The Music Industry: A Comment on It’s State and Where it is Going

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CD sales are dropping, file sharing is growing, and the perceived value of music as an art form has deteriorated. The endless talk from executives sitting in comfortable chairs in tall buildings are throwing these allegations around like it’s no ones business, how dare the consumers of the world minimise a hard working, ball breaking executive their pay cheque. The heads of major labels would probably get confused if you asked them who their favourite band on their label is, because I doubt they’d even been to a gig, conversed with or even listened to the bands on their roster. So as the high powered executive deals with middle management and lament their loss of sales and devoted fan base, their industry as they know it (because they don’t know it any other way) is running in circles. The only creative idea that has come from this complaning (and that’s what it is) is a music site with free downloads (provided you are prepared to be bombarded with big business advertising), See Below

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is to be eating a big mac while i listen to the latest talentless ‘pop tart’ star on the radiowaves. If i’m going to be listening to music it’s not while being forced to look at mind numbing advertising. I’m not dumb, and the feeble attempt at the basic psychological principle of classical conditining isn’t going to take with me. Oh shit, Britney just said Gimme More again, i’d better take another bite of that burger.

Let’s face it, cd sales are down, file sharing is rampant and music as it was once known is within the reach of anyone at any given time for free. There is a light (for your own sake, I advise you really do click this link), however. It comes in the form of a number of innovative individuals and groups from all around the globe. As high paid execs sit and wollow in the mess they’ve created for themselves, smart, forward thinking people are bringing music back from the brink of destruction. While what is written here is merely a small example of the many that show promise, these are a few that are moving in the right direction for the music maker and the music consumer alike.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves

An entirely independant band, devoid of any representation of any kind who are now going on tour with some pretty big bands. AGBPOL latest record was written, performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by the band themselves, they distribute their own music, they make their own t-shirts and they are in complete control. Their first two EP’s are available as a free download to anyone with an internet connection and since their release have had over 6000 (yes, 6000) downloads each. The first 11 tracks of their latest album were too offered as a free download, and if you buy the hard copy cd you get two bonus tracks – I am unaware of the sales figures for these guys, but the fact that I mentioned above (a tour with some pretty big bands) suggests that they are doing all the right things.

Matt Stevens

Matt Stevens of the UK offers his music as a ‘pay what you want/can‘ format, extending the notion that music can be personal even if you’re on the other side of the world. He himself has an extensive knowledge of the music industry, and as a producer of sounds he is always looking for new and innovative ways to approach music distribution. Toying with the idea of a subscription service for an artist podcast, releasing albums in limited personal runs, connecting with fans through social networks and connecting with other artists for ideas and information.

Sargent House

Many people espouse the idea of music ‘labels’ or ‘companies’. Some would even say they are dead, but in this instance, they are only just beginning. There are a great number of record labels doing the right thing in the current volatile music climate – but none more so that Sargent House. Sargent House do not sign artists to make quick money (quite contrary to major record companies who look for the ‘star of the moment’), no, Sargent House signs bands to ensure the prolonged life and production of consistantly high quality music. Putting the artist first, an emphasis of sustainability and creativity is focused in harmony. There is a respect for their artists, hell Cathy Pellow frequently attends their shows, talks to fans, answers their questions, creates amazingly affordable and value for money packages, and acknowledges the importance of digital distribution in every format possible.

Bandcamp

Bandcamp is somewhat of a revolution for the artist. The taking back control of your own music thing is now possible, and with relative ease. Bandcamp offers any musician from anywhere to distribute their music digitally (or physically, if desired) in any format that you can dream of. There is no advertising on your page, no annoying pop-ups and no account set up’s. As a consumer it is incredible because it allows the browser to pick an album, punch in an email address and the album is delivered straight to your PC with minimal fuss. Comepare this with itunes who requires the itunes music program, an itunes account linked to a credit card, a heavily stable internet connection and patience if your download screws up.

Netlabels

Netlabels arn’t new, they’ve been around for a considerable while. However, the quality of music that is released from netlabels (when you find a really good one) is incredible. Netlabels provide unlimited access to music and the chance to explore an artist in the many branches they may go. A resource no music lover should ignore if they are serious about supporting the music industry and keeping quality music in our ears.

So, as the high paid executive sits in his high chair sipping iced water and demonising the public for not funding his continuation to promote terrible music, just know that while they continue to spin in the circles they’ve created, there is hope and innovation out there, you’ve just got to know where to look.

Alex Stretton

Comments
15 Responses to “The Music Industry: A Comment on It’s State and Where it is Going”
  1. Cathy Pellow says:

    Thank you for your kind words about Sargent House. It is true music fans like yourself that make it all worthwhile for us here, because that is what we are, we are just like you, true fans of music. Good music will never die, it never has, it’s just gone through cycles – some harder to be heard in than others to reach the top. But the cream will always rise. It’s rising already. There will be a tide shift – because young people like yourself will lead the way and already are by not buying into the “ads’ but choosing, supporting and loving on your own with your own minds. If the sheep, or the lowest common denominator is what everyone else is trying to ‘sell’ too, then we will take the small number of smart people, free thinkers that are not being represented by the mainstream and they can be our family, they can be our artists fans. They are enough for us and there numbers are far greater than what the old guard’s ‘statistics and focus groups’ tell them.

  2. Thanks for the Heads Up and no I don’t mind, I look forward to your report on his reaction when it’s finally unveiled!

    Alex, this is a great article, it takes true courage to stand up and take on the status quo, not only in words but in actions and I know that you are taking up both of those challenges with relish!

    If this world is to change, away from willfully ignorant mediocrity, it will only happen through those who have the vision to see what else is possible and the courage to pursue it.

    Edgar Allen Poe once said, “We must abandon all models and study the possibilities.”

    I’d go one step further and say, ‘and have the courage to bring them into existence.’

    It is sensational to read Cathy’s response, it heartens an old fart like me considerably!

    Cheers
    The Principled Agitator

  3. stephen russell says:

    A comment on the state of music as an art. First some undeniable truths; Mcdonalds does not sell lots of burgers because it is good food, current affair programs do not draw wide audiences because it is thoughtful journalism and mobile phones are not replaced each year because they cease to function. By the same token Ke$ha isn’t selling millions of records because it’s thoughtful and timeless music; she is selling millions because her music elicits simplistic emotional responses that don’t require thought or intellectualisation to experience. We’ve become addicted to disposable products that produce short and easily accessible rushes of emotion, which can be quickly replaced by the next product that comes off of the never ending production line when our emotions cease to respond to its predecessor.

    Predictably we miss the core dilemma entirely and begin to critisise Mcdonalds for its poor nutrition, current affairs programs for their poor ethics, mobile phone producers for their environmental carelessness and record companies for their monopoly over the music industry and their subsequent brain numbing direction. But to borrow another metaphor the situation is akin to a political election campaign. That is, the policies of those vying for our attention and our vote (execs, musicians and marketers) reflect the attitude and values of their wider consumer base. Thus, if mainstream music sounds apathetic and intellectually void (and it does) then that is because people are suffering a similar condition. The writer of the above article (and i suspect the consumers of this website) is clearly brighter than the average consumer and looks for music that can stimulate a mind of said calibre. But “brighter than average” is the problem, because the “average” are many and the “brighter” are few and from a marketing standpoint, who you look to appease is a no-brainer. So if you want to point the finger (and i sure as hell do) then you are going to need more hands.

  4. Bret says:

    I am extremely satisfied with the way the music industry is evolving.

    Sure there is a lot of garbage to sift through now that ANYONE can get “their music” online. Ultimately though, it is allowing people to be more creative and STILL be successful.

    Sargent House is one of my favorite labels, and I didn’t even know they existed for a little while even though I had been listening to and going to shows of bands on their roster.

    At this point, I know that I can expect a certain level of quality from that label though. They are going to do it grassroots, but they are going to always give me music that I can dig on.

    Good article.

  5. Alex says:

    @Cathy – thanks for reading and being an inspiration to many of us.

    @Andrew – The medicority is slowly deteriorating by itself by the way of illegal downloading and the consumer becoming ‘smarter’ – the creative action taken by those highlighted is going a long way to bringing good music to people.

    @Stephen – thanks for your comment, but is it sufficient to watch mediocrity rise over true creativity? Even though the laws of marketing suggest we do so, it is of benefit and for the sake of true music out there that we support, acknowledge and spread the word of true innovation and creativity rather than just give up to the de-intellectualization of art forms.

    @Bret – thanks for commenting, you are precisely right that those thinking outside the square are releasing consistantly quality material and Sargent House is the biggest example of that fact.

  6. very good music !

    (good luck)

    thank you…

  7. Hi Alex,

    Reading your comments in response, they leave me with a sense of the complexity that exists.

    For example, could you please provide some factual evidence that the mediocrity is in fact (even slowly) being eroded, perhaps some percentages that substantiate your personal experience. Whilst I agree that there is anecdotal evidence, this is far from convincing.

    Your response to Stephen highlights this unknown, is apathy and mediocrity rising through marketing, or is it being eroded?

    Also, your use of the word ‘consumer’, tends to indicate an association with marketing in its purest form, in other words, ‘the useless eater’. I for one do not ‘consume’ my music, I see this as a major distinction from those mediocre life forms that do.

    Elitist? Perhaps so, but as Clive Bell postured in his 1927 Essay, ‘Civiliztion’:

    ‘From a sense of values comes that desire for, and belief in, a Liberal Education which no (truly) civilized age has been without. The richest and fullest life obtainable, a life that contains the maximum of vivid and exquisite experiences, is the end of every civilized (Hu)man’s desire. Because he / she desires it he / she aims at complete self development and complete self expression: and these are to be achieved only by those who have learnt to think and feel and discriminate, to let the intellect play freely round every subject, and the emotions respond appropriately to all stimuli.

    Knowledge in addition is needed; for without knowledge the intellect remains the slave of prejudice and superstition, while the emotions sicken on a monotonous and cannibalistic diet. The civilized (Hu)man desires an education that shall be as direct a means as possible to what alone is good as an end. He / She cultivates his her powers of thinking and feeling, pursues truth and acquires knowledge, not for any practical value that these may possess, but for themselves, or – that I may distinguish him / her sharply from the date-collector or competition-winner – for their power of revealing the rich and complex possibilities of life.

    The Philistine, wanting the sense of values, expects education to show him / her the way to wealth and power, things which are only valuable in so far as they are more or less remote means to that ultimate good whereas a liberal education leads direct.

    Liberal education teaches us to enjoy life; practical education to acquire ‘things’ that may enable us or someone else to enjoy it.’

    Cheers
    Andrew

  8. Alex says:

    Here are some articles regarding the erosion of the music industry – particularly related to sales (it must be remembered that these sales represent major record label sales and do not factor many smaller record sales and independant artists).

    The effect of piracy and itunes on the music bisuiness: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2007/04/drm-lock-ins-and-piracy-all-red-herrings-for-a-music-industry-in-trouble.ars

    Sales figures for 08/09, note the 8% decline in cd sales and jumps in digital and vinyl formats: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2007/04/drm-lock-ins-and-piracy-all-red-herrings-for-a-music-industry-in-trouble.ars

    The changing attitude of music listeners: http://www.stereo.net.au/forums/showthread.php/27037-CD-cassette-and-vinyl-sales-in-2009

    It is important to understand the complexity of the issue at hand and that pure numbers themselves cannot account for the enormity of what has and can be done to change the way people listen to music, or atleast improve it.

    On top of the links above the immediacy in which large record companies are attempting to protect their music digitally (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_rights_management) is a strong example of how labels are trying to fight a machine (the internet) that is just too big to fight, and their efforts at controlling their music often anger and incite music listeners to distribute music illegally (see the popular file sharing blog nodata.tv for the backlash to DRM and major labels).

    I’d like to address your point on my use of consumer. I do use that word in it’s purest market force form, because that is how the majority of people listen to music today – they are told what to listen to, when to listen to it etc. What innovative individuals and groups emerging (who I highlighted) are acknowledging that in order for people to support music they need to treat them in different ways – need to recognise that music listeners have free will, can choose what they want to listen to. The labels have to realise that individuals now have a choice – they can either download music illegally OR they can support the artist – and if I have no personal connection with an artist or label I know exactly what im going to do.

    That’s the crux of the issue, the mindless consumerism of mediocre music has eliminated that ‘personal connection’ and thus ameliorates the ethical question, do i download or do I pay for that album?

    When a Sargent House band releases an album, I have a choice. I can download that album and contribute absolutey nothing to that artist, or I can pay $5 and contribute to the life of further production from that band. I know what i’m going to choose, and a lot of other people out there know what they would choose without a thought.

    Your quote above pretty much sums up the two types of people who listen to music in modern society, and the evidence for this exists in music forums, at shows, in the artists i speak to, the busker on the street, in the people who are working with new technology (and old), innovative labels. They are all working to replace blindness with autonomy in the people who listen to music, for whatever purpose it may serve.

    I do apologize for spelling mistakes if any.

    Cheers,

    Alex

  9. urbantipo says:

    I currently work in the music industry (own my own company) and put in 20+ years at some of the biggest labels. As much as we talk about the labels/executives not being in touch with artists on their labels, alot outside of the record label offices has changed. Yes, a decline in CD sales, also a bigger decline in stores to buy CDs at. The majority of the super stores (Best Buy, WalMart, Target) continue to make it hard for artists to get on the shelves, basically if you have no significant marketing, whether an indie or major label artist, your release will get passed on…this is just an example.

    Many of the great indie record stores have closed down. Just this week to iconic stores in the hip hop world (Fat Beats in NY & LA) announced that they are closing.

    The technology has made it easier for people to consume music anytime/anywhere, which is great, the problem is that the music industry is saturated with alot of bad music as well, in the digital world and in the physical world as well.

    I think the music industry will get better, much sooner than people think.

  10. Hmm, Alex, some different perspectives, which is what I had hoped for.

    I requested more evidence of the erosion of mediocrity, and you answered with evidence of erosion of ‘label’ industry sales.

    You clearly see a connection between the two.

    Could you elaborate as to why?

    Cheers
    Andrew

  11. Alex says:

    @urbantipo – thanks for oyur comment, it is interesting to read something from someone who has had experience in the industry, i do hope the industry gets better – perhaps its just flowing in cycles (thats what I hear a lot of people say).

    @ Andrew – the biggest player in diminished cd sales is the internet. the ability for anyone to download an album for free illegally from anywhere in a matter of minutes. The major labels are suffering from this trend greatly, and it reflects in their cd sales and the sales of their sub par artists because the consumer is catching on and bypassing any form of payment for such artists.

    What is happening (from my observation, no hard evidence yet) is that artists who are producing wuality music and are connecting with fans of their music are bucking this trend (at least with the Sargent House label it is). A label that consistantly puts out great music, puts together value packages, communicates with its fans is creating the personal touch between art and listener – creating that support for the artist and the belief in the listener that music is important, and supporting the artist is imperative to ensure that good music continues ot be made.

  12. Hi Alex,

    Speaking from the perspective of ‘Classic Marketing’, something of which I know a little about LOL, the ONLY thing that is occurring here, is a fundamental and highly radical change (through new technology) of a ‘Distribution Channel’. It has nothing to do with ‘consumers’ getting smarter and or less mediocre. Hence my question. It is why you will find it hard to produce any real evidence to support a proposition otherwise.

    The evidence of this classical marketing can clearly be seen. The ‘Consumers’ (outside of the ‘Early Adopters’ that visit your site who are usually far from mediocre), are simply getting their product delivered to them quicker, more efficiently and effectively, and at much less cost, including ‘for free’. The ‘Old Guard’ (in this scenario, the big record company labels), frequently respond, as we are seeing, by trying to close down or limit the new distribution channels (DRM), after all, it simply helps them buy time, allowing the new Distribution Channels to ‘grow’ (not at their, the big label, expense or cost), beyond the minimal income / profit possibilities of the minority ‘Early Adopters’. And, when the ‘New Distribution Channel’ becomes accepted by the majority of the ‘mainstream’, as it ultimately will, they simply step in, with all their previously stashed profits, and ‘buy up’ (read take-over) the smaller players who have ‘developed’ (at considerable cost) the new distribution channels. Smart!

    Will the owners of Sargeant House be ‘Co-Opted’ and Profit?

    (Perhaps you are playing your cards along those lines, after all, you have some smart genes behind you!)

    If so, spare a thought for those Artists (primarily Writers and Musicians, ‘Australia Council for the Arts 2009 Report, Do You Really Expect to Get Paid?) who, over the last 10 years have seen what was already a poultry income, plummet by almost 50%, in many cases, especially those with talent, due to nothing more than the ability of the ‘mediocre consumer’ to ‘cherry pick’ their way beyond any worthwhile artistic content.

    For example, Kristin Rule’s new album has a very definite artistic message. For true appreciation of that message, one has to buy it in ‘its entirety’, not whittle it down to ‘favorites’. ‘Cherry Picking’ (as freely admitted to by the commentators in the links you posted above) does little more than dilute artistic content into ‘superficial entertainment’.

    ‘Early Adopters’ (your audience) are frequently discerning, artistic, willing to pay for quality, want to be seen as ahead of the mediocre and as Cathy points out, are always small in number. But ‘Early Adopters’ in a true Marketing sense, signal nothing more than the onset of the ‘Mainstream Trend’ that will ultimately follow.

    Be careful what you wish for, it may well simply bring about the antithesis.

    Cheers

    Andrew

  13. Alex says:

    Im interested in your concept of ‘cherry picking’. Can it be forseeable that this new paradigm in mainstream music consumerism be profitable? It costs a person roughly 1.69 to buy a single track on itunes, if the large record labels are going to push for single rather than full album consumerism it is difficult to see that market expanding in anyway to a profitable stature in the face of illegal downloading.

    The internet is a powerful machine, and I don’t believe the big labels are going to easily shift themselvea and take control over a technology that has the ability to shift market patterns internationally, share files in a matter of milliseconds and reduce the time and space between artist and listener invariably.

    The key is that the internet alters that classical marketing view that you argue, because it is not an easy medium to control or to take over. Big labels may always be there, but an expansion of the smaller musician has room to grow, and successfully so.

  14. the music industry would always be a thriving industry specially these days where we listen to a lot of music :`;

  15. Cexyntfo says:

    cute black baby pictures,

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