Friday, June 11, 2010

Chicken Littles

Radiohead's Thom Yorke is warning that the music industry is on the brink of collapse, insisting young musicians should resist signing record deals because the major labels will "completely fold" within months. Yorke, interviewed for a new high school textbook called The Rax Active Citizen Toolkit, which aims to inspire youngsters to become more politically literate, claims claims the music industry is on the verge of a major crisis and could collapse completely within "months".

While Radiohead embraces the end of music as we knew it, over at the Wall Street Journal's D8 conference, Vivian Schiller, the head of NPR, talked about where news is going, the business model for public radio and what happens to laid-off journalists.

Neil Glassman, a media watcher and consultant who has worked with several broadcast equipment suppliers, reflected on radio's role in relation to social media. Glassman said Schiller "made a few heads spin with her statement that Internet radio will take the place of terrestrial radio within 10 years. One would be hard pressed to find another major executive at an 'over-the-air' broadcaster who would cede the airwaves, much less put a date on the towers going dark."

More importantly, Glassman notes that "Affiliation with the NPR brand is likely to be one reason so many musicians are allowing NPR Music to stream their live concerts and make them available on what appear to be permanent archives. The artists are promoting these collaborations with NPR music on their social media pages. Will artists have to choose between NPR Music and the rumored YouTube live streaming?"

On NPR ::: Lucky for me they have a lot of great M.I.A. articles archived. The question is do we really WANT to cede over-the-air broadcasting to the fragile internet? It would be too easily wiped out by a pulse bomb, which is a US third-world scenario envisioned by the old Dark Angel TV series.

On the MUSIC industry ::: It's NOT "on the ropes" but the old way of doing things has changed, thanks to a number of factors. The movers, shakers and moneymakers (like M.I.A. and Yarah Bravo) are doing LIVE shows and posting on YouTube and Facebook, and getting that all-important double-dose of PR!

Rewind : : :

I began blogging about all of this at least five years ago!

They STILL don't get it. They can't figure it out! They must be sleeping! The masterminds of the recording industry continue to fail to understand why music isn't selling like it used to. From the New York Times' JEFF LEEDS (May 28):
"Despite costly efforts to build buzz around new talent and thwart piracy, CD sales have plunged more than 20 percent this year, far outweighing any gains made by digital sales at iTunes and similar services. Aram Sinnreich, a media industry consultant at Radar Research in Los Angeles, said the CD format, introduced in the United States 24 years ago, is in its death throes... Even as the industry tries to branch out, though, there is no promise of an answer to a potentially more profound predicament: a creative drought and a corresponding lack of artists who ignite consumers’ interest in buying music. Sales of rap, which had provided the industry with a lifeboat in recent years, fell far more than the overall market last year with a drop of almost 21 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (And the marquee star 50 Cent just delayed his forthcoming album, “Curtis.”)"
But hold for a minute: there is at least one recording artist who DOES get it: Beatle Paul McCartney! (from the same NYT article:)
" Paul McCartney, is releasing a new album on June 5. But Mr. McCartney is not betting on the traditional record-label methods: He elected to sidestep EMI, his longtime home, and release the album through a new arrangement with Starbucks.... Starbucks will be selling his album “Memory Almost Full” through regular music retail shops but will also be playing it repeatedly in thousands of its coffee shops in more than two dozen countries on the day of release. And the first music video from the new album had it premiere on YouTube. Mr. McCartney, in announcing his deal with Starbucks, described his rationale simply: “It’s a new world.”"
Now, if you are curious about "Mr. McCartney" and the Beatles, your must-read article is "Yeah Yeah Yeah"

Another artist who suddenly finds hereself in a precarious poistion: Kelly Clarkson.

For the benefit of those who missed my initial post explaining what's going on with the music industry, here is "Yo Homies" in its entirety:

This post is dedicated to those critics, commentators, columnists, social observers and bloggers who "can't explain" why rap music took over in the mainstream. It's so simple. But these supposedly smart individuals still don't get it.

Rap and HipHop have been around for a long time, since Napoleon XIV rapped "They're Coming To Take Me Away" in the mid-1960s, and hit #1 in very late 1970s with Blondie's "RAPture." CD sales have been declining since 2001, which peaked at $701 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan’s State of the Industry Report.

If you could dial your radios back to 1999-2002, you would be amazed at the spectrum of popular music (last night I listened to some old off-the-radio cassettes). Artists were evolving, music genres were evolving, production techniques were down to a science. Some of the so-called "R&B" (Rhythm & Blues) material from that time is astounding in vocal, technical and musical quality.[3] Rap and HipHop were there, in the outer sphere.

The "erosion" began in late 1999, when much of the music-buying public, dissatisfied with the high-cost low-quality mass-produced CD's [1], discovered it was possible to DOWNLOAD music off the Net. And why not? There was no big loss of quality, that's for sure. Because of the economy and culture of the time, the people representing the higher-end of the record buying public suddenly stopped buying. [2] Next the middle, and (as more people upgraded computers and switched to broadband) to a lesser extent the lower middle. At the bottom were the working poor and the inner-city buyers, who kept on buying what they always bought: Rap, HipHop, Country... are you beginning to get the picture?

FF to 2007. This is where it gets interesting. Right now, that "bottom" is rapidly equipping with mp3 players, iPods, computers and fast Net connections. You may have seen or heard that the music industry is "declining." Music sales are down overall, but rap sales dropped 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to the Associated Press. Additionally, for the first time in 12 years, no rap album was among the top 10 sellers of the year. Top that with the burst of public outcry against XXX lyrics in rap music [4] after the Don Imus thing (dirty rap was the top-seller in the CD industry) and suddenly the CD-makers are "down for the count." Good for them!

Your LIFE LESSON here is obviously about CORPORATE GREED. The CD coulda shoulda woulda been a wonderful medium in which to experience music, that could have still made money for the big boys if it were fairly priced. If Vinyl was $9.99 at the time, the CD should have been $5.55, because, remember, the little dinky disks in little plastic cases cost way way less to manufacture and SHIP. Yup. LP's were way heavier and bulkier. It all came down to the almighty dollar!

The CDs being made in 2006-7 are of much higher quality: listen to recent works by Madonna or Freshly Ground or The Veronicas and you will hear some amazing stereo seperation and technical production. But is it now too little, too late for the CD industry?

[1] if you heard a song on the radio in 1999, it was an enhanced version on a high-quality CD single, sparkling with life and stereo. Ear Candy! The mass produced version on the CD for sale sounded like it was being played in a tin can by comparison, with the highs and lows cut off, leaving a "squashed" listening experience. Let me put it this way: it would have been more pleasurable to listen to a good song on an old AM radio rather than on a 2000-era stereo CD. CD's should have been much cheaper at the retail level. The manufacturers tried to make us pay more money for a product that cost them a quarter of what a vinyl 33 LP with cover art would have cost to manufacture. The death of "cover art" may have also contributed to pop music's sales decline, but that's a story for another day.

[2] A friend and I kept hearing a fantastic song on the radio. We both purchase the CD. Reactions were the same. WTF? This doesn't sound as good as the same song on the radio! I looked at an actual copy of the CD sent to the radio station. It was clearly marked "enhanced CD, specially mixed for stereo FM radio."

[3] One of the most marvelous listening experiences for pop music audiophiles; Jade Anderson's Sugar High. I believe the "high tech" version is only available on the DVD single (pictured above) --- you'll have to search Amazon or eBay IF you can still find it! There are also some astounding "enhanced" CD singles by Shakira (look for ones advertised as advance or promo copies!)

[4] Michael Byrd, a sophomore business management major at Dillard, gives Black College Wire his own theory about why rap sales have declined. "There are a multitude of reasons; CDs cost too much, it's free to download, and nobody has any real talent outside of Jay Z, Nas, T.I. and other people of their caliber," he said.

"Nobody is willing to put money behind an artist who is not talking about sex because they don't want to risk losing money. . . . For the most part, rappers do what they are told. They have no influence; all they do is perform. Most don't even write their own songs or get paid much," he said.

AMEN! No talent and no pay: many of the "rappers" are patsys for corporations: common thugs that have been dressed up in gold and videod with scantily-clad women who have big breasts and horses' asses for rear ends! Again the bottom line: the almighty dollar!

Meanwhile, the "Big Brother Economy" continues to grow. Up next for Uncle Sam's oversight: Placing restrictions on the sale of used music CDs. Yes, you read that right.The goal of this legislation, which is popping up in various states around the union and not (yet) on a federal scale, is designed to stem the alleged flood of counterfeit music CDs as well as stolen discs. The rules, currently in effect in Florida and Utah and coming soon to Wisconsin and Rhode Island, stipulate waiting periods (the store can't resell used discs for 30 days in Florida) and/or that stores can only provide store credit, not cash, for used discs (Florida again). Some states even require you to be fingerprinted to sell your old music. [more from Christopher Null on yahoo! Tech]

See Also: The Album, A Commodity In Disfavor.

MORE ::: M.I.A. and other artists like her, frighten traditional old school record companies. You know what? They brought this on themselves! When CD's arrived on the scene, the greedy record companies sold them at outrageously inflated prices: they should have been a dollar or two cheaper than vinyl at retail! CD's can also suffer from mass-production shortcuts. I'll cite two instances:

(1) A few years ago I was in the control room at FLY92 with PD/MD John Foxx. He was playing a Shakira CD, and I remarked how wonderful the song was... a few days later I purchased the album. What a piece of *technical* crap! Turns out, the CD the record company sends to radio stations for airplay was an "enhanced version for radio." Listening to the two CD's in tandem was a learning experience! The enhanced CD sounded like you wers outdoors with certain instruments in the distance and others at the sides and behind you... Shakira was standing there, right in front of you, singing. On the retail CD, you were hearing an mono AM radio with a few instruments on either side.

(2) A couple of years ago I was in the car listening to 60s channel on "Decades" via XM . The Beatles' "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was playing. It sounded like crap, like the Fab Four were singing from the other end of a phone line.
Back at home, I dug out the original 45 in MONO from the attic... fired up the turntable, dropped it on and even with the hiss at the beginning of the groove and a few scratches, the sound quality blew XM's version out of the sky.

(3) (EXTRA) Just to be sure, I borrowed a copy of "Sgt. Pepper" on CD from the Albany Public Library. While it sounded good, once again the old vinyl album beat it for sound quality hands down.
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