The music industry is in crisis.
Their business model, for the last 50 years, has been based on novelty. That hot album by that slick band is new; get it while it’s new, and you can talk to your friends about it. You can talk to girls about it. Rock music is a social surrogate for teenagers to introduce them to small talk and, ultimately, sexuality.
But if a month goes by, that album is no longer new, and then, it has lost its hip. You are no longer in the know by talking about it. You don’t impress friends, you don’t impress girls, and you don’t get entrance to all the hip clubs and places. You have no social currency.
That album will sell most during that first month, and then sales will taper off, first with the less clueful buying it, and then eventually, to the bargain bins where only chubby basement-dwellers pick it up, thinking: “I heard this was really hip when I read something some time ago, so maybe it’s still cool!”
When you get the CD or record home, and put it on, you find out that it may have some cool and “new” (new to you, but not new to music) techniques and ideas, but basically it’s just rock n roll or jazz or rap. The novelty was what sold the CD or record; not the quality. If they wanted quality, they’d buy classical. Even jazz, which promises to be “more musical,” is advanced musical theory applied to unstructured improvisation to a linear harmonic line. It’s music designed to be like our machines: interchangeable parts, small upgrades in technique to make new versions of the products, with a huge profit margin.
This is why the record labels have been so profit-steady for the last five decades: they’re making junk and selling it at high prices when you consider what you get. Sure, a CD is cheap… but you have to buy 30-60 of them a year to feel that sense of novelty. And these tend to last you between the years of 18 and 28, and then you go on to other things. During that time, you made someone a handy profit for things you eventually totally discarded.
Radio used to be their guide for the kids. A signal went out from one place, with one corporation behind it; the kids received and heard one-eighth or one-tenth of the new material in a form they couldn’t copy.
The problem is that now, there’s so many ways to hear music that you will get exposed to stuff early and have it in a better form than AM radio quality.
This is why record labels are panicked about MP3s. The problem is, however, that there’s no putting the cat back in the bag, because what really drove this situation was the rise of computers and the net. With a CD drive, an internet connection and a computer powerful enough, anyone can pass music along. Anything can be copied.
This is why, perhaps, older societies strove for products that lasted longer than a month or a year, like epic symphonies and literature, instead of candy-pop rap/rock and cheesy sentimental books.
Instead of facing this reality, and the higher costs thus lower profit margin it demands, record labels are wasting their time with an end-run action — bust the “pirates”:
Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles are pursuing a 6-month prison term for a Los Angeles man who pleaded guilty in December to one misdemeanor count of uploading pre-release Guns N’ Roses tracks, according to court documents.
Kevin Cogill was arrested last summer at gunpoint and charged with uploading nine tracks of the Chinese Democracy album to his music site â€” antiquiet.com. The album, which cost millions and took 17 years to complete, was released November 23 and reached No. 3 in the charts.
The dumbest part of this is that Cogill is a Guns N’ Roses fan, and had this to say about the album:
I always said that the more that Axl and Geffen jerked around trying to figure out how to release this finally finished album that weâ€™ve all been waiting over 13 years for, the greater the chances would be that it would slip out of a pressing plant or office somewhere and wind up in the hands of some asshole with a blog…if you ask me, Guns Nâ€™ Roses are back, and theyâ€™ll be just fine.
Even more ironic is that he was providing the role of radio. He used an Adobe Flash-based music player that provided mySpace quality compressed music, which is a notch above AM but not up to decent FM quality, from my experience. I can’t tell if people were able to download the tracks as well, although some seemed to have, probably by using a script ripper, but they got them in the same low quality.
In retrospect, we can see it would have been more productive for him to simply act like a radio, and put a player on each page containing a few GNR songs and some others from the other “artists” scattered around his pages. That would complement the methods used by the record label.