Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Explain Some Things To Me

I know I must sound like a naif, but I honestly do not understand the recording industry. I know the model under which it still operates has been little changed in a quarter century, and perhaps longer, but I think there is something fundamentally wrong not just with the big labels and the whole issue of supporting acts and distribution, but with big radio as well.

I came of age at a time when, especially FM, radio was changing, and the recording industry was undergoing the first major contraction it had experienced since the Great Depression. From the mid-1960's through around 1977-1978, there was money to burn as all kinds of artists and musicians and label-created non-entities sold millions of copies of their recordings. When Bob Welch could sell a million copies of his first solo recording, one knows that people are just looking to toss money around. Yet, as the economy in general became different, and the recording industry changed to meet the changing standards, the amount of money and time invested, especially in new acts, simply disappeared (in one of my books on prog, an anecdote relates how Genesis was understood to be a money-losing proposition when it was first signed to its label in Britain; the label saw it as a long-term thing, and was willing to make the investment). Big radio stopped being diverse - I can still remember hearing good, solid funk and jazz on my AOR station until around 1980, when suddenly all one could hear was Foreigner, Journey, and Loverboy. And "Stairway to Heaven".

Yet, as I listen to Pandora I am amazed at the huge diversity of music available. Not just on the internet via downloads, but on CD. Even though it is difficult to get a song on radio today (one could almost say impossible) with any quality, if one keeps one's ears open, there are artists out there who are still doing the whole CD thing even as its death is continually announced.

I realize there aren't all these artists out there who can move bucket loads of CDs, but there are still many, many groups that could do well if they had access to radio air time.

Perhaps we need a new definition of commercial viability.

I don't know what the answers are. I only know there is plenty of great music out there for the taking. I would think that the music industry, which kind of exists to make money off people's willingness to spend money on what is essentially a luxury, would take the time to look at the way they create, market, and distribute this music. People are willing to shell out the bucks (although that may not be as true in the upcoming year as it has been in the past). Punishing listeners for downloads is not an answer (consider the reaction against Metallica's surrender of a print-out of illegal downloads). Maybe considering making a smaller return on a larger number of artists spread over a wide array of genres is better than looking to make a killing on what, in the end, amounts to the same regurgitated formula (Nickleback, I mean you) is a possibility.

I guess I just don't understand business, because this seems to me to be a no-brainer.

Virtual Tin Cup

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