. Now it seems bands make albums to promote their tours.

UPDATE 2007-06-30: Thanks to audiotechnica for alerting me to this breaking story about Prince giving away his latest CD with a newspaper.

And the arguably most iconic record store in Canada Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto is closing.

3 Replies to “The Record Industry’s Decline”

  1. I could not agree with you more Spinmeister. I think the real key to the revolution in music involvement comes down to interactivity. As human beings we want to be connected. Technology makes us feel disconnected (the machine sitting between us) until it acts as a conduit.

    I liken the music revolution you describe to the think globally/act locally movement. Only in this case the local is whatever can directly surround the music maker/consumer. Most of us can never hope to form a real connection to a big act whose work we enjoy, but in making music or in sharing the music of others directly with them we can connect far more meaningfully. Also making music gets us inside it, and teaches us how it comes to be. That was the reason I started messing around with remixing a year ago, I wanted to learn how the technology worked.

    I have found that as the opportunities have presented themselves I have had no greater satisfaction than to share the joy I have at listening to other artists’ music and telling them how much I love it. Getting to know these extraordinary people deepens my appreciation of their work. This is the best that any art can hope to do for anyone.

    Finally, the experience of discovering that I could create music was a life changing one. Putting tools into peoples hands such as what is out there now is a little like the old adage: give a man a fish, he’ll eat for one day, teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. The traditional music industry gives us each one fish, the new world of music gives the opportunity to eat for a lifetime.

  2. I was just reading about Prince giving away his latest CD with the purchase of the Mail newspaper in UK. Seems to have annoyed alot of record companies. I think as Spin said artists are no longer seeking monies from CD sales rather using the CD to promote an upcoming concert run.

  3. thanks audiotechnica; remarkable story indeed. Record stores are dying all over the place, too. A classic Canadian store “Sam The Record Man” is closing up shop today. I added an UPDATE to the bottom of my original post.

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