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The Record Industry's Decline
June 26, 2007 6:47 AM   Subscribe

The Record Industry's Decline. "The record companies have created this situation themselves," says Simon Wright, CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, which operates Virgin Megastores. Rosen and others see that 2001-03 period as disastrous for the business. "That's when we lost the users," Rosen says. "Peer-to-peer took hold. That's when we went from music having real value in people's minds to music having no economic value, just emotional value."
posted by geoff. (279 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm going to call BS on Mr. Wright. I think that music does have an economic value in most people's minds, we just don't think its worth $20 per CD, of which maybe, maybe, $0.25 goes to the artist. The RIAA, the labels, and all the other middlemen have an overdeveloped sense of both how necessary and how valuable they are.
posted by sotonohito at 6:51 AM on June 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


There are some CDs worth $20 or more. Britney Spears ain't it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The RIAA fucked themselves over. They're currently continuing to fuck themselves over by suing people.

I hope every label who participated in that goes bankrupt.
posted by empath at 7:00 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe if you guys hadn't put out so many godawful CDs, so many one-hit-and-fourteen-tracks of shit CDs, for the low low price of 18.99, you wouldn't be in this predicament.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:02 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


This is a pirated MP3 of the smallest violin in the world playing for the record industry.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:03 AM on June 26, 2007 [110 favorites]


Other than a few timely updates (EMI allowing iTunes to sell its music without copy protection, for instance), this is the same article about the decline of the major labels that's been popping up once a week for several years now. If the big guys are indeed sinking into the tar pits, their death scream seems to have a whole lot of notes.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:05 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think they will cease to exist in another 5 years or so. There are students at ASU as well as every other university, that are passing around 500GB drives filled with CD quality music. In the time it takes to go to a store to buy an album they can copy 80,000 songs. Their business model is dead, dead, dead.
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:05 AM on June 26, 2007


I look forward to seeing thousands of record company executives forced to stop mooching off of talented artists and go get real jobs.

As for the songwriters and backup musicians who are finding themselves struggling for work, I do sympathize. Why not come to my town and play a few gigs, guys?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:06 AM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think that music does have an economic value in most people's minds, we just don't think its worth $20 per CD, of which maybe, maybe, $0.25 goes to the artist.

I think that music creation, i.e. creativity, has an economic worth in people's minds but that music copying does not. You kind of touch on that with the $.25 going to the artist. I think people would be more than happy to pay, say, $10 for a CD of which $7 goes to the artist and $3 to the middleman who makes the pretty package, does the work of the actual mindless copying, etc.
posted by DU at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Its ironic that they were instrumental in driving the development of the technology that made thier distribution model obsolete.

The RIAA put napster on the map by suing it. At the same time it gave people reason to look for an alternative file sharing product. Several different, more decentralized technical solutions emerged and each gained massive user bases as people flocked away from the young napster. But eventually the riaa figured out which points in a particular new p2p system are control bottlenecks, and they sue it. They have done this several times, and each time a software model was legally crippled. And each time the massive user base moves on to a more decentralized p2p system. Thus we arrive at bit torrent and decentralized trackers. The only thing left to sue is everyone. Thus alienating your entire customer base.

Well done RIAA.
posted by Merik at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


I think that music does have an economic value in most people's minds

For many people, though, the price it's worth is the lowest price they can get away with, and that price often is zero. And it isn't just music and the recording industry; people now feel comfortable about filching anything electronic -- if the original isn't damaged, it is assumed that no harm is done.
posted by pracowity at 7:09 AM on June 26, 2007


It all comes down to ease of media ownership. Cassette tapes killed 8-tracks, CDs killed cassettes...the industry was just incredibly slow to adopt the file based medium which is now becoming popular for use in portable players. Because they had no faith in its viability and instead spent tons of money on lawsuits against indiviuals who could not realistically pay them back for "damages caused" they are in turn self defeating.

The reality is, most people want to use the mediums that best suit their music enjoyment. Most would pay a resonable amount of money to obtain unlimited replay rights to the songs or albums they like....otherwise legitimate services such as iTunes and Rhapsody would go nowhere.
posted by samsara at 7:10 AM on June 26, 2007


Well, if anything it shows that if technology provides a near-free way of procuring an item, even if it means the barrier is some technological sophistication, even incredibly well-funded industry groups cannot bully it back into place.

What is most ludicrous of all is that consumers are still paying a lot for music, just not as much as before. Nor are the distribution models the same, comforting models they were. People will pay for ring tones (the article quotes that it is a $600MM/year business, with low overheads). Most of my music consumption is indirect and isn't as easy to calculate as purchases at a point of sale store. I never watched concerts before the advent of HD, and now a large portion of television are beautifully shot and produced concerts on HD channels and venues for new music (London Live). MTV has moved itself into a position of being a lifestyle brand for mainstream under 20 demographics, as evidenced by the proliferation of reality shows. For the rest of us it is back to basics: live shows from real bands.
posted by geoff. at 7:14 AM on June 26, 2007


Aww Yeah.

And the thing is, I feel absolutely no compunction about pirating music now thanks to these assholes. They're utterly obnoxious, why would I want to support them at all? I mean at one point in the past few years they actually supported legislation like this that would have made iPods illegal. In fact, it would have made PCs and any other digital device capable of playing music or video illegal if they didn't have mandatory built-in DRM.

So I say fuck 'em. They wanted to steal our rights, I say "steal" their music. I can afford music now if I wanted to buy it, but why would I want to send money companies that sue 12 year old girls and generally act insanely heavy handed? Why support lobbying efforts to stamp out the internet?

That said, I still think 99¢ is too much for a single track. And why all the same price? I'll probably start buying music when I can get tracks for 25¢ or maybe albums for $1. With no distribution cost, why not? And also if major acts don't want charge more I'm fine with listening to Indy stuff.

But I'm never going to pay anything for major label music again.
posted by delmoi at 7:17 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


I do think some people are willing to pay for music, but I know a lot of people, serious ass music fans, that pirate the shit out anything and everything they can. People underestimate just how cheap people can be.
posted by chunking express at 7:21 AM on June 26, 2007


just emotional value

Oh yes, those useless emotions, nothing compared to the almighty buck. Not.

Yup, it's about time the song writers and musicians profited from their work.

The Brill Building is near where I live and having heard it was important in the music world I should have looked it before but your post prompted me to Wikipedia it.

A record store owner I met brief years ago said that it was the mafia of record distributors, who ruined the record industry. A record might be made but unless the distributors said so, the record never got distributed and sunk like a stone.

Since then have been curious about the politics of the music industry. A quick Wikipedia search turns up "record label"...often part of an international media group. ah, it's the Corporation mafia.

No wonder music made a break from mega-corporate chains and went the way of Napster and mp3. YAYYY music!

Will be interesting to see if a healthier business template, in regard to the music makers, arises out of these particular ashes.
posted by nickyskye at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2007


But Mr_Zero, what the hell would you do with 80,000 songs? I've got maybe 3 or 4 thousand songs in my fairly small record collection, and that's far more than I can appreciate or effectively use.

Maybe the real worry for artists should not be the decline of the redundant record industry, but the ubiquity of music in modern society. It seems to becoming a kind of security blankets, or maybe psychic cotton wool, very useful for stopping yourself from hearing what you're thinking. I've found customers getting quite agitated and complaining to me if I turn the music off once in a while (I'm a barman). Will this end up devaluing music as an art-form, and destroying distinctions of quality?

Well, probably not, actually, but even so.....

I'll stop. I think I was about to rant.

Cheers!
posted by howfar at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think [the record labels] will cease to exist in another 5 years or so. [...] In the time it takes to go to a store to buy an album [students] can copy 80,000 songs.

But where do those 80,000 songs come from? It still costs money to make records. Sure, the overhead involved in making and distributing reasonable-quality recordings is shrinking, but it's still not free. You can write all the music you want, but without good engineers and a talenter producer, most bands make terrible recordings. You have probably heard them on Myspace.

Somebody's got to pay those people, preferably up front, which is what record labels do. Yes, the business model is outdated and needs to change, but that doesn't mean there's no place for record labels, if only as investors.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2007


This is still the best set of reasons for delmoi's position I've seen.
posted by imperium at 7:22 AM on June 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


According to the sidebar ads accompanying the article, if it comes down to it, no doubt record industry execs could use their extensive knowledge of Will Smith to get a free Red Lobster dinner for two, thus holding off starvation another day.

Of course, if Red Lobster acted like those same execs, each poor executive's 20$ dinner would only have one or two bites worth trying, many bland bites, and a few shit kernels in buttersauce. The whole thing would be delivered slowly by a horde of waiters who, knowing that tip is included for each of them, would take their sweet time and not really care about the exec's dissatisfaction with the meal or service.

Eventually the execs would stop going to Red Lobster, thus forcing all the waiters out of a job, sending them to use their knowledge of Will Smith to try and win free dinners at, I dunno, Long John Silvers or something. They'd sit together in sad bunches, eating their cold popcorn shrimp, pining for the good days of family seafood dining. One will start to cry and the others will all look away, awkwardly.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:24 AM on June 26, 2007 [19 favorites]


The entire recording industry based itself on sale and control of artifacts of recorded music.

Recorded music is not the same as music.

I personally am rather thankful that the proliferation of individual recording devices is returning us to an era of real musicianship - that is, composing music and playing it live for an audience that is right in front of you, which was the main mode of music 'distribution' throughout human history, with the exception of the last 70-some years. In order to make money in volume from the work of another person, you simply have to control the production and duplication of that person's recordings, and that's just not going to be possible any more, ever.

The model I'm interested in now is the one embodied by bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, who built their following completely through touring and selling homemade recordings out of the back of the van. They ended up with a recording contract, but they are a touring band and that's how they make a living - largely not from CD sales. Promoters and managers and venues and merch designers can still make money by working with the band, and there's nothing wrong with that -- when a band starts to achieve some success, the first thing they want to do is let go of the harassing details of booking and writing checks and the like. So there's still a 'music industry' in this model, it's just not built on artificial control of a material object.

For all those interested in this issue, I recommend the documentary film "Before the Music Dies," now being independently released and screenable anywhere for a reasonable fee. While it has some flaws, and stops short of a critical analysis of recorded music as a whole phenomenon, in general it's a pretty good summation of why the music industry is suffering so much - with some kickass artist interviews, to boot.
posted by Miko at 7:24 AM on June 26, 2007 [7 favorites]


Apparently, the RIAA thinks we just don'geddit:

“The music industry is transforming how it does business and embracing digital distribution models of every kind,” said Steven Marks, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, RIAA. “For students, many of these high-quality digital music options are available at deeply discounted rates – or even free. Those who continue to ignore great legal services and the law by stealing music online risk a federal lawsuit that could include thousands of dollars in penalties. With so many simple, easy and inexpensive ways to enjoy music legally these days, why take that risk?”

The full list of schools they're presently targeting can be found here. Mr. Zero, looks like you're safe . . . for now . . . mmwahahahaha
posted by Bixby23 at 7:28 AM on June 26, 2007


Of course I didn't RTFA, but...

I've been going through what amounts to a periodic music binge, and I've both acquired and purchased a HUGE amount of music in the past couple of weeks.

What's struck me is that there are so many independent labels now, many more than there were back in the day. The internet doesn't just facilitate music sharing, it lets people get the word out about their records, which encourages people to buy them.

I remember days spent poring over every ad and review in MRR every time it came out, well before the internet, and there just were not as many labels out there. It seems like every band is releasing their own stuff, or they're on a label that has a roster of just three or four bands.

I've never been one to spend much money on major label releases, but I do think that now many more people are probably buying independent because they know about independent bands and labels in a way that they did not before. It takes an afternoon on the internet to explore a scene or a style, and listen to 25 free songs with no effort at all. In 1985 or 1990 it took a lot more effort to discover and listen to new music, and the majors were a lazy alternative. I think the playing field is much more level now.
posted by OmieWise at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


But Mr_Zero, what the hell would you do with 80,000 songs?

What don't you do with them? These kids are carrying around so much music that it is difficult to name a song they DON'T have. Hey, I want to listen to that album Dope On Plastic, no problem. Hey, remember that stupid song from the 80's, Safety Dance, no problem.

But where do those 80,000 songs come from? It still costs money to make records.

Not really. There are all sorts of mom and pop recording studios here in Phoenix. A converted room in a house or garage. Virtually all the equipment has been replaced by a computer or two. Record to digital and distribute.
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:31 AM on June 26, 2007


Next: recorded movies.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:33 AM on June 26, 2007


You're all assholes. Please step off your moral high ground, your ginned-up excuses, your sudden interest in the economic breakdown of record sales, your phony posturing on behalf of "the artists", and just admit it:

Free beats paying for it any day of the week.

Please. Just come clean. Because all your self-congratulatory positions are about as valid and sincere as "we were looking for WMD's." The recording industry isn't dying because of their business practices (and I'd like to know what sort of "business model" accounts for 80,000 pirated songs on some dipshit's portable hard drive); it's dying because you'd rather get something for free than pay for it. Simple as fucking that. So fuck you and your fucking moral-high-ground reasoning.

Of course I didn't RTFA, but...

Of course you didn't! You just wanted to inject your pre-made, undigested opinion that someone else gave you into this thread. Thanks for contributing!
posted by solistrato at 7:38 AM on June 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


I think the music industry was bound to go down at some point. The business model was designed to squeeze the absolute most dollars out of a fairly unstable product. I'm not sure how things worked before rock and roll, but once some entrepeneurs realized that they could get a shit ton of cash for themselves while ensuring that their artists got the fame they desired (often with little compensation for their artistry) everything turned to shit.

The late-fifties model of selling music just doesn't work anymore, and technology is the culprit. I don't think this is a bad thing in the least, and I hope that the system will change enough to allow artists to receive the money that their talent is worth.
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:41 AM on June 26, 2007


Of course you didn't! You just wanted to inject your pre-made, undigested opinion that someone else gave you into this thread. Thanks for contributing!

Perhaps you should read what I wrote, which was in no way a justification for downloading free music. It was an opinion, strangely formed all by my lonesome, about why people might actually be spending more money on non-major label releases than they did before.

But don't let that get in the way of being an asshole, asshole.
posted by OmieWise at 7:43 AM on June 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


Let me offer a solution to the RIAA.

1. Stop suing people. Like delmoi suggested, I'm oppositional enough that the more you sue, the more I download. Bring it on.

2. The RIAA needs to assume to the role of a middleman. One of the easiest ways to sample music is on YouTube or other video sites. The RIAA should approach Google (youTube's owner), and invite them to take the same ASCAP blanket license that the satellite radio stations take. That way, google pays ASCAP for the music that people include in their videos, ASCAP divvies iut up among the artists, but the videomakers themselves don't have to be burdened with rights management. The process is transparent to both all users of YouTube.

3. You should see how google paying a blanket license changes things. You search google for a song (people are already doing this), google serves it up, you hear it, they pay ascap, and the artist gets paid by ascap.

The fact that the song is on someone's personal site doesn't matter, because you got there from google. Google gets ad revenue from the search results, so they make money from song searches. I suppose this angle needs to be thought through more (and maybe it should be amazon instead of google) but the idea is that the search finds people the music they want to hear, and google collects incredible statistics about search, so that's the most obvious avenue of payment.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:43 AM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


Not really. There are all sorts of mom and pop recording studios here in Phoenix. A converted room in a house or garage. Virtually all the equipment has been replaced by a computer or two. Record to digital and distribute.

That wasn't the point; did you read the rest of the comment? Maybe you disagree, but I think it takes talented engineers and talented producers to make a good record. It takes some amount of skill to translate good music into a good recording, and that's what's missing in a lot of indie records. Yes, there's something charming about a recording made for $500 in somebody's basement, or even $5,000 in the studio down the block, but it doesn't necessarily do the music justice or make me want to hear more of it. There's a difference between the experience of live music and that of recorded music, and a good recording uses the medium to enhance the performance.

I'm sure there are plenty of indie bands who are out there writing great music (just like there are plenty of major-label acts writing crap), but when the record is lousy, I think it takes a lot more effort to appreciate it or even to recognize the gem of a song. The people with the talent to turn a good performance into an engaging recording don't work for free.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:47 AM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


Looking around at a lot of people in this city, I have to wonder what percentage of their day is spent without hearing any music. For many I'm guessing less than two hours a day.
posted by hermitosis at 7:48 AM on June 26, 2007


But Mr_Zero, what the hell would you do with 80,000 songs?

What don't you do with them? These kids are carrying around so much music that it is difficult to name a song they DON'T have.


I forgot to mention this in my comment about google above, but why carry around a hard drive, when it's easier to carry to a network device that links to the internet? Hypothetically, if google cached all of the songs on the internet, and if every song is on the internet (because in this hypothetical scenario the RIA gave google permission to cache everything), then you don't need your own local copy, right? Maybe google or amazon builds a music specific interface, you dial up the song you want and hit play, and it streams it.

See the idea of keeping a hard drive is the same kind of thinking that keeps the RIAA fixated on CDs - a physical local copy of the song. But why? Instead of a million copies of a file, why not a million pointers to the same file. For the user, its still free, because google or amazon keeps track of which songs you play and pays the ASCAP royalty based on that. And maybe they make some $ feeding your browser or little network ipod thingy an ad or two.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:49 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


BTW. Today is the Internet radio silence day. In protest of the staggering royalty fees that have recently been levied against Internet based radio.
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:49 AM on June 26, 2007


I'll probably start buying music when I can get tracks for 25¢

I pay 18 cents a track at emusic.

I have no problem paying for music but I don't buy major label stuff.

Recently, Sam's, a large (and the first major) chain in Canada announced they were closing and many people are disappointed and upset. I say good riddance. I worked for the company for 4 summers and their management/owners are total assholes whose policies and practices did not take the consumer into account at all... until they had to and then it was too late.

When I worked there, there were no returns or exchanges even if the product was still sealed and you had the receipt. Even if you bought it ten seconds ago from me I could not return or exchange it for you. Even if you hadn't left the friggin store. In addition, the head office (which also was one of the largest distribution companies in the country) forced franchises to purchase only from them. That's not abnormal. Howevr, that same head office would sell the same product from their flagship store for considerably less than they sold to us. For instance, a cassette would cost us about $11 and we'd sell it for $15. However, that same cassette was available to the public for $8 or $10.

Good fucking riddance.
posted by dobbs at 7:51 AM on June 26, 2007


iTunes Number 3 in U.S. for Music Sales
"We all know that iTunes is doing very well. The stunning success of the iPod and Apple's resurgence the past half decade have not gone unnoticed. Just how successful have they been, however? It seems that their online store has trounced not only every other online music retailer around, but comes in third place for retail sales in the U.S. If you based it on number of units sold, iTunes apparently has a 9.8% market share for 1Q 2007, putting it behind only Wal-Mart and Best Buy:
iTunes had a 9.8 percent market share in the first quarter, ranking behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s 15.8 percent and Best Buy Co.'s 13.8 percent, according to The NPD Group. Online retailer Amazon.com's share was 6.7 percent, slightly ahead of Target's 6.6 percent, NPD said."
posted by ericb at 7:52 AM on June 26, 2007


I bought the 45, I bought the 33, I bought the cassette, I bought the 8 track, and I bought the CD... I am not stealing if I download music I have previously purchased. So please Mr. RIAA get off my back.

Whew! that said, the "Music Industry" has yet to learn that they need to add value to what they admit has lost value. CDs must be released with additional content, accompanying DVD, concert discounts, etc.
posted by Gungho at 7:53 AM on June 26, 2007


MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!(gasp!)uhuhaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
posted by es_de_bah at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2007


The recording industry isn't dying because of their business practices (and I'd like to know what sort of "business model" accounts for 80,000 pirated songs on some dipshit's portable hard drive); it's dying because you'd rather get something for free than pay for it.

No, it is the model that is causing it to die. If the tomato farmers decide to start charging $50 a tomato and I decide to start growing tomatoes in my backyard, am I being a cheap asshole destroying their business model? No, of course not. There's all sorts of places to derive profit from the music industry, I don't see why it is a right for musicians and record industry executives to be earning millions of dollars a year, or at least a right that must be protected.

We are going from a bunch of people being very, very rich to just very rich. Sorry future Keith Moons, you may have to think twice before driving a Bentley into a pool. Quite simply digital replication has made the cost of production and distribution nearly collapse. Each piece of that long distribution chain saw marginal profits. People still want, and are willing to pay for entertainment. Just because the market shifts does not mean it disappears.
posted by geoff. at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2007


oh, oops.
meant to say:

.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2007


but I think it takes talented engineers and talented producers to make a good record.

I agree fully. But I feel there are many more talented engineers and producers floating around than the few that work for the big corps.


Why carry around a hard drive, when it's easier to carry to a network device that links to the internet

There are lots of places people like to listen to music where there is no Internet. Camping, the beach, boating, etc.
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:54 AM on June 26, 2007


Whoa, as much as I dislike the record companies, the idea that they are such high-level scammers is more than a bit conspiratorial.

Most people have no idea how to find new music and discover their favorite bands they will argue with you about for years by advertising and radio. Hell, Trent Reznor is a big anti-record company voice, but in the early 90s you couldnt walk 10 feet without seeing a NIN billboard or walk 30 centimeters without running into one of those NIN stickers plastered everywhere. Nor could you turn on the TV without seeing a NIN video or turn on the radio without hearing a NIN song. This is the work of all the "suits," the marketers, the MBA, the promo people, the radio people, etc. This costs money.

This isnt a justification of the status quo, but a realistic view of how thigns are done and why there are so many hardcore NIN fans and why Trent can run around with his record company aquired celebrity and pretend that the music industry is a meritocracy instead of an advertocracy. How does the meritocracy of web downloads work without the bazillion dollars in promotions and advertising? He's aquired his celebrity and needs nothing from them, but without them he'd be another guy who plays synths on the weekend. How can the band down the street get that kind of exposure from "web downloads and digital flyers?" THey can't.

I'd like to hear realistic proposals for better labels (as well as where promo money is going to come from) and how to embrace digital music instead of this childish "corporate america bad, mmmkay." I doubt things are ever that simple.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:55 AM on June 26, 2007


The quote in the post summarizes why, in my view, the industry is failing:

"That's when we went from music having real value in people's minds to music having no economic value, just emotional value."

Fuck you very much, Mr. Wright. You and those like you have made the fundamental conceptual error of assuming that, because you produce and sell pieces of plastic--and make lots of money doing it--that the pieces of plastic are what people are buying.

Music is an experience, not a thing. Just because we used to need to buy pieces of plastic to get the musical experience doesn't mean that we actually want a bunch of plastic (even if it is shiny and silver). Music is not a commodity, and decades of effort by the record industry will not make it thus. The industry is belatedly waking up to that fact, and it's likely too late to save themselves. Fine by me, that industry is anti-music.

Music doesn't have real value if it doesn't have economic value?? Fuck that guy and everyone who thinks like him. Music is far, far more important to human beings than mere commerce.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:55 AM on June 26, 2007 [6 favorites]


"I personally am rather thankful that the proliferation of individual recording devices is returning us to an era of real musicianship - that is, composing music and playing it live for an audience that is right in front of you, which was the main mode of music 'distribution' throughout human history, with the exception of the last 70-some years."

Having a job, I am personally disappointed that I will no longer be able to enjoy music unless I am there in person. Although perhaps I may make it high up enough the corporate ladder that you proles will labour while I enjoy my leisure time promenading and attending concerts.
posted by patricio at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2007


Why carry around a hard drive, when it's easier to carry to a network device that links to the internet

There are lots of places people like to listen to music where there is no Internet. Camping, the beach, boating, etc.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:54 AM on June 26


This is true now of course, but is less true with each passing year. In a few years, your phone will have broadband, and your phone will work everywhere. There are a lot of wide area wireless technologies that have not been rolled out yet.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:00 AM on June 26, 2007


He's aquired his celebrity and needs nothing from them, but without them he'd be another guy who plays synths on the weekend. How can the band down the street get that kind of exposure from "web downloads and digital flyers?" THey can't.

Word. Much as I hate these fuckers, it is difficult for me to imagine a world of music megastars without said fuckers funneling their vast resources into multimedia promotion.

I am not convinced, however, that this is a bad thing...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:00 AM on June 26, 2007


The industry got fat on a cornered market. Well they don't have that exclusivity any more, and we no longer have to buy an entire LP or CD just to hear one song. The fact that the RIAA couldn't make "the jump" to digital sales was because they couldn't philosophically let go of the circumstances that produced an overvalued product and a deep and fast-running revenue stream. They played a good game for a while, but with everything the economic and technological landscape shifts and that business model is no longer relevant. As web labels and independently released albums pop up more and more, there is a larger variety of more interesting music than at any time I can remember. It's akin to blogging vs. the publishing conglomerates and it's an inevitable development.

The larger question seems to be, "What is music worth?", and does superimposing a moribund corporate bureaucracy on the freewheeling interwebs provide us with the best model for new musical creativity and distribution?
posted by gallois at 8:05 AM on June 26, 2007


I agree fully. But I feel there are many more talented engineers and producers floating around than the few that work for the big corps.

Sure, but again, they don't work for free, or even cheap (nor should they). The days of albums costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to make are, hopefully, over, but without someone to back them, most bands probably can't afford to make a really good record, which is where I think the "industry" belongs.

What can I say? I'm a sucker for slick, commercial recordings, and I'd be sad to see them disappear entirely. (I am a bit torn, though, since I do really dispise the big labels' mentality.)

How does the meritocracy of web downloads work without the bazillion dollars in promotions and advertising? [...] How can the band down the street get that kind of exposure from "web downloads and digital flyers?" THey can't.

Bingo! The distribution end of making music isn't just about getting the music into people's ears, it's about making them want to hear it.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2007


Which is a valid point, LooseFilter, but people still have to find some way of getting paid for making it. Few musicians, with or without recording contracts, are particularly wealthy. The opposite is much more often the case.

Musicians, producers, engineers and the like devote huge amounts of time, effort and skill to creating musical experiences, and should be able to expect renumeration for this.

The predicted collapse of the record industry doesn't seem to me to be much of a bad thing, but there is still the task of finding something better to replace it with.
posted by howfar at 8:06 AM on June 26, 2007


I have pirated a fair amount of music, but listen to very little. What the record industry needs to understand is that their competition is not just p2p but also many other forms of entertainment. My alternative to listening to pirated music to the extent that I do is not that I would listen to paid-for music, but radio to some extent, and NOTHING for the rest. I had not bought a CD in 15 years for all the well known reasons, low signal to noise, and just plain too expensive or rather not enough value. Its also a free time issue. I don have time to sit down and listen to CDs - not in college anymore. I dunno how many folks are like me, but I think a fair amount. The attraction to me of having 80k songs is not that I can listen to ALL of them, but rather that I can listen to ANY of them. I would pay for a time based service as opposed to a song based service.

As an anecdote. I have an acquaintance who is/was a big record industry exec. No stereotypes broken here. Watching this guy makes me very much hope that record companies go broke as monies are redirected to talent.
posted by sfts2 at 8:07 AM on June 26, 2007


The recording industry isn't dying because of their business practices (and I'd like to know what sort of "business model" accounts for 80,000 pirated songs on some dipshit's portable hard drive); it's dying because you'd rather get something for free than pay for it.

Maybe, but my main reason is:

The recording industry decided my tastes were no longer worth their time/money.

The music I listen to regularly is either indie bands on indie labels (Shins, Decemberists), 1990s catalog albums, or some mix of older jazz/funk/pop. I barely listen to hip-hop or rap, don't much like Norah Jones' music, and don't get this My Chemical Fall Out Linkin Park sound. So, I'm not paying for the development of new music through the major labels, though I am through the indies. But the record companies don't care about me, someone who used to drop $1000/year on CDs but has bought one so far this year. What they care about is selling $20 CDs to teenagers.

That's laudable, since teenagers always seem to have money for music/electronics/weed. But they're not buying those CDs; they're downloading them. Their business model is failing.
posted by dw at 8:07 AM on June 26, 2007


Oh, and there was an article in Q about 10 years ago saying that the internet and electronic distribution would bring down record stores, with renderings of the big London HMV and Tower stores shuttered. Wish I could find it.
posted by dw at 8:12 AM on June 26, 2007


it is difficult for me to imagine a world of music megastars

I am not convinced, however, that this is a bad thing...

Word. What's wrong with being the neighborhood hero? Or having a relatively small but devoted community of fans, like Jonathon Coulton(sp?)?

My theory is megastars are a contrivance, a PR mechanism for record labels, used as bait to lure unsuspecting talent into the music biz, where their talents are exploited for the enrichment of others until they're eventually tossed aside. Sure, it works great for the ones at the top of the pyramid...

thanks for this topic geoff.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:13 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Greedy and harmful to the majority of the artists it "represents", greedy and litigious towards the people whose enthusiasm gives them their very lifeblood. Kill the RIAA faster.

Broadcasters, netcasters: call their bluff -- they want too much? Give them nothing. Switch to independent label artists who crave rather than abuse your attention.
posted by dong_resin at 8:14 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Good. Couldn't happen to a better group of assholes.

There were any number of ways to respond to new content distribution mechanisms springing up in the late 90's. Any forward-looking executive worth his salt could probably have predicted that the winds were a-changin', and modified his business plan accordingly. Nope. Not these guys. These guys thought they could take on Congress and popular opinion, and maximize profits by suing their own goddamned customers. I don't think I could come up with a more idiotic strategy if I sat down and put some serious thought into how I could send my customer base fleeing madly into the night.

And now it's all coming back to roost. People have stopped kowtowing to strongarm tactics, and it's only a matter of time before most of the major distributors find themselves in serious financial straits because of their own moronic business practices. The countersuits that are being filed now aren't just seeking compensatory damages, they're criminal cases, pushing for punishment under RICO.

It's a corrupt, morally bankrupt business, which is now trying to garner sympathy from the very customers it's been actively persecuting. You know what? Fuck you, RIAA. I swore a vendetta against you the day the Napster madness began, and people looked at me crosswise for refusing to buy albums. Ten years later, you're being crushed beneath the weight of your own incompetence, and you'd better believe I'll be the first one to toast your demise when you lose your first major court case and begin got feel the pain of death by a thousand pinpricks. Good luck getting copyright law rewritten to bail out your sorry industry now, assholes.

Everyone who embraced digitalization is reaping the benefits of thinking progressively; I eagerly look forward to the next generation of music distribution, which will inevitably arise to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of copyright monoliths with no ability to think beyond next quarter's bottom line.
posted by Mayor West at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


dw: slightly as an aside, the people who are not paying are not paying for indie music like the Shins and Decemberists rather than not paying for Norah blah Jones. Simply being on an indie label doesn't make you immune to being downloaded, and will likely give you the fanbase who have the ability to do it, rather than the MOR crap.
posted by patricio at 8:18 AM on June 26, 2007


Didn't the record industry decline start in the 70s? The whole idea behind CDs was to jumpstart the cash cow by forcing people to upgrade their vinyl collection.
posted by JJ86 at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2007


I always pay for albums from small bands on small labels; I figure they need the money, and my payment is simple respect for their time and work. I have a subscription to emusic, and happily download tracks from small label websites.

There is something to the idea that music has become some kind of uncertainly-sourced soundtrack to people's lives. But as I want musicians to be able to make a living, not to mention those who work on small labels as mostly a labour of love-- I will always pay them.

The majors? Not so much. Also, live music is thriving-- festivals, tours, etc. My expectation is that we'll end up with a mosaic of small labels and niche labels, with musicians making a decent living directly from their sales and touring. The time of record company employees burning through pounds of blow is likely over, and I can't see that as a bad thing.
posted by jokeefe at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2007


Pastabagel writes "In a few years, your phone will have broadband, and your phone will work everywhere."

...and I still won't be able to use it to do these sorts of things without paying an enormous fee monthly to do so. Unless the telcos realize that they can make more money from more people by dropping data rate plans into a reasonable realm, it's still easier and more cost-effective for me to take an iPod with me.

In all honesty, getting music for free is a good thing - I'm cheap enough to admit that. On the other hand, if I hadn't had the chance to get music for free by trading with friends, swapping songs with my brother, etc., I wouldn't listen to a lot of the music I now like. I was burned way, way too many times by the record industry and radio - how often do they get you interested in a group because of one song, only to have you realize after the fact that the CD you paid $20 for has nothing worth listening to except that one song?

So, yeah, the record industry sucks. Yeah, I'd like to see artists paid for creating good music. Yeah, I like the idea of trying something for free before I buy it. And, yes, a lot of what I try and like I don't end up buying very quickly - either because I have little extra money, or because I can't find it in the stores, or because I just plain can't remember what the hell I was looking for when I do enter a brick-and-mortar record store, and end up leafing through the bins of used CDs trying to find the one or two albums I can remember I liked. This doesn't make me a free music pirating fanatic; I'm not downloading crap 24/7, and I don't keep stuff that I don't like when I do acquire music through alternate means. But I can't count on commercial radio to introduce me to things I will like, I can't count on the RIAA to encourage and promote acts that aren't pre-packaged plastic pop tarts, and I can't even count on internet radio to enlighten me any more thanks to the new goddamn restrictive rules, so aside from downloading and trying things, where the hell else can I get good new music?
posted by caution live frogs at 8:33 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Word. What's wrong with being the neighborhood hero?

Because the more likely outcome is music being reduced to whatever novelty can get 5 seconds on the front page of Digg. Or astroturfing or direct corporate sponsorship deals. Whatever replaces the record labels is going to be even worse for pretty much everyone.
posted by cillit bang at 8:36 AM on June 26, 2007


I personally am rather thankful that the proliferation of individual recording devices is returning us to an era of real musicianship - that is, composing music and playing it live for an audience that is right in front of you...

I'm not sure how that follows. There are entire genres of music that are not possible or practical to perform live. Granted not popular stuff, probably nothing that's going to sell a million copies. But I submit that whole megastar model is one of the major things wrong with the big record labels anyway.

Their business model is basically "fuck off if you're not the next Britney or 50 Cent". 90% of musicians with big-label contracts go bankrupt. Record labels are basically loan sharks for musicians, who then decide what to do with the money the poor suckers loan from them. How could that continue indefinitely?

Maybe in the near future, "stars" will get their 15 minutes of fame via internet meme instead, and will not really be much of a big deal. ::shrug::
posted by Foosnark at 8:40 AM on June 26, 2007


On preview: heh.
posted by Foosnark at 8:41 AM on June 26, 2007


patricio: Decemberists are on Capitol, Shins on Sub pop. Warner Music Group owns 49% of Sub Pop. Those are majors. when I say "indie", I speak not of a style of music, but of representation.

More importantly, I don't know specifically of which people you mean by "the people who are not paying", but for myself the last album I bought was Tom Waits' Orphans discs (label: ANTI), after I "pirated" the mp3s because I wanted the the physical disc, the notes, the sound quality, the full thing. That enthusiasm is the true currency of artists, not the individual products they use to create it. That's what makes people part with a buck. The myopia of not getting that is the true source of the RIAA's woe, not file sharing.
posted by dong_resin at 8:43 AM on June 26, 2007


Well, they did it to themselves.

Here we are, and with each passing second, amateur recording tools get better and more affordable. Internet bandwidth is cheap, and there's an ever better-indexed and all-encompassing blogosphere/music reviewsphere giving attention to all kinds of acts, both big and small.

So, uh, now that production, distribution, and promotion are well within the grasp of those with even little means, is the loss of the majors really a big loss?

Of course, they're still shooting themselves in the foot with their current practices, i.e. getting Congress to keep increasing royalties for Internet radio while pumping millions of dollars through "independent promoters" to the music directors of Clear Channel radio stations so they will play the new overproduced, bland single from some mediocre, focus-grouped "band" whose album has twelve tracks, two of them good, and is selling for $18, of which the band gets a nickel.

These are the assholes who encourage legislation to legalize hacking into the computers of people they suspect are pirating music, make attempted copyright infringement a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and remove your fair use rights to record things from the radio or other broadcast media sources, as though the fucking "Home Taping Is Killing Music" thing never already happened and became a joke. And they line the pockets of enough Congressmen to make it happen (oh word DMCA?), so we have to take it seriously, no matter how batshit their ideas actually are.

Plus they sue fans for unrealistically high amounts of money, try to infest our computers with inept and harmful methods of copy protection, and stifle technological innovation at every turn.

The market is trying to speak! It's saying: "Get fucking lost!"
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 8:50 AM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


dong_resin -- I agree. I'm in the same position as caution live frogs. I'm just not sure that the people referred to above who are trading 500 GB HDs have that enthusiasm for all the tracks... they want to possess as much as possible as cheaply as possible.
posted by patricio at 8:52 AM on June 26, 2007


I look forward to a world where there are not only no more record executives, but no more rock stars. Where kids don't want to be musicians because they dream of making millions of dollars, but because they want to make music. A world where, if you are driven to, you make music on your laptop at home for a nominal cost and then upload it to the internet, and anyone who wants to can hear it. If you aren't that good, or are making music that doesn't really interest people, then you keep doing it as long as you are called to, and maybe a couple of dozen people download your stuff, and you are 'paid' in attention and getting to share doing what you love. It can be a fun hobby for after you get off work at your day job. Maybe you play shows on the weekend in your town or busk. Not a bad life.

If you make music that gets lots of attention and that people love, then you get to live the dream. You get to quit your day job and tour around the country playing live and earn a decent living ($20k to $50k a year) charging people to hear you play and selling merchandise. No more billionaire musicians swimming in golden pools filled with coke and strippers, no more music industry whatsoever, and a better world. Once we finish that, then we can start dismantling the professional sports world. One day people will do fun things for fun and not for money.
posted by ND¢ at 8:53 AM on June 26, 2007 [16 favorites]


I think that entire article can be summed up with the observation that they didn't quote a single musician.
posted by uri at 8:59 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


patricio : ah, I misunderstood what you meant.
posted by dong_resin at 9:02 AM on June 26, 2007


Pssst....hey, record companies. Let me give you an example of how a paid transaction might work these days:

1) Potential customer asks for music recommendations from trusted community web site.

2) Many suggestions are made that include links to artist web sites.

3) One particular artist stands out to the potential consumer. The web site was streaming full-length, high-quality audio of the artist's works.

4) After repeated listens, the potential customer decides the music is worth paying for. The potential customer can purchase MP3s, or for a slightly higher amount, a CD with attractive, desirable packaging that reflects the spirit of the music.

5) Artist receives money from transaction.

Now come on. There must be some place in there where you can slip your grubby little fingers!
posted by Otis at 9:07 AM on June 26, 2007


Although it's wonderful schadenfreude to read of Hilary Rosen's crocodile tears for the mistakes made in 2001-2003 (suing your customers - wtf??), the music industry began shooting itself in the foot long before napster came along. I was involved in a major label project in the mid-nineties and had some discussions with their technical department, and any discussion of the internet or digital distribution was met with stone-faced silence. Remember, long before this, the industry had insisted on crippling DAT, and so on. The media cartels were well aware that digital media was going to make it very hard to maintain their bottleneck, and were determined to hold back the tide as long as they possibly could. The Napster lawsuit wasn't the first mistake, but rather the last moment at which they could have avoided their current fate.

The weird thing is, the solution has been obvious for a long time, and actively lobbied in many ways and places (eg. the music-industry insider mailing list Pho), but pretty much completely ignored. It goes like this:

1. place surcharge on internet access, to be allocated to rights holders.
2. place a compulsory licence on all digital media, so that anyone can download anything as long as they follow the rules
3. use actuarial techniques (eg. random sampling) to determine how to divvy up the pie.

What the hell is wrong with this idea? Everybody wins! Except the completely useless middlemen who add no value to the process....
posted by dinsdale at 9:07 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


All this talk of their failing business model reminded me of something. It's not that the model is failing so much as a lack of vision to develop a new model.

Sears was started in the 1890's as a mail order business to compete against local general stores (think of all those westerns with "General Store" on one of the buildings - they were Sears competition). The guys Sears worked on railroads, and he saw all the middlemen tacking on markup as products moved west in the distribution chain until they go to the stores.

So he started a catalog, the famous Sears catalog in 1893. It was 300 pages, and had everything. Now think about this for a second. In 1893, you had a mail order catalog that sold pretty much everything that was for sale in 1893 - machinery, bikes, toys, dry goods, etc. Does this sound like another business you know?

So every year the catalog comes out, and after a few decades it becomes an American institution. For much of the population, the Sears catalog includes a decent quality, low cost version of every mass market nonperishable consumer product in the United States that wasn't a car (they did sell those at one point very early on. They also sold mobile homes too, up to the 1940's).

You could pick anything from the catalog, mail in your order with a check, and in a few days/weeks you'd get it. If you didn't like it, for any reason, Sears had a "satisfaction guaranteed" policy that you could return it at anytime for a full refund.

Now pay attention, because here's where it gets good.

In 1931, Sears starts an insurance company - Allstate. It buys financial investment firm Dean Witter and real estate broker Coldwell Banker in 1981. In 1984 it starts a joint venture with IBM called Prodigy, an online computer service, sort of a prototype AOL. In 1985, Sears launches a new major credit card, the Discover card. For the next eight years, the only credit card you can use at Sears is Discover.

At this time, the early 80's Sears is the largest retailer in the U.S.

By 1993, the 100th anniversary of the Sears Catalog, Sears had built up considerable goodwill in the mind of consumers. They weren't the lowest price, but they had what you needed at good prices and the service was second to none. They had real estate, insurance, financial planning, and all at good prices with top customer service.

This is 1993. In quite possibly the greatest example of corporate shortsightedness, Sears shut down it's mail-order business in a cost cutting measure. It spins off Allstate that same year, and soon dumps Dean Witter and Coldwell Banker.

In 1993, Sears had the most extensive and sophisticated mail-order retail operation on the planet and they closed it.

Two years later, Amazon.com launched, and was soon selling everything that sears sold through it's catalog. By the late-90's Walmart's push of low-cost China imports killed Sears retailing. Online banking takes off. Credit card use surges as mail order and retail purchases are shifted online.

Sears had its own computer network in 1993. They had access to IBM, they should have understood the power of the internet. All they had to do was shift the catalog online instead of killing it off, promising in store returns and the same Sears satisfaction guaranteed. Discover could have been the credit card of choice for security and protection online. Dean Witter could have been what Schwab, E-Trade and Ameritrade became. Back in the mid-late 90s when many people were hesitant to use credit cards online, Sears could have been a familiar face online.

Sears could have used the Catalog to create searscatalog.com or wishbook.com and owned online retailing, owned amazon's business, owned online brokerage and banking, but they blew their chances to save a few bucks in 1993. They could have made huge profits in the early 2000s real estate boom by leveraging that success with their real estate arm (imagine if Amazon sold houses).

By my estimates, Sears could have spent about $200 million in 1994-1996 to develop and promote retailing and financial services online, and they'd be reaping billions.

Sears could still be a huge American company today, instead of a historical footnote.

The lesson - arrogance and lack of vision. I look forward to the day in a few years when we can look back at the RIAA as a similar case study in lethargy, greed, and arrogance.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:07 AM on June 26, 2007 [602 favorites]


The ideas in this thread overlap the discussion going on here.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:07 AM on June 26, 2007


You know, I often hear people saying "most people are willing to pay a reasonable price for DRM-free music", but I really don't think that is true. Nobody I know has actually purchased a CD since high school (seven years). I think free music has really reached a tipping point and there is no business to be made from recorded music in a few years.

The industry should have been ready for this years ago, and moved into the live music arena or, better yet, using their huge payrolls of studio musicians and engineers and recording spaces start making people actually pay to record albums, instead of throwing it in for free with the hopes of selling albums in the future.

For smaller bands/artists the cost for recording a professional sounding album has just plummeted in the last few years. You can build yourself (or buy) a fanless PC with a 24-bit soundcard with optical and 1/4 jacks for less then 400 dollars. Ridiculous!

Also, in a thread from yesterday, a member pointed out the new domination of MP3 players in black culture. This REALLY will be the final nail in the coffin for the recording industry. Anybody who has worked in a music store (near any kind of urban population) in the last few years knows that black people were the strongest customers and really kept the industry going for a few years past their actual death.
posted by lattiboy at 9:23 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Damn, Pastabagel, that's amazing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:28 AM on June 26, 2007


The industry should have been ready for this years ago, and moved into the live music arena or, better yet, using their huge payrolls of studio musicians and engineers and recording spaces start making people actually pay to record albums, instead of throwing it in for free with the hopes of selling albums in the future.

I can't follow you at all. You think the traditional RIAA model involved giving studio time away? And that they haven't had a hand in the arena-show till?
posted by COBRA! at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2007


If you make music that gets lots of attention and that people love, then you get to live the dream. You get to quit your day job and tour around the country playing live and earn a decent living ($20k to $50k a year)

$20k a year is a decent living? While dealing with the demands of touring? Umm...that certainly isn't my dream. I'd rather work at Arby's and stay at home where I can see my wife and cats.

Touring isn't the panacea that some make it out to be - promoters are overinflating ticket prices just as much as labels have overinflated the price of CDs. It seems as if Pearl Jam's attempt to dethrone Ticketmaster has been entirely forgotten and dismissed.
posted by malocchio at 9:33 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


The recording industry isn't dying because of their business practices (and I'd like to know what sort of "business model" accounts for 80,000 pirated songs on some dipshit's portable hard drive); it's dying because you'd rather get something for free than pay for it.

Exactly. The proof will be whether or not "indie" artists can distribute their music over the web and still make the same miserable living they made with the RIAA. Stealing from the artists will be as easy as stealing from the RIAA and so all the same lame excuses for doing it will continue.
posted by three blind mice at 9:35 AM on June 26, 2007


The ideas in this thread

There are ideas in this thread?

Fish, barrel, etc
posted by cillit bang at 9:38 AM on June 26, 2007


It takes some amount of skill to translate good music into a good recording, and that's what's missing in a lot of indie records.

but not all of them ... and not even in all of the music recorded on someone's desktop ... these skills are just like playing the guitar well or singing well ... they can be learned

There are entire genres of music that are not possible or practical to perform live.

it's been my observation that the great majority of bands are trying to reproduce what they do live on cd, which is one reason music is lacking these days

falling sales aren't the only thing that's killing the major labels ... their costs of production and marketing are ridiculously out of proportion to anything that could make them a profit and they've bribed the radio industry to narrow playlists so much that most of their artists get locked out ... and then much of the broadcast industry concluded that it wasn't worth their time to promote new music when they could get more people to listen with old music

40 years ago, record companies could sign an act, get it recorded and get the record out on the streets within a month or two and the prevalent attitude seemed to be "throw it against the wall and see if it sticks"

they made a shitload of money back then ... and they're still making money from what was recorded then

now the internet and indie companies have taken that role from them while they foolishly tried to get that goose to lay two golden eggs a day instead of one ... for awhile, they did it ... but now the goose is dead

it's incredibly ironic that the same generation that made the record industry in the 60s, when they were kids, is now running it and killing it off in the process
posted by pyramid termite at 9:40 AM on June 26, 2007


Whatever replaces the record labels is going to be even worse for pretty much everyone.

Why? It doesn't have to be? During the early days of rock and roll, there were too many small record labels to count, and the coin of the realm, as far as mainstream success was concerned, was the single--yes, the single! Remember 45s? Artists made their fame and fortunes off of not album sales, but singles sales. If it worked then, why can't it work now?

Why not internet singles?

I think a possibility just as probable as the worst case scenario you're worried about is that, once everyone finally recovers from their astonishment over the collapse of the old guard, a new, much more grass roots system could eventually emerge, and in that system, the artists themselves and the many small record labels that serve them will be the drivers of the industry.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:43 AM on June 26, 2007


You think the traditional RIAA model involved giving studio time away?

sure ... band x records album for 100,000 bucks at record company's expense ... record company takes band x's royalties until the 100,000 bucks is paid back ... the only problem being that the album only sells 5,000 copies and they don't get their money back

and 100,000 bucks is cheap ... but not cheap enough
posted by pyramid termite at 9:44 AM on June 26, 2007


It's always amusing to hear someone muse about what they think is a "fair" price for a song. Anyone that actively seeks out a way to get free music is a thief, if that music can be otherwise downloaded for a reasonable price. iTunes gives a consumer decent quality, a decent catalog, and convenience. I have no problem with college kids downloading on P2P networks,, right up to the point where they pretend it's an act of rebellion on a par with protesting for expanded civil rights. Anyone over 25 with a day job that steals music they can just as easily pay a buck for is a sad sack of shit, the assholery of the RIAA notwithstanding.
posted by docpops at 9:44 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


sure ... band x records album for 100,000 bucks at record company's expense ... record company takes band x's royalties until the 100,000 bucks is paid back ... the only problem being that the album only sells 5,000 copies and they don't get their money back

and 100,000 bucks is cheap ... but not cheap enough


Right. Which is to say that fucking the bands through expensive studio time was a cornerstone of the business model.
posted by COBRA! at 9:47 AM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


docpops

pretty much sums up my attitude. Screw the RIAA, I hope they die a miserable death. But iTunes basically gives you everything you need in a nice legal format, though you can debate that 99 cents is too expensive etc, it's still only a buck for a song and usually around 10 for an album.
posted by slapshot57 at 9:50 AM on June 26, 2007


@ COBRA!

I should have clarified the way pyramid termite did. For instance, I think Korn's last (shitty) album cost FOUR MILLION dollars to record (this included all types of overwhelming rockstar related bullshit, of course) I'm not even sure if that album went much over platinum. They do give it away in the sense that ONLY successful bands (which make up less then %10 of most labels rosters) actually end up paying for the recording sessions.

As for the live-music involvement, record companies have let third-parties given away much of the power in the touring industries to third parties and festival organizers in hopes of artists appearances spurring they're dead ass record sales. It was an act of sheer laziness and lack of vision (Why shouldn't the RIAA be getting all of that sweet sweet TicketMaster cash?).
posted by lattiboy at 9:53 AM on June 26, 2007


... Yes, there's something charming about a recording made for $500 in somebody's basement, or even $5,000 in the studio down the block, but it doesn't necessarily do the music justice or make me want to hear more of it....


Then you are the exception. A musician with a good ear and basic computing skills can make quite a good album with a decent computer, some investment in good mikes and speakers, and good recording software like ProTools. It is not at all the same as it was 10 or even 5 years ago. It is not at all like "recording in a garage" with just a few tracks and crappy mikes.

Having heard what the local music people in my area (and I'm married to one of them) can do this way, to my non-audiophile ears, it's as good as anything I get from a major. I think most audiences are going to feel the same way.

And many musicians do hire techs themselves, if not for recording then for help in mixing, or in mastering the final mixes. They may also hire local backup musicians, local film school grads to make a Youtube video, local photographers and/or artists to make album/Web site art, hire independent CD printers, and play local gigs, thus contributing to the local artistic economy in ways the majors do not.

There was a tremendous amount of bloat and waste in the way music was done under the majors, but the talented people were there because they had nowhere else to go. As the majors rush to irrelevance, the talented will find other ways to produce good music.
posted by emjaybee at 9:54 AM on June 26, 2007


Which is to say that fucking the bands through expensive studio time was a cornerstone of the business model.

yes, but it only works if the record company can sell enough cds of their hit acts to make up for the many acts that they're losing money on

and that's what's happened ... they stopped selling enough cds to make up for it and haven't adjusted to the new terms of the business

meanwhile most studio owners are fine ... and even if they take a hit from all this, their bread and butter is commercial accounts
posted by pyramid termite at 9:55 AM on June 26, 2007


Dinosaurs are extinct? News to me.
posted by phaedon at 9:58 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


If the record labels could get away with paying artist nothing they would, hell they have in the past. So, when execs talk about music having no economic value, what they are talking about, in reality, is people not wanting to pay high fees for reproductions of music. Especially of lame ass music. So all the crying is over major record labels having such a hard time. Boo fucking hoo. I can recite off a dozen small labels that are doing ok, a third of those are local. Overall, music distribution and recording in the past decade has expanded significantly, even if you don't count MP3s. There's more of it around, and if it where simply emotional value it's hard to understand why everyone and their dog has a guitar and is belting it out.
posted by edgeways at 9:58 AM on June 26, 2007


the last album I bought was Tom Waits' Orphans discs (label: ANTI), after I "pirated" the mp3s because I wanted the the physical disc, the notes, the sound quality, the full thing.

Same for me-- for music that I really like, I need to have the physical disc and its packaging. But then, I'm an over-30 oldster.
posted by deanc at 10:05 AM on June 26, 2007


dw: slightly as an aside, the people who are not paying are not paying for indie music like the Shins and Decemberists rather than not paying for Norah blah Jones. Simply being on an indie label doesn't make you immune to being downloaded, and will likely give you the fanbase who have the ability to do it, rather than the MOR crap.

Well, that's really not the point. The point was that this is where I am, and I think there are others like me.

I know that the Shins and Decemberists get downloaded off BitTorrent just like My Chemical Fallout Boy or whatever they're called. Heck, Arcade Fire's last album was on BT months before it came out. But the point for me is that I'm not buying the records the industry spends millions on developing. Yeah, I bought the last Decemberists album on Capitol, but do you think Capitol sunk the sort of capital (no pun intended) into that album that Warner sunk into the last Linkin Park album? Or the money UMG sunk into the latest Maroon 5?

The point is, I'm not buying what they're investing in. A lot of people aren't. Many are stealing music via filesharing systems. But many others just stopped buying altogether because the record companies stopped making stuff they liked.
posted by dw at 10:06 AM on June 26, 2007


Remember 45s? Artists made their fame and fortunes off of not album sales, but singles sales. If it worked then, why can't it work now?

This was a great model because you could walk into a record store, hand over a few dollars, and walk out with a lot of 45s, giving you a wide range of music to listen to and sample. It was much better than handing over your entire music budget for the week on just 1 or 2 full-length albums. A now-close record store in Boston used to stock a lot of new 45s, and I took great advantage of it.
posted by deanc at 10:13 AM on June 26, 2007


Maybe music will eventually just become like commercials for other products. Something that is given away free, in hopes that people will attend a live show where they will make some money.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2007


I'm just not sure that the people referred to above who are trading 500 GB HDs have that enthusiasm for all the tracks

I could fill up 500 GB of HD with high rate MP3s or FLACs and be very, very enthusiastic about every track on there. Very enthusiastic. My 3 ancient 80 GB drives are strained to their limits. I actually wake up in cold sweats wondering if my drives just failed, even though I keep a partial backup.

You mean I can have the entire FAX catalog? Tresor? Planet E?

And none of it would be from RIAA member labels. I don't even want that corporate shit for free. My time is more valuable then the time it would take to download that unredeemable crap. The internet didn't kill the RIAA, the RIAA's total lack of taste killed the RIAA.

... they want to possess as much as possible as cheaply as possible.

Then there's tracking down artists you've downloaded and sending them money directly. Which I've done.

Then there's the fact there's thousands and thousands of tracks on my HD you couldn't buy anywhere, at any price.

Some of it is available only via filesharing, be it direct download, P2P or sneakernet. It is born, released, made, and enjoyed on the internet. It never sees a CD mill or vinyl press.

This, more than anything, should be giving the record execs nightmares - music creation, production and distribution entirely outside of their control. And as people (youth, in particular) look for fresher, newer, more original sounds - these DIY indie sounds are going to be the only game in town. Counter-intuitively the model will change from outright distribution control to access control, where less is more, and artificial scarcity makes it even cooler.

This is already happening, now, and has been happening for a few years. I have a few hundred to about a thousand tracks, some techno, some chiptunes, some random errata which are not easy to find - and as a DJ, I don't talk about where I got them, nor do I share them. They're mine. It took years to collect them, and I enjoy having something unique and unusual to offer when I DJ. Sharing them would be a bad tactical move which would make this not so.


Conversely, some of it is terribly out of print and/or rare. Try buying old Coil, Nurse With Wound or Halfer Trio. On vinyl? What, did you just win the lottery? Try collecting the entire World Serpent catalog, or Wax Trax, or SST, or early Sub-Pop.

Unless you're made out of nothing but obsession, money and time, you probably can't collect all that.


Also, what ND¢ said. When you're truly having fun your heart is pure - be it in darkness or lightness, a pure heart pours out pure art.

Something we'll never have enough of in this world, I'm afraid. Which is fine. Never feel guilty about making more.
posted by loquacious at 10:18 AM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


How can the band down the street get that kind of exposure from "web downloads and digital flyers?" THey can't.

Erm, anything above an 8.0 on Pitchfork seems to work pretty well to drive sales/raise profiles....
posted by jokeefe at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2007


Sears could still be a huge American company today, instead of a historical footnote.

The lesson - arrogance and lack of vision.


My grandfather was a salesman for Sears in small-town Oklahoma. He sold all sorts of things door-to-door -- chain-link fence, vacuums, domestics.

I should note that by small town I mean about 15,000 people, maybe another 10,000 in a 20-mile radius. The Sears catalog store was the only place you could see the big-ticket items they could ship to you without having to drive to the big Sears stores in Tulsa or Oklahoma City.

He never made much money. Eventually, my grandmother went to work for the power company to keep food on the table. But Sears was a huge part of my life growing up because of the employee discount. Back then, it was 20% off; they've since cut it down to 10%. Christmas in my youth meant getting the Wish Book from Grandma and circling what we wanted. Most of our toys came from Sears. So did our clothes.

Last Christmas Grandma took my wife and me to the new Sears to buy clothes for our toddler daughter, thanks to Grandma's still extant employee discount. And I thought, you know, this is just another department store now. There's nothing to distinguish it from Target anymore, other than the lawn tractors and appliances. And as I thought about, I realized all the things that were missing. Mail-order. Layaway (or, how my mother and her brothers got their Christmas presents one payment at a time). Knowledgeable sales people. Everything under one roof.

But all of that is still around (except layaway), you know? It's just scattered between Amazon and so many other places online.

And I think that's what makes your comment so true. Sears was Amazon. They were feared by the brick-and-mortars because they had selection and the ability to get it to you plus shipping and handling. The one difference is that Sears eventually stuck stores on their distribution system, and then that distribution system hardened until they were unable to see anything but that distribution system.
posted by dw at 10:24 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's funny that this post appeared the day after this bit of research from Keele University in the UK. Daily Mail (ha!) write-up:
The middle classes are showing an unprecedented contempt for the law, with two thirds admitting to offences such as tax evasion or hiking up insurance claims, a survey suggests. The middle classes justify their behaviour by treating it as a "revolt" against apparent injustice. For example, insurance claims are inflated as a reaction against "smallprint rules or over-priced premiums".
posted by athenian at 10:25 AM on June 26, 2007


There are students at ASU as well as every other university, that are passing around 500GB drives filled with CD quality music. In the time it takes to go to a store to buy an album they can copy 80,000 songs.

This is not going to go away unless technological progress comes to a screaming halt. I don't know exactly how long it will take, but sometime in our lifetime it will be trivial to store a copy of every song ever recorded. And equally trivial to give a copy to anyone you know. All it takes is a few dedicated folks to keep tracking down and accumulating it all. See MAME roms for an example.

And anyone who can't see that this is a beautiful, wonderful thing must hate libraries. Must hate the internet. The brief economic shake-up of the music industry that we'll have to suffer through is nothing compared to how rich everyone will be for having all that music available. And don't tell me that there won't be lots of money to be made in hardware and software and cataloging and recommending and generally helping people best enjoy all that music.
posted by straight at 10:33 AM on June 26, 2007 [4 favorites]


Reading about the decline of the music industry in Rolling Stone is like watching an episode of Dateline about the sad state of television.
posted by hypocritical ross at 10:33 AM on June 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


The point is, I'm not buying what they're investing in. A lot of people aren't. Many are stealing music via filesharing systems. But many others just stopped buying altogether because the record companies stopped making stuff they liked.

But I think part of the problem is that because record companies do track what people are downloading in P2P programs, if people are still downloading mainstream music from big music labels, the record companies are going to continue to think that the product they put out is still desirable, but they just need some way to make people pay for it, hence the draconian DRM measures.

If instead, people were just boycotting mainstream music altogether and refusing to even download big label music from P2P programs, wouldn't that send a stronger message to the record labels that the problem isn't that there isn't enough DRM, but that the music they're putting out isn't desirable?
posted by gyc at 10:33 AM on June 26, 2007


I could fill up 500 GB of HD with high rate MP3s or FLACs and be very, very enthusiastic about every track on there. Very enthusiastic


OK, so lets just say you're talking FLAC albums. They are usually about 250 - 325MB , correct? OK, so that breaks down to about 1800 albums. That's (roughly) 18,000 songs. You are VERY enthusiastic about EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SONGS?!?!?!?
posted by lattiboy at 10:35 AM on June 26, 2007


lattiboy writes "Nobody I know has actually purchased a CD since high school (seven years)."

Hi, nice to meet you. I purchased all of my CDs since high school (15 years), including Bob Dylan's newest CD, which I picked up a month or two ago, and the couple of Thievery Corp. discs I snagged last month (all three used, of course).

deanc writes "for music that I really like, I need to have the physical disc and its packaging. But then, I'm an over-30 oldster."

Both apply to me as well. Ha. Which is why the iTunes model isn't my main preference; I like having a hard copy of the music I own. Sure, these days I am just immediately ripping the CDs and then putting them in storage after poking through the album art - I typically just plug my iPod into the stereo - but I like them. A box of CDs in the basement isn't going to crash on me. I don't have to worry about database corruption, or having my entire music library become an obsolete file type, or stop working when I get a newer computer, portable device, operating system or whatever.

I also don't have any kind of DRM on the CDs (so far as I know). I can re-rip them if I have to, I can copy them to keep a disc in the car (until I get a line in jack for my car stereo, anyway), I can do pretty much whatever I want - including re-sell them to a used music store - because I physically own them. And, much like the records I "liberated" from my parents, I hope that at some point the physical media might have some sort of sentimental value for my own future kid some day - a snapshot of who I was at that age.

slapshot57 writes "iTunes basically gives you everything you need in a nice legal format"

Legal, except for the "if my library is corrupted I have to buy it again" thing. And the "I don't really own it, because the majority of it has DRM that restricts my use and enjoyment of the music". Plus all the other reasons above I prefer a physical storage medium. I see a distinct difference between having music to listen to and owning music. As I said above, I'll try stuff for free, but if it gets into a heavy rotation on my iPod I typically buy it. Eventually.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I often hear people saying "most people are willing to pay a reasonable price for DRM-free music", but I really don't think that is true.

I pay unreasonable prices for DRM-free tracks from Beatport. Cut that price in half and I'd buy more than twice as much, I imagine.

The DRM-free tracks on iTunes are selling better than the DRMed versions even at a higher price:

She confirmed that sales of the legendary Pink Floyd album, Dark Side of the Moon had increased since it shipped DRM-free - these are up 350 per cent.
posted by kableh at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2007


pracowity writes "people now feel comfortable about filching anything electronic -- if the original isn't damaged, it is assumed that no harm is done."

People know at a gut level that they are being royally screwed by IP law. The original copyright enacted in the US for 14&28 years was a fair trade; limited protection in exchange for incentive to contribute to the the public domain. The current law that doesn't see stuff enter the public domain for 5 or 6 generations is obviously unfair and people know it. In effect the harm caused by copying is much less than the harm perpetuated in the name of the rights holders.

dinsdale writes "The weird thing is, the solution has been obvious for a long time, and actively lobbied in many ways and places (eg. the music-industry insider mailing list Pho), but pretty much completely ignored. It goes like this:

"1. place surcharge on internet access, to be allocated to rights holders.
"2. place a compulsory licence on all digital media, so that anyone can download anything as long as they follow the rules
"3. use actuarial techniques (eg. random sampling) to determine how to divvy up the pie.

"What the hell is wrong with this idea? "


Why the SMEG should I have to kick money to the RIAA and their ilk when I'm reading Metafilter or uploading content to my website? As it is it pisses me off to no end that every time I burn a CD for a client the music industry gets paid.
posted by Mitheral at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


But many others just stopped buying altogether because the record companies stopped making stuff they liked.

If you have an oink account, you can see that it's full to the brim with serious-ass indie music. People are downloading music they like period, irrespective of whether it's from a big name artist backed by a label, or some dude in his basement. It's disingenuous to argue that people aren't buying music because the big labels churn out crap. This may be true, but many people don't buy music because they can get it for free now.
posted by chunking express at 10:38 AM on June 26, 2007


Damn, Pastabagel, that was a totally awesome story. I am not 100% sure that it applies here entirely (the music business has other problems too I think), but it is a damn good analysis of Amazon/Sears. But could the music business really rescue their butts by going on-line? I don't think so, because the internet doesn't only break distribution, it horribly breaks promotion; the internet is a lot less controlled place then radio and record stores. And if you break promotion, the business -- as it is today -- breaks.

Another interesting concept is the Customer as Competitor which, with respect to music distribution anyway, seems to apply.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:38 AM on June 26, 2007


"But Mr_Zero, what the hell would you do with 80,000 songs? I've got maybe 3 or 4 thousand songs in my fairly small record collection, and that's far more than I can appreciate or effectively use."

Only 2-500 records (depending on how much you like 35-song skate punk albums versus four-song jazz albums)? I gave away more than that when I moved!
posted by klangklangston at 10:39 AM on June 26, 2007


dw: ...[T]eenagers always seem to have money for music/electronics/weed. But they're not buying those CDs; they're downloading them.

A friend of mine, fairly major recording artist, believes that kids nowadays aren't spending money on music because they're spending it on the latest & greatest cellphones. And, really, you can't download a cellphone, so if you had $100 to spend on some teenage status-juice, what would you spend it on?

The way I see it, record companies provide(d) value in 3 main areas:
1. Distribution -- While this used to be either physical media or radio, they basically controlled the distribution from end to end. With digital media and the internet, distribution is now trivial. No value added here anymore. (They've tried to regain control using encryption, but now we're talking value subtracted, which customers won't accept, in the long run.)
2. Financial lending -- They front bands the money to record an album or video. The bands still have to pay the money back, whether or not the album is successful, although I imagine it's a fairly high-risk loan, many of which go unpaid. There's still probably some value here, as traditional lending institutions lack the experience to determine a good loan from a bad bet. The flip side is that a $5,000 digital studio today will do more than a $100,000 analog studio could 20 years ago, so it's less costly to make an album than it was before -- hence, less need for a loan. (And you can easily make a crappy album for <$500 -- we'll be seeing LOTS of these.)
3. Marketing -- THIS is where I believe record companies can still add something, as most bands lack the savvy to get their names out there and promoted to the masses.

The ponzai scheme is broken and unnecessary, and it'll be interesting to see how this change affects the music landscape. I predict fewer mega-star bands, but more bands getting general exposure. Suits me fine, as if I have a say in the matter -- I've played in bands half my life, and I'm happy just to have an audience. I can't imagine trying to make a living at it.
posted by LordSludge at 10:40 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The recording industry isn't dying because of their business practices (and I'd like to know what sort of "business model" accounts for 80,000 pirated songs on some dipshit's portable hard drive); it's dying because you'd rather get something for free than pay for it. Simple as fucking that. So fuck you and your fucking moral-high-ground reasoning.

No, dude, fuck you. The industry played a bait-and-switch short con, and now it's paying dearly for it, and so more than anything fuck them.

The con? CDs. Cheaper - significantly cheaper - to manufacture than cassettes and vinyl, but shiny and new, so they premium-priced 'em. I seem to recall, in the early '80s in Canada, that they went for like $13-16 when cassettes were around $7-10. Industry got even fatter than it already was, filled up with yet more useless self-important middle men, decided to treat the windfall from its short-term con like the new status quo. And then clung to its cushy existence with the tenacity of a zebra-mussel colony when the other shoe dropped.

This remains the problem even with slick apps like iTunes. Even as the window's closing on their opportunity to convince an entire generation that recorded music should be bought (which, to be fair, ringtones alone are probably making a bit of the case for), they're still charging the overinflated CD-bubble rate. $0.99 per song is at least ten bucks an album, and more like $14-16 on average. That's CD pricing, despite the manufacturing, packaging and distribution costs being, what, 99% less than the average CD? And failing to differentiate between new releases and back catalogue and the rest in your pricing? That's a feat of plug-dumb arrogance not even Tower Records would've attempted.)

Finally, the weeping over musicians losing their livelihoods? Well, join the fucking club. Mediocre writers and painters - even extremely talented ones - often barely scrape by in pursuit of their art. Why should some middlingly talented bunch of 23-year-olds who got into it because it beat working expect to make grown-up wages right out of the gate? You want to be artists? Work for it. Sweat, suffer, prove your worth. Or at least become showmen of a quality that'll make people want to fling their panties at you as well as their wallets. And if you're ignorant enough to think major-label executives have ever given more than half a squirt about "the music" - let alone its creators - then P.T. Barnum's got a few words for you, jack.
posted by gompa at 10:41 AM on June 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


caution live frogs writes: Hi, nice to meet you. I purchased all of my CDs since high school (15 years), including Bob Dylan's newest CD, which I picked up a month or two ago, and the couple of Thievery Corp. discs I snagged last month (all three used, of course).


Okay, so you've totally screwed the artist then? Used sales are much more repugnant then digital copies. You are basically supporting a pawn-shop that happens to sell only records. Good job!
posted by lattiboy at 10:48 AM on June 26, 2007


I've always felt that most people don't think downloading music is wrong because of radio. If I can listen to this same song for free on the radio, why should I have to pay to download my own copy? For the same reason, most of the people I know have no guilt about downloading tv shows. They're broadcasting it for free, after all.

Why don't they just embrace this? Ad a 5 second Pepsi add to the front of the song, and make it a free, easy to find download. Suddenly you want people to download your song. Same thing with tv shows...why don't the networks make them available for download the day after they air? You already have the gaps for commercial breaks, just fill them in.

Would anyone bother to hunt down an edited copy of the file with the ad stripped out? Especially if the legal alternative was freely available from an iTunes style site with a complete back catalog and easy searching.
posted by Eddie Mars at 10:48 AM on June 26, 2007


"You are VERY enthusiastic about EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SONGS?!?!?!?"

That's certainly not unrealistic. Why would you think it is?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2007


A musician with a good ear and basic computing skills can make quite a good album with a decent computer, some investment in good mikes and speakers, and good recording software like ProTools

Fidelity-wise, I can't argue with you. Any 12-year-old with $500 worth of mics and a PC can make a record that sounds great. But that doesn't make it a great record. George Martin would still have been the fifth Beatle even if Paul and John had had a ProTools rig.

I do appreciate the point about homegrown talent, though. I just think it's very difficult to become good at such a thing without the trial-and-error of commercial success or failure.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2007


ND¢, I honestly can't tell if you're being serious or not.
posted by statolith at 11:01 AM on June 26, 2007


me: "You are VERY enthusiastic about EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SONGS?!?!?!?"

mr_crash_davis: That's certainly not unrealistic. Why would you think it is?



Because it is totally unreasonable. You (or me or any human being not utterly surrounded by music for every waking hour from birth until death) would have a real hard time naming even 1,000 really good songs. Now try to come up with 17,000 more. Don't get me wrong, I have a sixty gig Toshiba Gigabeat filled with 40 gigs of music, but I'd be lying if I said I dug every track on there, or even most of them.

I listen to tons of music and go see a lot of concerts, but I sincerely believe many people (not necessarily anybody on here) couldn't possibly enjoy the amount of music claimed.
posted by lattiboy at 11:02 AM on June 26, 2007


By my estimates, Sears could have spent about $200 million in 1994-1996 to develop and promote retailing and financial services online, and they'd be reaping billions.

except that it wouldn't have worked for retail

In 1995, we found only 9% of adults were online. This increased rapidly to 19% in 1996, 30% in 1997

need i point out that many of these users were using 14.4 or 28.8 modems on phone lines that weren't all that reliable and were subject to hourly charges?

The most common connection speed is 28.8 Kb/sec (39.0%) followed by 14.4 Kb/sec (25.5%). This is the reverse of the fourth survey, where 14.4 Kb/sec connections were the most common.

further down, the page mentions that java had just been invented by sun

also, the mail order business was losing money ... remember that wal-mart had started to encroach on their rural markets with their stores and they were losing mid and high end customers to other chains ... also remember that their rural markets wouldn't have had online service that wasn't long distance for a few years yet

in 1996, what would have been more likely for you to do? ... get online with a 28.8 modem, navigate a large and browser crashing web site, (i was online in '97, and java sites did this constantly), order bath towels or silverware unseen online and wait some time for delivery? ... or drive down to a local retailer and just buy them?

i'd have just driven back then ... in fact, meijer's, wal-mart, target, sears, k-mart and several other stores are within 5 miles of where i live ... i'd STILL drive down there to buy bath towels

it wasn't time yet ... and now that it is time, they have their online store ... and they're still plodding along while their competitors do better
posted by pyramid termite at 11:03 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


ND¢, I honestly can't tell if you're being serious or not.
posted by statolith at 2:01 PM on June 26

I am 100% serious. I don't think that any creation of art or entertainment should pay more than being a public school teacher. We are not going to run out of great music just because you don't get to be a millionaire by making it. There are plenty of people who want to make music just because they have it inside them and it has to come out, or because they want attention, or because it helps them get laid, or because it is just a natural part of human nature to want to make noise. The guy above who said that if a touring musician has to live on 20k a year then he would rather stay home with his cats had it exactly right. The people that should be professional musicians are the people that would be a touring musician for free. The people who would prefer to stay home with their cats should.
posted by ND¢ at 11:17 AM on June 26, 2007


I think the point, pyramid termite, is that they could have been in the position to lead the revolution instead of being trampled by it. They lacked the vision of what mail-order could become, instead focusing on what was in front of them. In some way though, this is an unfair criticism; it is extraordinarily rare for the dominate player to see a big shift coming and to embrace it.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:17 AM on June 26, 2007


If any music execs are reading this - the only thing that will save the music industry will be a shift back to vinyl. Quality re-issues of your stuff on a quality object you can't download. Otherwise, fuck it.
posted by Peter H at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2007


The industry made plenty of mistakes, but it's far from over.

As the article suggests, the key move the record industry will make is expanding the scope of its contracts dramatically.

Major label recording artists will become like wrestlers are to the WWE. The label will not only own the masters, but it will own the name of the band, the stage name of the performer (if applicable), and will be entitled not only to the profit (net of royalty) on the recordings and to its split of the publishing, but also (by way of management contracts) to heavy splits of touring, image and logo licensing, and the artist's other entertainment income -- especially acting salaries. (In hip-hop, movies and TV acting have been shown to be the only truly lucrative end-game of a recording career.)

Legalization of P2P with some kind of compulsory licensing regime, charged at the bandwidth provider level (mentioned in the article and in postings above) is conceptually the soundest route, but it is unlikely to happen, simply because it pits the record industry against a much more powerful lobby (the telephone and cable companies).
posted by MattD at 11:22 AM on June 26, 2007


I think the point, pyramid termite, is that they could have been in the position to lead the revolution instead of being trampled by it.

no, the real point was that the revolution was in how books, cds and similar items were sold ... bath towels, silverware, lawn mowers, etc etc haven't seen a revolution in how they're sold ... people, for the most part, are still buying them in the stores

the riaa DID miss the revolution, big time
posted by pyramid termite at 11:23 AM on June 26, 2007


"You are VERY enthusiastic about EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SONGS?!?!?!?"...
Because it is totally unreasonable.


I would be very enthusiastic to own, say, the complete works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Shostakovich, Dvorak, Scarlatti, Schubert, Debussy, and Faure. (am I up to 18,000 tracks yet?) Even though I've only heard a fraction of this music already. I've heard enough to know that it would be wonderful to explore all that music whenever I had the time and inclination.
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on June 26, 2007


I find it pretty funny that the same youthful revolutionary spirit that gave rock music such wealth in the 60s is now just as emboldened to change rock music into a free culture. Youth gives and takes away. It's new youth against old youth, is all. And it's still about the music, just not for the business.
posted by Peter H at 11:26 AM on June 26, 2007


I would be very enthusiastic to own, say, the complete works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Shostakovich, Dvorak, Scarlatti, Schubert, Debussy, and Faure.

Lucky you, m'boy! Public Domain!
posted by Peter H at 11:28 AM on June 26, 2007


I am 100% serious. I don't think that any creation of art or entertainment should pay more than being a public school teacher.

In Soviet America, music listens to you!
posted by uncleozzy at 11:32 AM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ha.
posted by Peter H at 11:38 AM on June 26, 2007


uncleozzy: hnggh?

what? you think the world is really better off with more kid rocks than mr. kotters?

personally, the wholesale embrace of "free music" is not my best case scenario. actually, it would be a nightmare. but i'm not too worried about it because it just won't fly in the long run anyway.

let the market work, is all i'm saying. and put as little dead-weight between the producers and the consumers of the goods as possible. that's the possible future i want to see.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on June 26, 2007


Yeah you are either with Fergie Ferg riding her diamond-plated jet ski or you are with the terrorists communists.
posted by ND¢ at 11:43 AM on June 26, 2007


If any music execs are reading this - the only thing that will save the music industry will be a shift back to vinyl. Quality re-issues of your stuff on a quality object you can't download. Otherwise, fuck it.

There seems to be a shift towards this somewhat already. Plus, certain artists' music like A Silver Mt. Zion or Explosions in the Sky work quite nicely on vinyl.
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:44 AM on June 26, 2007


except that it wouldn't have worked for retail

And yet somehow it worked for amazon.com, and all the other online retailing pioneers?

Here's a little business story about IBM. When Lou Gerstner took over as CEO in April 1993 the Wall Street speculation was that IBM was going out of business. Microsoft destroyed them in software, Dell destroyed the PC business, Sun and HP were pushing workstations as the end of the big iron mainframe (which has failed, by the way).

At IBM, which historically promoted from within their sales force, Gerstner was seen as an outsider, a tobacco exec who knew nothing about high tech and whose job was to shepherd the company into the sunset.

One of Gerstners first acts as CEO was to gather the top VP's of every IBM division in a room, and ask them to write down in one sentence what IBM's business was. The result? No two VP's gave the same answer. No vision, no understanding of the company's business from people who had been in the company and the business their entire careers.

Sears's business in 1893 and 1993 was selling goods to consumers. Not selling them in stores, or out of a catalog, just selling good quality products at reasonable prices with exceptional customer service. They lost their focus, however, and thought that their business was the retail stores.

My point is that by focusing on their business, they could have spent the money on development, on a site that would work in 1995 or 96, a very doable proposition (they did have prodigy after all), as others were doing it, and on promotion. Would they have lost money at the outset? Sure. How many billions have they lost by not doing this? Hell, Barnes and Noble did it, and they were just a goofy bookstore.

The point is that they didn't try and fail, they killed the catalog in '93, just when things were becoming interesting. They didn't see the revolutionary change of the internet. All they had to do was keep the catalog alive for another two years, and somebody at the company would probably have figured it out. But with the catalog two years gone by 1995, there was no one at the company in the position to think about anything other than bricks and mortar retail, and no division of the company capable of leveraging any of those new ideas.

order bath towels or silverware unseen online and wait some time for delivery

This is how Sears started back in 1894. People buying things sight unseen via mail order based only on a text description or at most a crude black and white drawing. Sears had 100 years of customer data, 100 years of institutional knowledge about what people will buy and how, and based on what expectations. That is value. The stupid concrete building is has no value.

The record industry is the same in this regard. They have decades of understanding about how to sell and promote music, how to spot new trends and keep up with fickle youth tastes.

And now they are killing themselves. Instead of focusing on what they really do, understanding listener's tastes, seeking out music to meet those tastes and bringing the music to those listeners, they think their business is pressing CD's and shipping them in plastic cases to record stores. They think their business is downloading a digital copy to a hard drive. The are so focused on shipping you the music as a thing, instead of enabling you to listen to it.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:46 AM on June 26, 2007 [17 favorites]


what? you think the world is really better off with more kid rocks than mr. kotters?

Yes, that's exactly what I meant. Gabe Kaplan is a lousy poker player.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:59 AM on June 26, 2007


Music doesn't have real value if it doesn't have economic value?? Fuck that guy and everyone who thinks like him.

Actually it was a woman. Our good friend Hillary Rosen.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 PM on June 26, 2007


Major label recording artists will become like wrestlers are to the WWE. The label will not only own the masters, but it will own the name of the band, the stage name of the performer (if applicable), and will be entitled not only to the profit (net of royalty) on the recordings and to its split of the publishing, but also (by way of management contracts) to heavy splits of touring, image and logo licensing, and the artist's other entertainment income -- especially acting salaries.

Well they may want to do that, but why would any performer sign up for something like that? If you ask me, the future is automatic music discovery, sites like last.fm and pandora, will match music from millions of musicians to hundreds of millions of listeners, and all for almost no cost. The agragators would only need to take a slim fraction of the cost of the music. There is simply no need for elaborate systems of middle men or 'mega hits', and artists are not idiots. Most artists won't get super-wealthy but much more of the money will go to them then to sundry parasites of the music biz.
posted by delmoi at 12:14 PM on June 26, 2007


The guy above who said that if a touring musician has to live on 20k a year then he would rather stay home with his cats had it exactly right. The people that should be professional musicians are the people that would be a touring musician for free. The people who would prefer to stay home with their cats should.

Which is exactly the opposite of my point. This is an attitude that has surfaced in recent years, that those of us that make music should be doing it solely for our love of art.

I have a reasonably well-paying day job. In my spare time, I compose and record music, exactly for the reasons you describe - I am compelled to do so. So far, my efforts have been well received, but I'm afraid my niche is rather small, so I don't expect a great deal of commercial success. If I can some day quit my day job and make my living off my fledgling label, I'll be ecstatic (not that the likelihood of this ever happening is great).

But I'm not quitting my job in order to live out of a van 40 weeks out of the year, no matter how much you think I should suffer for my art. Making a living from art is certainly no less ethical than making a living from medicine, or food, or any number of things that people actually need. I'm no fan of the big labels myself, but I'm not particularly thrilled with people that want to see musicians living as paupers, either.
posted by malocchio at 12:19 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"OK, so lets just say you're talking FLAC albums. They are usually about 250 - 325MB , correct? OK, so that breaks down to about 1800 albums. That's (roughly) 18,000 songs. You are VERY enthusiastic about EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SONGS?!?!?!?"


Just a little anecdotal evidence:

I just got properties on the 300gb portable HD I keep on my desk at work, and it only holds maybe a fifth of my total collection, the core stuff I want access to on a regular basis, and it clocks in at 43,098 files, in 3,535 folders...
posted by stenseng at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2007


"These guys thought they could take on Congress and popular opinion, and maximize profits by suing their own goddamned customers. I don't think I could come up with a more idiotic strategy if I sat down and put some serious thought into how I could send my customer base fleeing madly into the night."

About five years ago, I had an internship that involved a lot of seminars from music business executives. One, an IP lawyer, kept trying to explain how the RIAA lawsuits, which were just starting to be announced, would scare people off of file sharing.

I got into it a bit with him, and the exchange ended with him repeating that the download services would all become legit or perish, and me repeating "Good luck with that."

"Didn't the record industry decline start in the 70s? The whole idea behind CDs was to jumpstart the cash cow by forcing people to upgrade their vinyl collection."

Actually, yeah. That was during the whole "Home taping is killing music" thing.

"Anyone over 25 with a day job that steals music they can just as easily pay a buck for is a sad sack of shit, the assholery of the RIAA notwithstanding."

Excuse my rolling eyes, pops. You can't "just as easily" pay a buck for the music you steal. Even most iTunes tracks have retarded-ass DRM, and they don't have the vast, vast, vast majority of music that I'm interested in.
Lately, I've actually bought way more vinyl than anything else, because it's $4 for a great Bowie album that I always kinda wanted.

"I should have clarified the way pyramid termite did. For instance, I think Korn's last (shitty) album cost FOUR MILLION dollars to record (this included all types of overwhelming rockstar related bullshit, of course) I'm not even sure if that album went much over platinum. They do give it away in the sense that ONLY successful bands (which make up less then %10 of most labels rosters) actually end up paying for the recording sessions."

No, they trade it for the master tapes. If that Korn album becomes a touchstone to some future, their label owns the whole damn thing (unless Korn has smarter lawyers than I suspect). That's a big reason why so many people object to the majors' business plan— if it were just an investment or a loan, the band would end up owning the fruits of their labor. Instead, it's a situation where the band walks away with comparitively little. And we're not even talking about the insane structure of recoupable costs, like the "new technology" fee that gets deducted from CDs, because the industry still pretends that vinyl is the format of choice (though it tacks on packaging fees for vinyl, thanks).
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"It's always amusing to hear someone muse about what they think is a "fair" price for a song."

It's an interesting mental exercise to think about how much you would have to be paid in order to give up listening to music. I think, especially with the panopoly of other entertainment options around, that the price would be pretty low for the vast majority of music listeners. I feel like the vast majority of people listen to music because they're attenuated to do so, not because of any deep commitment to music qua music.
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The flip side is that a $5,000 digital studio today will do more than a $100,000 analog studio could 20 years ago, so it's less costly to make an album than it was before -- hence, less need for a loan. (And you can easily make a crappy album for <$500 -- we'll be seeing LOTS of these.)"

I keep seeing this claim, and I think it may be because people tend to have shitty little earbuds and listen to mp3s.
You give me a 20-year-old $100,000 analogue studio and you give me a $5000 digital one today, and not only can I tell the difference, they'll lead to different outcomes.
It's like saying that there's nothing that can be done with a screwdriver that you can't do with a hammer.
posted by klangklangston at 12:37 PM on June 26, 2007


"Okay, so you've totally screwed the artist then? Used sales are much more repugnant then digital copies. You are basically supporting a pawn-shop that happens to sell only records. Good job!"

Dear lattiboy: Stop being retarded. OMG, my used car stole money from the mouths of Toyota babies!
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 PM on June 26, 2007 [5 favorites]


I am totally going to delmoi the shit out of this thread. Sorry.
posted by klangklangston at 12:42 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Because it is totally unreasonable. You (or me or any human being not utterly surrounded by music for every waking hour from birth until death) would have a real hard time naming even 1,000 really good songs. Now try to come up with 17,000 more. Don't get me wrong, I have a sixty gig Toshiba Gigabeat filled with 40 gigs of music, but I'd be lying if I said I dug every track on there, or even most of them."

Your shitty taste in music is not my fault. I have about 300 physical albums, after this latest purge, and about 16k tracks on my computer. While a fair number of them are reference listening (especially on the computer), the vast, vast, vast majority is stuff that I enjoy and listen to fairly regularly. last.fm/honestengine if you don't believe me. Remember, just because you can't conceive of something doesn't mean it's impossible.

(OK, I'm done... for now...)
posted by klangklangston at 12:50 PM on June 26, 2007


Eddie Mars: Why don't they just embrace this? Ad a 5 second Pepsi add to the front of the song, and make it a free, easy to find download. Suddenly you want people to download your song. Same thing with tv shows...why don't the networks make them available for download the day after they air? You already have the gaps for commercial breaks, just fill them in.

Would anyone bother to hunt down an edited copy of the file with the ad stripped out? Especially if the legal alternative was freely available from an iTunes style site with a complete back catalog and easy searching.
I've been wondering this myself; while HBO might have reason to not embrace this model, why shouldn't ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX/et al have bundled commercials as say crawling banners, or in-show product placement, and offer torrents of the shows before they air- now all the torrenters have a compelling reason to use the legit copies.

Well, I guess there are a few of reasons:
  1. Re-run revenue. TV shows that do well make money in part because a good first run means you can charge more for the re-run ad placements, and obviously syndication down the road.
  2. DVD sales. Clearly, the popular serial shows are realizing significant profits packaging the "Season X DVD set"- it has even saved shows like Family Guy. Having these be legally retrieved from their torrents might eat into those sales, although they could kill the seeding after say one month (forcing people into the gray market torrents if they didn't want to buy the media).
  3. Targeted/regional/time-based advertisement. Not all ads are national, and not all ads are meant to run in perpetuity; a saved video show will have ads that don't make sense after a period of time, or are no longer valid, and most importantly for which the tv company is not being paid on re-watch.
  4. Broadcasting rights. Most shows are not actually owned by the network, but by a production company that sells them to the network, and can retain rights later to put them into syndication or sell them to a new network, etc. Having a permanent downloadable source from the original broadcaster would probably require radical changes in whatever contracts they use to broadcast the next Seinfeld (see the point about syndication rights).
  5. Technical savvy: most TV watchers are not technically savvy or eager enough to set up torrents, even with RSS feed capabilities, etc. Watching via the TV is easy, via the DVR/Tivo also easy, and if necessary via the online stream the next day slightly more complex (in terms of browser & plugin compatibility, etc), but still world's easier than setting up uTorrent with an RSS feed scanner and 5 of your favorite torrent sites.
That said, they're starting to do this with the day-after online video stream. And I think the next evolution of the PVR boxes are going to include a semi-centralized torrent track. What will, ultimately, be the difference between broadcasting, DVRs, On-Demand, and broadcatching? In a short period of time, nothing- so the smart networks will take advantage of that.
posted by hincandenza at 12:54 PM on June 26, 2007


Dear lattiboy: Stop being retarded. OMG, my used car stole money from the mouths of Toyota babies!

Perhaps you didn't read my other posts on here, but I just think that you shouldn't feel you are supporting anything but a retail outfit if you buy used CDs that they bought from somebody else for a buck or two.

This is a HUGE issue with console games......
posted by lattiboy at 12:58 PM on June 26, 2007


Mitheral:

Point taken about the CD copy levy, but that was essentially a bit of raw meat tossed to the wolves, not a serious attempt to resolve the impasse. I don't have time to debate the devilish details, but the basic point is that all previous attempts at distributing "performance rights" fees have involved highly dubious sampling methods controlled by a pseudo-mafia (including the CD levy funds - anyone know anyone who's ever received any of that money?) With digital downloads, it's possible to have an accurate sample of what people are downloading, without compromising privacy. A mega-fund distributed *fairly* would create a levelling of revenue appropriate to the levelling of distribution on the internet. We would see a "long tail" situation with a large "middle class" of artists, without any necessity for major label involvement. The majors never considered this option for this reason - it rendered them obsolete and un-necessary, and they judged (correctly) that strong-arming control over such a system would be impossible in the long run.

In any case, the per-copy payment model is itself obsolete (iTunes notwithstanding) - it relies on an artificial scarcity instead of a very real abundance - surely some sort of "all you can eat" system is the only sane way to approach the problem.
posted by dinsdale at 12:59 PM on June 26, 2007


That's a big reason why so many people object to the majors' business plan— if it were just an investment or a loan, the band would end up owning the fruits of their labor. Instead, it's a situation where the band walks away with comparitively little.

In what way is pouring money into a project but not owning its fruits an investment? Argue the ethics of the thing all you want, but the business model you're suggesting - which I believe many indie labels work on - is called charity.
posted by cillit bang at 1:00 PM on June 26, 2007


That's (roughly) 18,000 songs. You are VERY enthusiastic about EIGHTEEN THOUSAND SONGS?!?!?!?

Because it is totally unreasonable. You (or me or any human being not utterly surrounded by music for every waking hour from birth until death)


Lattiboy: I think you missed the point where I indicated that I'm a DJ. I did about 8 years off and on in public/college radio, I currently broadcast on the net at a number of places, and I live with a great big honking soundsystem which goes out and puts on free music events.

I am, thankfully, no longer unique as such a DJ - and never was, really. The skills are easily transferred, and it's a joy to hear so many others take up the art. Everyone can be a DJ. It's very punk rock and Do It Yourself, very hands-on, and truthfully, anti-rockstar.

The very best DJs - the John Peels, the Carl Craigs - are very humble and monk-like, even anti-rockstar in methodologies. They fade away behind the music and you don't notice them doing their thing - you only hear the music.


So, a quick index of my drives (the ones currently plugged in, at least, which also doesn't include CD archives) indicates that I have approximately 12,743 MP3s on my system. This doesn't included several hundred WAV files (recordings, bootlegs and edits) as well as whatever odd WMA or RAs that may still exist.

I'm enthusiastic about every single one, and while I couldn't name them all from memory, if you rearranged them or deleted any I would - eventually - notice.

As it is, I have to - very painfully - delete or archive items to make room for more all the time.

Even more impressive? There's precious little RIAA-member material in my collection. Less than, say, ten albums. All of it ripped from CDs that I actually already own. The rest of it is indie or out of print - and you might be able to purchase about 50% of it used with a lot of work and money. The other 50% or so is practically unobtainable, except on the net.

I think that the difference here that is the basis of your incredulity is that you might not understand how I listen to my music, or what kind of music it even is. A vast majority of it is either electronic, techno, experimental or ambient.

Some of it can be considered a palette from which I make new sounds and music from - not stuff that I sit down and listen to. It's music that I interact with in a software-based DJ and mixing console (Traktor, or Ableton Live) in which I am an active participant. From these I make hour-plus long beatmatched mixes that I actually listen to. Music to make music with.

Some of it can be considered "furniture music". Background noise - not to prevent silence or thinking, but to promote it and mask the noises of the city. Sometimes it's a balm and salve, and sometimes it's a aggressive cure - but they are deliberate objects designed and created with functions in mind. Not unlike a couch, or an accent light, or an abstract painting designed more for it's use as a colorful object rather than a profound artistic statement or vision.

Some of it can be considered "software" or "drug". Music and sounds designed to evoke specific emotional responses or states - selected from the full spectrum of human emotions. Love. Anger. Joy. Confusion. Hope. Pain. Pleasure. Whatever you want, I can mix it up for you.

And then there's the more normal stuff that is - to me - listening music. Boards of Canada. Zwans. Godspeed You Black Emperor. Pixies. Early Pink Floyd - or Meddle. Neu! Beach Boys. The Specials. Bob Marley. Mahler. Phillip Glass. Grateful Dead. Even Phish. Bitch's Brew is another favorite. Meat Beat Manifesto - or even Pop Will Eat Itself.

So, yeah, I listen to a lot of music. I spend a lot of time putting new stuff on my MP3 player and carrying around big full sized headphones. I spend a lot of time at my desk, or at the sound system, just listening to music. I don't watch TV. I don't own one. I rarely listen to the radio - my MP3 player has a radio, though, and it even records straight to a 192k mp3 from the radio. I read a lot, but mainly before bed. Music is my number one media, hands down. And I want more.


Even more interesting? I haven't launched Soulseek or Bittorrent in months and months. I don't even burn CDs, really. Almost all of my music has been coming to me via sneakernet. Portable drives - large thumb drives and flash cards in particular. Portable, stable, durable and cheap bulk mass storage is an amazing tool. It's always on my keychain and I can share stuff both ways with almost anyone. Trust networks are inherent, the experience is interactive, human and still nearly immediate. (Such a long way from tape-dubbing!) Recommendations are personal and passionate.

Even more interesting is that a lot more of the music is direct from the source/artist, or from a friend of a friend (and so on) - and this trend seems to be increasing.

Which I'm all for. Which is to say: make more music! Share it! Give it away! I want it!

A small clearly-worded disclaimer for the thick-headed folks at the RIAA. You don't want to sue me. Not because I don't have any money, but because I almost want you to sue me. Because you'll lose. And end up paying my court costs. I have little to lose, and there's nothing I'm more passionate about.

Though I have such a working knowledge of IP law and the contents of my drive that I would feel confident in defending myself, as well as written communications of permissions from many of the artists involved, I have also have free access to a good lawyer who just loves file sharing. I really do hope you go as financially bankrupt as you are already morally bankrupt. Music will live on as it always has. In short: Go eat a dick.

posted by loquacious at 1:08 PM on June 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


Your shitty taste in music is not my fault.

Oh, go get fucked. Honestly, how do you even deduce musical taste from the raw number of songs somebody has? Wouldn't
the inverse be true: You have shitty musical taste because you had to "purge" to get 16,000 songs in your collection because you just think so much music is awesome?


psychic post: This guy is going to name check a bunch of critic safe bullshit that he thinks is awesome because art-chicks dig it and a bunch of mainstram garbage that he'll pull out to make it seem like he isn't a total fucking snob. It makes him feel all special to be SO complete whilst simultaneously slamming me because I don't have 14 hours a day to scour the net and local vinyl shops to find that ONE Belle & Sebastian album that has the extra 4 bar guitar drone in it.
posted by lattiboy at 1:09 PM on June 26, 2007



Lattiboy: I think you missed the point where I indicated that I'm a DJ. I did about 8 years off and on in public/college radio, I currently broadcast on the net at a number of places, and I live with a great big honking soundsystem which goes out and puts on free music events.



Okay, I totally understand how you do that. Thanks a lot for the thoughtful post. I should include the fact that people who HAVE to listen to music for a living should not be included in my rants.
posted by lattiboy at 1:12 PM on June 26, 2007


In what way is pouring money into a project but not owning its fruits an investment?

The point of a loan is that when you pay it back, you own whatever it was you took out the loan to buy. How would it go down if the bank still owned your house after you paid off the mortgage? If all the label is providing is financing, why should they expect to own all rights in the product?
posted by dinsdale at 1:12 PM on June 26, 2007


The point is that they didn't try and fail, they killed the catalog in '93, just when things were becoming interesting. They didn't see the revolutionary change of the internet. All they had to do was keep the catalog alive for another two years, and somebody at the company would probably have figured it out.

One year. CDNow launched the summer of '94.

But with the catalog two years gone by 1995, there was no one at the company in the position to think about anything other than bricks and mortar retail, and no division of the company capable of leveraging any of those new ideas.

OK, to be fair:
1. No one completely "got" the internet in 1995. The idea of selling stuff over the internet was still half curiosity, half shameful exploitation.

2. The people who did get the internet were people who had exposure to it on an academic level. Professors and college students/staff. How many of those Sears folks were in management and sub-35?

3. The paradigm took some time to shift. As late as early 1998, the only major way I could buy online was Amazon.

4. Sears didn't necessarily need their catalog unit to go online. What they needed was a fulfillment system and web geeks to build them a site. IOW, exactly what Amazon started with. And, in a sense, Sears was in a better position than Amazon until Amazon opened their Reno and Coffeyville and Kentucky centers.

In essence, Sears didn't screw themselves by dumping the catalog. They screwed themselves by being completely oblivious to the changing retail landscape around them. Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy and Costco did more damage to them than Amazon, but had they embraced an Amazon-type plan they may be doing better. OTOH, KMart took a bath with bluelight.com, mainly because they had trouble affording staff and their clientele weren't exactly the hard-core web savvy types.

That is value. The stupid concrete building is has no value.

What do you mean? Sears sold buildings, specifically houses.

Instead of focusing on what they really do, understanding listener's tastes, seeking out music to meet those tastes and bringing the music to those listeners, they think their business is pressing CD's and shipping them in plastic cases to record stores.

No. You're backwards here. The record companies' mission is to make money selling music. Listeners' tastes are irrelevant. And they will do all they can to make money, even if it alienates their customers, because what's important to them is making money.

In the long term, they could give a rat's ass about DRM, whether they have it or not, so long as the money keeps flowing in. If they alienate their customers with DRM, eventually they will hit a tipping point and decide it's economically more feasible to ease/eliminate it. EMI hit that point. The other three will follow along soon enough.
posted by dw at 1:15 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Okay, I totally understand how you do that. Thanks a lot for the thoughtful post. I should include the fact that people who HAVE to listen to music for a living should not be included in my rants.

Err, no, I actually don't make a living from music - that would be icky, in my very humble opinion. Nor do I spend 14 hours a day at it besides. Public radio was volunteer. Hell, man, I've spent good money just to help make good/underground music events happen. I've never made any money at it, ever.

I have done it, I now do it and I will continue to do it because I love music. That's all.

That, if anything, is the most important part of any of my music rants here or anywhere on the net. Sorry that point got missed.
posted by loquacious at 1:22 PM on June 26, 2007


Major label recording artists will become like wrestlers are to the WWE. The label will not only own the masters, but it will own the name of the band, the stage name of the performer (if applicable), and will be entitled not only to the profit (net of royalty) on the recordings and to its split of the publishing, but also (by way of management contracts) to heavy splits of touring, image and logo licensing, and the artist's other entertainment income -- especially acting salaries.

That's not an unreasonable model, paying salaries is more common in Japan, which is great if your album doesn't sell, shitty if it's a huge hit. Delmoi's got a point that for a lot of artists right now it might make more sense to stay on an indie label but I'd imagine getting a salary could be appealing to some artists.
posted by bobo123 at 1:22 PM on June 26, 2007


Very interesting. I didn't know what a freak I was. I don't put earphones or earbuds on or in. I listen to music through the air. I don't listen to music very often. I am a musician. I buy all my CD's at the local independent record store. And, yes, as you can probably guess, I am older than most of you, and less tech-savvy than the rest of you.

BTW, I agree that if those greedheads had sold CD's for ten bucks instead of twenty, and had given more money to the musicians, they (and we) would be better off today.
posted by kozad at 1:41 PM on June 26, 2007


Major label recording artists will become like wrestlers are to the WWE. The label will not only own the masters, but it will own the name of the band, the stage name of the performer (if applicable), and will be entitled not only to the profit (net of royalty) on the recordings and to its split of the publishing, but also (by way of management contracts) to heavy splits of touring, image and logo licensing, and the artist's other entertainment income -- especially acting salaries.

So is there any plausible scenario you can envision in which the people who are good at making music are actually just allowed to make music, and then other people who like music are just able to go about their lives and discover that music and then possibly buy it from the people who make it, without a G-D army of lawyers, middle-managers, executives and who knows how many other kinds of people with a talent for making money off of people who actually make things for a living somehow getting involved? Or would that be too simple to work?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:50 PM on June 26, 2007


I am personally disappointed that I will no longer be able to enjoy music unless I am there in person.

That's no argument at all. I have a job too, and I listen to live music a couple nights a week. Sometimes I'm even the one playing it. If music is important to you -- if you really believe musicians should be paid for their work -- there is really only one thing to do. Go hear live music. Pay the ticket, buy some drinks, buy the merch direct from the group. If all you're doing is purchasing recordings, you're the tiniest drop in an artist's bucket anyway. Go see them live, and you're contributing far more substantially to their survival.

For that matter, almost all the musicians I hear live - and very talented ones, too - have full-time jobs (at least one) as well. Only listening to the fulltimers would sadly limit the range of my listening.

There are entire genres of music that are not possible or practical to perform live.

Well, that is a hitch that does occur to me, since some people do take advantage of production techniques and scopes of instrumentation that you really couldn't handle live. It's not much of a problem in my favorite genres, but it does constrain those who do like to make this sort of music. So how do you propose they make a living given the impossibility of controlling what happens to their recordings, once released?


3. Marketing -- THIS is where I believe record companies can still add something, as most bands lack the savvy to get their names out there and promoted to the masses.


Someone here at MeFi, I forget who, argues that this is really the only service left to offer music fans. But the argument is not that record companies are the best at marketing music - they actually suck at marketing music. 90% of any label's catalogue gets absolutely buried in order for them to give a big push to the acts they think will generate the most return. Instead, the idea is that we're about to see a new age of music criticism flourish. When there are limitless thousands of new songs available daily, many for free, how are we to find out where we might want to place our attention? We can search on our own, and follow the trail of hyperlink and reference to explore a genre or a related group of bands. But at some point, we might find there's a music writer, a magazine, an mp3 blog, or a couple of friends whose very good taste we tend to like. Think of the model of All Songs Considered - Bob Boilen is an absolute career maker, and it's all because he listens to every single CD he gets sent and exercises some stellar judgement on them, passing the good ones along. Good music magazines may see a revival, but the increasing importance of criticism in an indie world means that dinosaurs like Rolling Stone will have to go back to writing more about music and less about movie stars and models.
posted by Miko at 1:53 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


There are entire genres of music that are not possible or practical to perform live.

I don't buy that. Go to youtube and scrounge around the Kraftwerk live performance videos. Quite entrancing and very good. Some music will require more performance; performance art and music actually go quite well together too.

If someone cannot perform live, it is due to a lack of imagination, not possibilities.
posted by Bovine Love at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2007


lattiboy wrote "Okay, so you've totally screwed the artist then? Used sales are much more repugnant then digital copies. You are basically supporting a pawn-shop that happens to sell only records. Good job!"

I assume you buy everything brand new then? Never buy anything from eBay? Your car(s) were bought new? You bought/rent your house from the guy who built it? Good! Wouldn't want you to be being hypocritical.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:01 PM on June 26, 2007


I assume you buy everything brand new then? Never buy anything from eBay? Your car(s) were bought new? You bought/rent your house from the guy who built it? Good! Wouldn't want you to be being hypocritical.


Oh gods no! I am a craigslist/ebayer fo' life, however, people don't get all riled up about "not supporting" Toshiba or GM or Dell. I was playing Devil's advocate on that point.
posted by lattiboy at 2:10 PM on June 26, 2007


. I'm no fan of the big labels myself, but I'm not particularly thrilled with people that want to see musicians living as paupers, either.

And I really ride the fence on this question. The best comparison is to independent visual artists, in my mind. I don't want to see these artists living as paupers; I want to see their works selling for high prices, showing in great galleries, and commissioned by people who pay them a living wage for their time. But that's not our model for visual art - the vast majority of artists do something else to pay the bills, or find a way to make their art or artistic activity pay. They may apply for grants, give lessons, teach, create programs, stage events or festivals, give talks, whatever. The general situation in our society is that people make art because they love to, and that in itself constitutes some form of compensation - because anyone could choose a more lucrative career, and yet, many artists don't. Or they do choose a lucrative career, and pursue their art as a second vocation unless and until they can make it pay a wage to live on.

Why should we see music as different? No one owes musicians a living. Pursuing music, especially fulltime, is a choice. It is a choice that definitely involves sacrifice - ask any orchestra member. I agree, at my age I have absolutely no desire to hit the road and live with three people in a van crashing on floors. Those who do, will. Those who don't will find other ways to make their music pay, or will simply do it because they enjoy it.

There will always be money in show promotion and in criticism, I think, so there's no danger of there being no music industry. I just think there is simply no way of controlling the proliferation of digital copies of recordings, so it's foolish to try to make large amounts of money from it.
posted by Miko at 2:15 PM on June 26, 2007


If the tomato farmers decide to start charging $50 a tomato and I decide to start growing tomatoes in my backyard, am I being a cheap asshole destroying their business model?

Bad analogy, unless all the music you download is written, performed, recorded, and produced by you.

In a few years, your phone will have broadband

If you're not in North America, maybe.

I don't have to worry about database corruption, or having my entire music library become an obsolete file type, or stop working when I get a newer computer, portable device, operating system or whatever.

This is as true for CDs as it was for cassettes.

Okay, so you've totally screwed the artist then? Used sales are much more repugnant then digital copies.

I quote this only to mock how uninformed it is.
posted by oaf at 2:22 PM on June 26, 2007


For the second day in a row:

Quality post, quality comments, this is why I love this place. Thanks everyone.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:44 PM on June 26, 2007


Okay, so you've totally screwed the artist then? Used sales are much more repugnant then digital copies.

I quote this only to mock how uninformed it is.


Oh, so buying a used CD helps the artist how........?

Oh wise one, please inform me how spending money on something where NONE of it will ever end up in the hands of artists is better or equal to a digital download.
posted by lattiboy at 2:49 PM on June 26, 2007


"Perhaps you didn't read my other posts on here, but I just think that you shouldn't feel you are supporting anything but a retail outfit if you buy used CDs that they bought from somebody else for a buck or two.

This is a HUGE issue with console games......"

Couple three things: First, supporting a retail spot isn't ZOMG evil. Second, resale is why we buy music instead of lease it. Third, there is some profit built into the system even for used sales, it's just an upfront cost on a new album.

"In what way is pouring money into a project but not owning its fruits an investment? Argue the ethics of the thing all you want, but the business model you're suggesting - which I believe many indie labels work on - is called charity."

Are you high? When you invest in anything else, be it stocks or loans, when you're paid off by the person that you invested in, you no longer own anything of theirs. Record companies recoup their investment and then still own the fruits. If you loan a magazine capital and they pay you back on the sales of their magazine, you don't then still own all the magazines. Or do you not understand how collateral works? If not, I want to do business with you.

"Oh, go get fucked. Honestly, how do you even deduce musical taste from the raw number of songs somebody has? Wouldn't
the inverse be true: You have shitty musical taste because you had to "purge" to get 16,000 songs in your collection because you just think so much music is awesome?"

You're unable to imagine getting excited about 16k songs. That seems to imply a provincialism, rather than an openness. It's not the raw number that I'm deducing from, but rather the attitude with which you presented your thesis.

"This guy is going to name check a bunch of critic safe bullshit that he thinks is awesome because art-chicks dig it and a bunch of mainstram garbage that he'll pull out to make it seem like he isn't a total fucking snob."

Yup, that's me. In fact, everything I listened to for about five years was de facto "critic safe" because I was a critic. Ooh, you sure burned me with your bold, tiny collection manifesto!
posted by klangklangston at 2:56 PM on June 26, 2007


The current sidebar text: How Sears could still be a huge American company today, instead of a historical footnote; a record industry parable.

Sears a'int hurtin'. It ranked last year as #33 in the Fortune 500 and #3 in 'general merchandising' behind Wal-Mart Stores and Target.

It has its Kmart and Sears retail stores, its Craftsman, Diehard, Kenmore and Lands' End brands and other companies/businesses.

The company (Sears Holdings) stock price closed at $168.54 this afternoon.
"Sears Holdings Corporation, the publicly traded (NASDAQ: SHLD) parent of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co., is the nation's third largest broadline retailer, with approximately $55 billion in annual revenues, and with approximately 3,800 full-line and specialty retail stores in the United States and Canada."*
posted by ericb at 3:00 PM on June 26, 2007


Are you high? When you invest in anything else, be it stocks or loans, when you're paid off by the person that you invested in, you no longer own anything of theirs. Record companies recoup their investment and then still own the fruits. If you loan a magazine capital and they pay you back on the sales of their magazine, you don't then still own all the magazines. Or do you not understand how collateral works? If not, I want to do business with you.

No, you no longer own anything only after your share has been bought out. Since most performer's revenue is earned on the back of the record company's investment, they're never going to have enough money to do that - the value of the company's share in the enterprise is going to rise proportionally to the artist's fortune, and thus always be higher.

As long as artists continue to think they need cash injections from venture capitalists (which record companies essentially are), these are the only terms they'll get it on.
posted by cillit bang at 3:19 PM on June 26, 2007


Oh, so buying a used CD helps the artist how........?

It doesn't help the artist directly (ignoring that it may create more demand for ticket sales), but it doesn't hurt at all, either. No one has any expectation of any money from anything other than the first sale of the CD.
posted by oaf at 3:29 PM on June 26, 2007


The current law that doesn't see stuff enter the public domain for 5 or 6 generations is obviously unfair and people know it.

That may be a reason people are driven to download old recordings -- the poor, suffering fan gives up trying to save the money for a Glenn Miller record after 60 years and just says fuck it, I can't wait, I'll download it while I'm in the mood -- but it doesn't support people who download recordings made this year. They're taking stuff before any reasonable protection would expire, not waiting until they think the artist has had enough profit from the product. They're even downloading recordings before they've been released.

No matter what scheme is promoted, most people will be music thieves if it is possible to avoid payment and detection. And they'll try to justify it in all sorts of ways because they don't like to think of themselves as thieves.
posted by pracowity at 3:31 PM on June 26, 2007


You're unable to imagine getting excited about 16k songs. That seems to imply a provincialism, rather than an openness. It's not the raw number that I'm deducing from, but rather the attitude with which you presented your thesis.

Oh Jesus, don't start talking in a coldly academic fashion all of the sudden. It wreaks of prentention.... oh wait, you were a critic.......
posted by lattiboy at 3:35 PM on June 26, 2007


Oh, so buying a used CD helps the artist how........?

Assuming you're seriously asking this question, the right of first sale is an inherent value in a given product that makes it more attractive to buy in the first place. As such, a CD is arguably worth more if I know that, if I don't like it, I can sell it or trade it at my favorite 2nd hand store, than it would be if I didn't have that right. Which is exactly why I'd rather buy a CD than an album from iTMS, even if it costs a little more.
posted by dinsdale at 3:35 PM on June 26, 2007


No matter what scheme is promoted, most people will be music thieves if it is possible to avoid payment and detection.

I have never illegally downloaded music. As a matter of fact, looking at my iTunes collection, I have purchased 6,264 tracks from Apple in the past three-years. But, that's because I can afford it -- and, being a software developer who has had IP pirated in the past, I have a personal commitment to avoiding such behavior myself. That being said, I may likely be in the minority.
posted by ericb at 3:40 PM on June 26, 2007


BTW -- interesting reading:

How Recording Contracts Work.

Beyond the recording deal, artists who write their songs (music and/or lyrics) should pay heed to the "publishing rights" over "mechanical rights," etc. to insure a significant percent of revenue (current and future)
"...it is particularly crucial for recording artists and songwriters to protect their publishing rights."
posted by ericb at 3:55 PM on June 26, 2007


It doesn't help the artist directly (ignoring that it may create more demand for ticket sales)

In exactly the same fashion downloading pirated tracks does?

No one has any expectation of any money from anything other than the first sale of the CD.

Yeah, but for a few bucks more (unless you're getting an AWESOME deal on used CDs) you COULD help the artist/industry directly (if you care,which I don't). That is why I see the whole used record/dvd/book racket as being insidious.
posted by lattiboy at 4:01 PM on June 26, 2007


Also:

How Music Royalties Work
Who Gets What?

Song Copyrights

The Major Players

Types of Rights and Royalties

Royalty Pie

Mechanical Royalties

Performance Royalties
posted by ericb at 4:04 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"No, you no longer own anything only after your share has been bought out. Since most performer's revenue is earned on the back of the record company's investment, they're never going to have enough money to do that - the value of the company's share in the enterprise is going to rise proportionally to the artist's fortune, and thus always be higher.

As long as artists continue to think they need cash injections from venture capitalists (which record companies essentially are), these are the only terms they'll get it on."

Oh, I see: You're busy making assumptions that prove your case, rather than arguing based on anything supportable. You can't even be asked to consider that a fair number of albums do recoup the investment (if none did, why would anyone put out any albums at all?). The issue isn't bands that don't recoup losing their rights— it's that even bands who do recoup still generally lose their rights. That's not how things work in any other industry. The dominant mode in book publishing, for a pretty easy analogy, is that after the advance is recouped, the revenue is shared for a specified amount of time. Then the writer owns their work outright and can do what they like with it (obviously constrained by whatever individual licensing agreements they've made).

"Oh Jesus, don't start talking in a coldly academic fashion all of the sudden. It wreaks of prentention.... oh wait, you were a critic......."

ICE BURN! If you were any more pithy, you'd be served up in an animated gif!

"Yeah, but for a few bucks more (unless you're getting an AWESOME deal on used CDs) you COULD help the artist/industry directly (if you care,which I don't). That is why I see the whole used record/dvd/book racket as being insidious."

But if you couldn't sell used whatever the market price for new whatever would fall, because it wouldn't hold its value (at all, in fact). Instead, you're making some deranged charity argument.
posted by klangklangston at 4:24 PM on June 26, 2007


Yeah, but for a few bucks more (unless you're getting an AWESOME deal on used CDs) you COULD help the artist/industry directly (if you care,which I don't). That is why I see the whole used record/dvd/book racket as being insidious.

OTOH, used CDs mean you're recycling rather than dumping those unrecyclable CDs into landfills. I'd rather sell/give my CDs away than dump them in the trash.

And used books mean Powell's City of Books.
posted by dw at 4:36 PM on June 26, 2007


But if you couldn't sell used whatever the market price for new whatever would fall, because it wouldn't hold its value (at all, in fact).


You mean like the rapid decline in overall music sales? That kind of devaluation?
posted by lattiboy at 4:38 PM on June 26, 2007


And used books mean Powell's City of Books.


Listen, I enjoy many local bookstores out here in Seattle (Third Place is great), but when the day comes you can download a book in a fraction of a second to an e-ink based reading machine (which I've had the chance to use and is a really enjoyable way to read), they'll go the way of Tower Records and their ilk. I think people will hold out much longer on books, but eventually you'll browsing the library through a wireless connection on the shitter.

Say what you will about aesthetics (CD cases, book bindings, artwork), in the end, you are paying for the the book/song/movie........
posted by lattiboy at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2007


you'll browsing the library through a wireless connection on the shitter.

Eureka. Instead let's start publishing chapters of novels on each square of toilet paper! Err ... wait, what?

"Hey, honey, I'm up to chapter 5. What happened to chapters 6 through 12? Damn, 'Legg'o of my Eggo®,' or something like that!
posted by ericb at 4:57 PM on June 26, 2007


Oh, I see: You're busy making assumptions that prove your case, rather than arguing based on anything supportable.

Damn assumptions, always proving my case.

You can't even be asked to consider that a fair number of albums do recoup the investment (if none did, why would anyone put out any albums at all?). The issue isn't bands that don't recoup losing their rights— it's that even bands who do recoup still generally lose their rights.

Any gamble needs a significantly greater reward than recouping. Given the financial risks involved in taking on a new band, it's not surprising the industry insists on them signing over the vast majority of their rights. Yes, this business model is horrible, but it's the flipside of expecting majors to throw money at bunches of no-hopers that will probably go nowhere.
posted by cillit bang at 4:57 PM on June 26, 2007


dinsdale writes "place surcharge on internet access, to be allocated to rights holders."

Which aren't necessarily producing companies or artists ; right olders aren't these defenders of rights and quality as portraied by (their )PR firms.

dinsdale writes "What the hell is wrong with this idea? Everybody wins! Except the completely useless middlemen who add no value to the process...."

The idea isn't "wrong" , it just doesn't make sense to people that don't see why they should be charged for a copyright they didn't enjoy. It may look like a pragmatic solution , just skipping some middlement and courts and lawyers, but who is going to decide how much is every net user going to be charged, and with what method ?

I would be glad , actually I am glad that public water systems financed by individuals, all of them , exists, because during my life I am almost certainly going to use water many many times and I don't mind paying for some other, if that implies I will pay little or very little costantly over time.

Internet is more like a freeway then an aqueduct, in the sense that I can use it to bring my data to others, yet I would gladly subsidize the cost of infrastructure if , again, this insured me a cheap access for the future ; but the content, why should I pay even $1 because some ass likes to download a tera worth of porn , while he could certainly use less ?

And don't get me started on the incredible differential between single copy production cost and single copy consumer sale price ; this enormous differential made sense when cost of distribution and production of a copy was rather high, but some would rather kill the internet altogheter if that helped maintaing huge profit margins, as (obviously) most companies work for profit, not for benefit and evolution of mankind.
posted by elpapacito at 5:03 PM on June 26, 2007


In exactly the same fashion downloading pirated tracks does?

As mentioned above, it makes buying new CDs more attractive to begin with. The fact that you can sell CDs makes buying them more attractive.

Yeah, but for a few bucks more (unless you're getting an AWESOME deal on used CDs) you COULD help the artist/industry directly

You could help the industry. It doesn't really help the artist.
posted by oaf at 5:07 PM on June 26, 2007


"You mean like the rapid decline in overall music sales? That kind of devaluation?"

No, actually. When have the used sales of physical objects not been a part of the modern music industry? I mean, you could argue that there was some sort of correlation between the uncertainty of used sales when there was that lawsuit in the early '90s and albums moved, but there really wasn't.

"Damn assumptions, always proving my case."

You're the cutest question-begger.

"Any gamble needs a significantly greater reward than recouping. Given the financial risks involved in taking on a new band, it's not surprising the industry insists on them signing over the vast majority of their rights. Yes, this business model is horrible, but it's the flipside of expecting majors to throw money at bunches of no-hopers that will probably go nowhere."

Wait, who expects the majors to throw money at a bunch of no-hopers? I can almost feel you wanting to make an argument without fallacious reasoning, and you're totally on the way, but you just can't seem to get over this circular argument thing. I mean, just because it worked for Pascal's theology doesn't mean it suits you.
posted by klangklangston at 5:39 PM on June 26, 2007


Oh, diddums for me.
posted by cillit bang at 5:49 PM on June 26, 2007


Wait, who expects the majors to throw money at a bunch of no-hopers?

You're right. Labels should only pick bands who will do well. I don't know why they haven't thought of that. Maybe you should tell them about the mistake they've been making.
posted by Snyder at 6:06 PM on June 26, 2007


MetaFilter: made of nothing but obsession, money and time.

I strongly agree with those who see a future for music makers that is very similar to the today for visual artists. Some will get worldwide fame and riches, many will work hard and long for a decent living, more will labor on weekends and evenings while holding down a full-time McJob to pay the bills, and even more will regretfully abandon their passion when real-world pressures force it out of their lives.

The best music I have bought in the past few years comes from a guy you already probably know, who, from what I understand, makes music strictly as a hobby.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


lattiboy writes "Okay, so you've totally screwed the artist then? Used sales are much more repugnant then digital copies. You are basically supporting a pawn-shop that happens to sell only records. Good job!"

It's called doctrine of first sale, doofus.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:45 PM on June 26, 2007


I posted a comment early on in this thread, and then had to go conduct rehearsals all day--we're in the middle of music camp at my university, and there are a couple hundred very bright, very talented teenage musicians from all over northern California participating (several are absolutely phenomenal young talents). I was thinking about this thread during the morning rehearsal, and asked the kids in my ensemble (about 50 of them) some questions about their music listening habits. This is of course completely anecdotal, but they're a group of teenagers who have a very keen interest in music--of ALL kinds--and are avid performers, listeners, etc. Most want to be professional musicians themselves--teachers, performers, composers, producers, etc.

Here is what they said: nearly all own a digital music player and their music library and listening habits are digital--no more CD players. While most of them have at some point traded music, shared with friends, and other assorted forms of "piracy", a surprising majority said that they buy most of the music they listen to. Most also still prefer buying CDs to downloading albums (they like to have the art, liner notes, etc.), then uploading to their computers and filing the CD away. Very few were comfortable with the idea of massive file sharing, and viewed it as tremendously unfair to the musicians making the music.

This sample may be skewed, because I'm asking kids who play instrumental concert music all the time--orchestra, band, chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles, etc.--and have a deeper interest in music than most of their peers.

However, I talk with my college students about these issues on a regular basis, and their perspective is much the same as the young people I'm working with this week--they recognize that they should pay for music they love, and don't mind doing so.

My sense is that the students trading 500 gig drives don't really listen all that closely to all that music. Being able to have tons and tons of media content does seem to be a novelty, and it might just wear off. The students I work with would much, much rather have 1 gig of music they really love than 500 of music they don't really care about.

One attitude in this thread I've found appalling is that musicians maybe shouldn't make a living as musicians--that it should be simply because they love music so much that they freely share it with the world as a gift. While a laudable sentiment, and fine if you just want folksy songs as your music of choice, that perspective would ultimately result in a lot of lame, poorly played, poorly imagined, shoddily crafted music--without the fantastic gems we have now.

Believe it or not, making great music is hard. It takes a lifetime to become an outstanding practitioner of any art, and our greatest art was made by those who devoted their lives to it. Should Beethoven have gotten a day job? Picasso? If your taste in music is as a pleasant diversion, it would be fine to live in a world of musical hobbyists. But I'm one of those anachronistic weirdos who actually views music as a serious art, and spends his life studying, practicing, and making it--and after 25 years so far, am just feeling like I'm getting reasonably good at it.

From my perspective, the recording industry has mainly been anti-art, and the commodification of music has been destructive to the art form. Musicians managed to make good livings before the RIAA, and will figure out how to afterward. What's exciting to me is that it's the musicians themselves who finally have the opportunity to figure it out for ourselves again. Us and our listeners. I'm sure we'll be just fine.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:49 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is wearying. There are plenty, plenty, plenty of independent musicians who've implemented honor systems and direct downloads so that people don't have to give their money to the loathsome RIAA and you know what? For all the moral posturing about artists' motivations and rights that tends to dominate these discussions, a majority of people still don't fucking pay even a token amount for what they take. If you go to such an artist's website and download a song or two and don't like it and don't pay, you can guiltlessly hang on to your spare change because that's the gamble a self-distributing artist takes. When you download the shit out of them (whether directly or from p2p) and still don't pay, you are a thief.

Good equipment really isn't cheap and there are plenty of great touring bands who end up in the red after gas prices and vehicle expenses and other costs of the road (as well as time away from their day jobs) take their toll. So all this "do it for the love" and "no one owes you a living" stuff is just so much self-justifying horseshit. This is very simple. You may think everything is free, but it's not. If you like an artist's output enough to download a whole record or catalog's worth of it and you don't pay them even if they have provided you a way to do so directly, you -- yes, you -- are stealing from them. No amount of justification, no matter how sophisticated or well argued, alters that one bit.
posted by melissa may at 6:51 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


elpapacito: [rights holders] ...aren't necessarily producing companies or artists

No of course not - but so the argument goes, they have *bought* those rights from the actual creators. But I think these are the sorts of people who would become irrelevent if artists could be be fairly compensated for downloads of their work, in proportion to the number of times their work was downloaded. We would enter a new era in which word-of-mouth became the most important marketing tool, and instead of having a situation with a few superstars and everyone else starving or driving cabs, we would see a much "flatter" revenue curve. Maybe not right away, but unlimited net-wide DRM-free downloads would radically alter the media ecosystem over the long run - in particular it would accelerate the already unstoppable trend towards artists actually retaining their rights to their work, which renders your objection moot.

As for the rest of your objections, I'm sorry, but I'm not sure that I can decipher them...

...it just doesn't make sense to people that don't see why they should be charged for a copyright they didn't enjoy.

Are you saying you wouldn't pay $5~10/month to be able to legally download and enjoy any and all copyrighted works - especially if you could be sure that the money that *you* contribute would be divvied up equitably amongst *your* favorite artists? I'm not trying to gloss over the difficulties in implementing a system like this, just saying that if it could be implemented, it would solve most of the problems that have been blocking progress these last ten years or more.

...who is going to decide how much is every net user going to be charged, and with what method?

As I suggested, the devil is in the details, but at some point a compulsory (ie. statutory) licence is inevitable and long overdue - anything else is a bet against moore's law. I think perhaps the term "compulsory licence" creates a lot of confusion. Radio stations don't have to negotiate individual permissions and licences for every track they play. Instead, it is, by statute, compulsory for rights holders to licence their work on predefined terms which are the same for everybody. Some analogy for this system needs to be developed for the internet.
posted by dinsdale at 6:58 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is still the best set of reasons for delmoi's position I've seen.
posted by imperium at 10:22 AM on June 26


Wait - The War Against Silence is back? - and nobody told me?!? That's the best thing I've learned from this thread. Thanks, imperium!
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:11 PM on June 26, 2007


Oh, so buying a used CD helps the artist how........?

Oh wise one, please inform me how spending money on something where NONE of it will ever end up in the hands of artists is better or equal to a digital download.


As someone who once owned an independent record shop that sold used CDs I'll give you an example. The high mark-up that I was able to do on used CDs (100% usually) allowed me, financially, to spend more money on stocking new CD product (by mostly independent artists/labels) and also take more chances on new artists in my orders. I would never have been able to do this as much if I only sold new CDs, where my markup was 35% if I was lucky.
posted by General Zubon at 7:17 PM on June 26, 2007


Two years later, Amazon.com launched, and was soon selling everything that sears sold through it's catalog.

Fast forward -- year is 2006.
Amazon | Sears
Revenue: $10.7 billion | $53 billion
Gross Profit: $2.5 billion | $15 billion
Net Income: $190 million | $1.5 billion
Again, Sears is still alive and kicking.
posted by ericb at 7:19 PM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't really listen to recorded music any more. I go to a few live shows, and I noodle about with a few instruments, but for the most part I had no dog in this fight.

Except I work in the software industry, and every time I pay more for blank CDs to make backups, or have to worry about the DMCA, or have some stupid bullshit DRM foisted on me, or have to wade through the morass of stupid IP law bullshit with a machete and a lawyer in tow, I think to myself - fuck you guys for taking money out of my pocket. Fuck you guys for taking up my time for free. Fuck you guys for limiting the kind of software I can safely write. Fuck you guys for making me worry about what topics I can speak about. Fuck you guys for corrupting my government.

So I go and break some DRM and quietly publish it, or I submit some patches to some P2P software to make it better, or I work on some anonymity software, and I think to myself...

Fuck you guys
posted by mock at 7:31 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


lattiboy writes "Yeah, but for a few bucks more (unless you're getting an AWESOME deal on used CDs) you COULD help the artist/industry directly (if you care,which I don't). That is why I see the whole used record/dvd/book racket as being insidious."

Dude, I worked in the business at the local/small tour level for years, most of it for one band. Used stores helped us a lot. We were good friends with many of them all over the west who sold our new and used CDs, and sometimes tickets for shows. In fact, we didn't really care if people traded the music. This was back in the mid-late '90s. Used CDs, traded music, all of it was promotions, all of it good. We sold enough during the shows and even got distribution under NAIL (and we were on a homegrown label, basically our own). I first put up music files on their site in 1996. You create goodwill among your fans, and you make yourself and them happy, and they'll take care of you. You may not be filthy rich, but you'll always have an extended family who wants to see you survive. I've volunteered countless hours for music, working the door, selling merch, doing sound, loading in/out, driving the tour van, cleaning up, even mediating in band fights, and I buy new and used music. I never heard one objection from any artist I knew about used music, not even the ones who worked at the stores selling the used music, sometimes their own.

I worked for a time at Music Millennium, a huge independent music store in Portland, OR. Garth Brooks came in one day (before my time) and demanded the store stop selling his used CDs or pay him royalties for them. Terry (owner) said, no, we have every legal right to do so. He threw a fit and stormed out of the store threatening to sue. He did this to quite a few used stores around the country, threatening to withhold new releases from them unless they stopped selling their music used. Later, Terry (and a lot of other store owners) held a barbecue in which he burned all the store's Garth Brooks catalog. Since then, the store does not sell Garth Brooks. What the idiot didn't realize is that Music Millennium has been a staple of the music community of the Pacific Northwest for a very long time. He obviously didn't understand he could have made a very good friend and promoted himself to boot. Instead, he alienated a huge part of his potential grassroots and community support, and not just in Portland, all over the country.

Sorta reminds you of something ...
posted by krinklyfig at 7:50 PM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


And yet somehow it worked for amazon.com, and all the other online retailing pioneers?

amazon made it selling books ... selling any book they could get their hands on

they do well ... but not better than barnes and noble

sears wasn't in the book business, they were in the general merchandise business

This is how Sears started back in 1894. People buying things sight unseen via mail order based only on a text description or at most a crude black and white drawing.

it's not 1894 ... people don't have to hitch up the horses and take the wagon down to the general store to get something

next thing you'll be telling me they should buy what they want with eggs and butter ... (don't laugh, they did)

these days they can get in the car, drive for 20 minutes, be at the store and buy it right now ... that's what people WANT

That is value. The stupid concrete building is has no value.

but the location does ... remember? ... "location, location, location" ... and according to the link above, barnes and noble's biggest asset is their real estate ... so much for "no value"

the refutation of your whole idea is in every outlying business district in the country ... all those targets, sears, kmarts, walmarts, etc etc etc wouldn't be in business in "stupid concrete buildings" if people preferred buying what they sell online or in catalogs ... and they sure wouldn't be building MORE of them, would they?

there's an even better refutation -

When the Dot-com bubble burst and many e-companies went out of business, Amazon persevered and finally turned its first profit in the fourth quarter of 2002: a meager US$5 million, just 1¢ per share, on revenues of over US$1 billion, but it was important symbolically.

do you think the stockholders would have waited 7 to 8 years for sears to make money doing this?

the basic problem here is that you're comparing apples to oranges ... sears is in a different kind of business than amazon and what worked for amazon ... if you can call losing money for the first few years "working" ... wouldn't have worked for sears

this has been a bit of a derail, but i really feel this wasn't a good analogy you made
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on June 26, 2007


If anyone is ever tempted to doubt that love of money is the root of all evil I will happily point them to this thread.

I don't know what it cost our church to do our two live CDs (I do know they were mixed and mastered in Nashville by professionals) but I do know that we managed to make enough to be able to plan to do a third cd later this year. If we can do it-and we ARE doing it-I'd like to think that independent artists and songwriters will be able to pracitice their art without being ripped off or manipulated by Big (Music) Business.

(FWIW I also have at least four independently done CDs done by different friends of mine that were "homebrewed" so to speak but are pretty darn good quality. One I own was recorded in a studio, but again, not by a label.

For me in particular it is about freedom to follow my artistic vision, not so much money. I make very little but enough so that my equipment purchases are tax deductible. I own my own publishing rights and plan to keep it that way.

Realistically speaking I won't be making a living at what I do but for me that's not what it's all about.
posted by konolia at 8:56 PM on June 26, 2007


Lucky you, m'boy! Public Domain!

The music (manuscripts certainly, some old printings), sure. The recordings, not so much.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 9:05 PM on June 26, 2007


No matter how hard I try, I can't see digital file trading as 'stealing', and I am a musician.

The only way I'd see it as stealing is if I see a recording as an ownable entity. I don't. A piece of recorded music and music are as different as a snapshot and an actual experience.

I agree with Loosefilter that music is hard, and that musicians will figure it out. But I think it's futile to set up complex legal structures to attempt to control what can not, what can never be controlled. It's like tossing sandbags on that cracking, shivering levee. Music-as-artifact is a historical aberration, and I don't believe history will see it defended. Music as performance, as teachable and learnable skill, and as composition will have more enduring value.

If someone wants to pay me for my music, live or recorded, they will. But I don't expect that legal sytems should be set up to guarantee my payment. Oddly, I do think that my compositions should be protected as pieces of writing, intellectual property indeed- but that is a more abstract thing, more akin to a piece of completed prose writing. But any recorded performance, live or studio, officially released or 'pirated?' I don't think that stuff can or should be regulated. The only problems I can foresee might be someone recording or performing a composition of mine and passing it off as their own work - taking credit that isn't theirs; or using such a song in a way that generates profit as part of a commodity - for instance, if it appeared without permission or negotiation on a movie soundtrack.

Musicians will need to change their expectations now that digitization has destroyed the old means of control. The recording industry has been selling musicians a bill of goods since the invention of devices for recording and re-playing sounds - the bill of goods being that you can expect to make money selling these artifacts. It was only ever true for a very small elite group of artists for whom the stars aligned, and it's definitely no longer true.
posted by Miko at 9:10 PM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


I put my money where my mouth is: when I'm blown away by an artist, I go purchase the CD. Even though it fucking kills me to know the artist is going to see only pennies of that purchase.

I think most artists could do better simply by putting their albums on iTunes as an independent. And, fuck it, do it at a lower price point: sell a track for $0.50 cents, versus the label's greedy buck, buck-and-a-quarter. Do an album for a ten-spot, that works for me. Do it non-lossy, so I can deal with future compression codecs.

Hell, what we need is a YouTunes: post your tunes, use social networking to promote 'em, and if you start looking like a sure-fire success story, we'll sponsor a professional recording session to sell on iTunes on a profit-share basis.

I think it's a damn shame the wealthier tech geeks out there aren't sponsoring such a site. Invest a mill or two and I'll bet it'd return really damn nicely even without being greedy.

We need more good music in our lives. Let's make it happen.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:12 PM on June 26, 2007 [3 favorites]


one more thing

One of Gerstners first acts as CEO was to gather the top VP's of every IBM division in a room, and ask them to write down in one sentence what IBM's business was.

to make money

there is NO other business ANYONE stays in, period

Amazon | Sears
Revenue: $10.7 billion | $53 billion
Gross Profit: $2.5 billion | $15 billion
Net Income: $190 million | $1.5 billion


ericb has said it all with this
posted by pyramid termite at 9:14 PM on June 26, 2007


No matter how hard I try, I can't see digital file trading as 'stealing', and I am a musician.

i second this and the rest of miko's comment
posted by pyramid termite at 9:17 PM on June 26, 2007


Peter H writes "Lucky you, m'boy! Public Domain!"

The actual compositions are in the public domain but almost all recordings aren't.

melissa may writes "When you download the shit out of them (whether directly or from p2p) and still don't pay, you are a thief. "

Please, copyright infringer if you want to be accurate or pirate if you want to inflame.
posted by Mitheral at 9:35 PM on June 26, 2007


Miko: Music-as-artifact is a historical aberration, and I don't believe history will see it defended.

Well said, and an excellently provocative assertion--I mostly agree, and would extend that perspective to the work-concept, too (I recommend this delightful book, if you've not read it already).
posted by LooseFilter at 10:12 PM on June 26, 2007


I am a musician.

Do you book shows? Do you attempt to distribute your music? Have you ever needed a lawyer to deal with legal issues regarding your music? Have you ever worked with an independent label? Does your music require any outlay by you beyond a guitar and some basic recording gear?

I am truly not being disrespectful, but I would like you to consider that there are a passel of issues and expenses involved that you may not have considered. Like bringing it all back to playing for the people: there are very few independent musicians who play shows for anything but peanuts or for free. That is not a viable income stream to support the costs of recording.

Leasure to make and perform music and the money to buy gear to make the high-fidelity, clean recordings most listeners demand are luxuries. I'm not talking about regulation or legal mumbo-jumbo: that's for the RIAA to screw people over with. I'm talking about a simple listener-to-musician exchange: you want that high-quality recorded artifact for your personal use. It cost the musician time and money to make it. If you do not pay them and no one else will either, they can't keep providing you with the commodity you want. That's not even close to the same thing as believing you are owed a living.

Maybe I was being inflammatory, but damn: a lot of people seem to expect the gear and other assorted costs required of musicians to make recordings or play shows to be supplied by elves or something. If you want to stick to the purity of live music then okay, go to shows and get all your music that way. But if you want songs for your library, pay for them. To suggest that muscians can somehow provide consumers with recordings for nothing is no less a bill of goods than what the RIAA is peddling.
posted by melissa may at 10:32 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


I am truly not being disrespectful

just elitist and condescending ... and you ain't earned that over her from what i've heard of both of you

we're all just small fishes in a really big pond and none of us have any right to cross examine someone who says they're a musician (and has posted files elsewhere to prove it, just like you), so just get off of it
posted by pyramid termite at 10:54 PM on June 26, 2007


Well, I'm believe it or not trying to be condescending or elitist, PT. I'm just saying there are a lot more costs here to consider and that recording and playing out is prohibitively expensive for most musicians unless people are willing to pay for it. Which, if you download entire albums or catalogs of music, you should be. There's no need to assume the worst here or be personally insulting.
posted by melissa may at 11:04 PM on June 26, 2007


There's no need to assume the worst here or be personally insulting.

i'm not being personally insulting ... just because you have a certain viewpoint on this doesn't mean that other musicians don't have theirs or that these viewpoints (and most important their musicianship) are less valid because they seem to have a less professional, career orientated outlook than you do

unless you consider it a personal insult to be reminded of the humble status that you, her and me all hold in music ... in which case, i really can't help you with that problem
posted by pyramid termite at 11:17 PM on June 26, 2007


"Everything is Free" by Gillian Welch sums this situation up perfectly (from an artist point of view).
Everything is free now,
That's what they say.
Everything I ever done,
Gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score.
They figured it out,
That we're gonna do it anyway,
Even if doesn't pay.

I can get a tip jar,
Gas up the car,
And try to make a little change
Down at the bar.

Or I can get a straight job,
I've done it before.
I never minded working hard,
It's who I'm working for.

(Chorus)

Every day I wake up,
Hummin' a song.
But I don't need to run around,
I just stay home.

And sing a little love song,
My love, to myself.
If there's something that you want to hear,
You can sing it yourself.

'Cause everything is free now,
That what I say.
No one's got to listen to
The words in my head.
Someone hit the big score,
And I figured it out,
That we're gonna do it anyway,
Even if doesn't pay.
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:48 AM on June 27, 2007


five fresh fish: I put my money where my mouth is: when I'm blown away by an artist, I go purchase the CD. Even though it fucking kills me to know the artist is going to see only pennies of that purchase.

How about this: Download the tunes, pirate style. If you like it enough to buy the album, find the band's website and buy a t-shirt. Give it away if you don't want it. They make more than they would on the CD, plus they get some promotion. Just a thought.

Hell, what we need is a YouTunes: post your tunes, use social networking to promote 'em, and if you start looking like a sure-fire success story, we'll sponsor a professional recording session to sell on iTunes on a profit-share basis.

That's what MySpace started out as, but it went in a different direction...
posted by LordSludge at 6:20 AM on June 27, 2007


"Everything is Free" by Gillian Welch sums this situation up perfectly (from an artist point of view).

and yet ... she released the song, anyway

and yet ... you copied the lyrics here, anyway
posted by pyramid termite at 8:11 AM on June 27, 2007


to make money

there is NO other business ANYONE stays in, period


Yes, the purpose of any business is to make money. But how are you going to do that? IF everyone in the company doesn't agree on how they are making money, then they won't be making money for very long, and in fact that was the case in 93 when gerstner took over.



Amazon | Sears
Revenue: $10.7 billion | $53 billion
Gross Profit: $2.5 billion | $15 billion
Net Income: $190 million | $1.5 billion

ericb has said it all with this
posted by pyramid termite at 12:14 AM on June 27


Let me clarify something here. First of all, these financial stats are for the Sears Holding Company, which is Sears + Kmart, plus Land's End, and a bunch of other brands. I'm not comparing the companies, because as you said, the companies are different.

But if you want to do this, then this is the more appropriate metric:

Amazon.com:
Qtrly Revenue Growth (yoy): 32.30%
Qtrly Earnings Growth (yoy): 117.60%

Sears:
Qtrly Revenue Growth (yoy): -2.50%
Qtrly Earnings Growth (yoy): 20.00%

Sears is a 110 year old combination of two huge retailing companies, and it isn't really growing. Amazon is 12 years old and is rapidly growing. Amazon lost money early on because they had to build everything from scratch and promote themselves. Think of all of that fixed cost for distribution centers, etc. Sears didn't have to do this. They already had everything in 1993. It would have to be changed, sure, but they had already convinced consumers that everything could be bought through a catalog, not just books. Amazon now sells everything, including general merchanidise.

My point was not that Sears's action in 1993 ended its reign as a sector or retailing innovator and leader. Here's an article from 1993 detailing Sears' unraveling. Notice also the backhand slap at "corporate dinosaur" IBM and the dig that their online venture makes no profit, in 1993.

The company needed cost-cutting and management overhaul, but it also needed some vision. Instead of bringing the company forward into the internet era, they firmly entrenched themselves in the bricks-and-mortar business. That business still makes some money, but the growth isn't there, the innovation isn't there, and the leadership isn't there. Sears isn't what it could have been, if someone had just thought to move the catalog business into the internet age. Yes, they probably would have lost money for a few more years. But when so many opportunities present themselves, that's the time to invest and spend, not the time to cut costs and retrench.

The analogy is simply that the RIAA, like Sears in 1993, is trying to find a away to protect their business from ten years earlier, instead of trying to figure out how to recreate its business for success in the next ten years.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:23 AM on June 27, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oops, that should say: My point was not that Sears's action in 1993
posted by Pastabagel at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2007


A piece of recorded music and music are as different as a snapshot and an actual experience.


For me, three minutes of a studio production usually represents hours of work. Long, tedious work that may not translate well (if at all) as performance, but that doesn't make it any less "music," nor does it make listening to it any less of an experience.

Maybe you see a recording as an attempt to capture something that is best experienced live, but to me a studio recording goes far beyond that. When I work on a song in the studio, I'm using techniques that can't be replicated live. Preverb, time/pitch shifting, backwards recording, looping, cutting and pasting - to me, these are as essential as a string section is to an orchestra. And I use these in an effort to create something entirely unique; to make people hear things unlike they've ever heard before.

I understand your argument about the impossibility of protecting a digital file, and I'm as anti-DRM as anyone else. But I think the success of iTunes plus has shown that people are willing to pay a premium for higher quality files unencumbered by copy protection. Maybe a tier system will be a reasonable compromise; with free lower-quality (128 kb/s) mp3s given away as promotional downloads, with higher-quality files available for purchase in a variety of formats.

Whatever compromise is eventually reached, I am optimistic that the people who are promising to support the independent micro-labels will make good on their word.
posted by malocchio at 8:31 AM on June 27, 2007


If you like it enough to buy the album, find the band's website and buy a t-shirt. Give it away if you don't want it. They make more than they would on the CD, plus they get some promotion.

I like!

Still need the CD, though, for the non-lossy master.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 AM on June 27, 2007


malocchio: When I work on a song in the studio, I'm using techniques that can't be replicated live.

Hogwash; if Kraftwerk can do it live, and in the 80's at that, anyone can. A concert isn't just playing, or creating, music, it is performance. You can add some pre-created content, video, etc. and make it a very worthwhile thing to attend.
posted by Bovine Love at 8:49 AM on June 27, 2007


The analogy is simply that the RIAA, like Sears in 1993, is trying to find a away to protect their business from ten years earlier, instead of trying to figure out how to recreate its business for success in the next ten years.

but there are important differences that you're glossing over, the first of which is that sears wasn't faced with a technological problem but a marketing problem ... their competition wasn't using the online world to affect their business, it was fragmenting the general merchandise market by creating niche stores (home depot, best buy, etc) or stores that catered to the lower end

you speak of ideas such as bringing the business into internet technology and being at the forefront of leadership, but a quick look at the dot.com boom and bust of the turn of the century will reveal that a lot of forward thinking companies of that time got buried ... being ahead of your time and embracing new ways of doing things can be a way of losing your shirt ... and most importantly going online wouldn't have solved their major problem which was niche businesses and low end general merchandisers cutting into their business

and in spite of the fact that they sell everything, amazon is still a niche business ... they sell books and cds, for the most part ... i can turn the challenge around ... instead of asking how sears can take its business online, i could ask how amazon could persuade enough people to buy their household goods online to be competitive with sears and affect their market share

asked in that way and there's difficulties ... how do you convince the customer that it's better to have to wait a few days for his purchase to arrive then to drive to the store and get it today? ... how do you take care of the increased cost of shipping items for individual customers while keeping prices competitive? ... how do you handle returns without creating major headaches for the customer?

with high added value things like books and cds, you can work out these problems - amazon and others have done it quite easily

it's not so easy to do with bath towels ...

the simple fact is that no one's become the amazon.com of general merchandising ... general merchandise needs brick and mortar storefronts and the best sears could have done is to augument their business slightly with web ordering ... which they have, in fact, done ... and is not, in fact, making them the leaders, is it?

no, the leader and innovator is walmart ... and they didn't do it in the way you've suggested
posted by pyramid termite at 9:08 AM on June 27, 2007


Hogwash; if Kraftwerk can do it live, and in the 80's at that, anyone can. A concert isn't just playing, or creating, music, it is performance. You can add some pre-created content, video, etc. and make it a very worthwhile thing to attend.

BL: What, did Kraftwerk explore every possible avenue of audio exploration already? And they pulled it off without compromise in a live setting? Phew--what a relief. I guess the rest of us can just stop recording music, and get on with our lives, then.

Here's an example: Radiohead's KID A. Totally a studio effort. Could they pull it off, in some form, live? Sure. Is a Radiohead concert the same kind of experience as listening to KID A? Not at all. For one thing, a lot of the people at concerts are more interested in socializing with their friends and angling for a piece of ass than the music anyway--I've played literally hundreds of live shows, many with better known indie bands like The Walkmen, American Analog Set, Enon, The Mountain Goats, Crooked Fingers, Starlight Mints and on and on... And you know what I've found? Most people don't go to shows to listen to music, they go to shows to do drugs and to socialize and maybe, if they're lucky, to hang out at the after-party with the band, so they'll have stories to tell their friends. Half the time, the audience hardly even seem to notice the band is playing, and you can hear them just talking away, even during quiet, emotionally intense parts of the songs. To say live performance is what music is all about seems fundamentally wrong to me. It hasn't been true since at least Sgt. Peppers, and probably going back even further. And Melissa May makes some good points--touring can take a heavy toll on people's personal lives. It's unfair that musicians should have to sacrifice a normal life and then be constantly criticized for not leading more normal lives, but that's exactly the position we put them in. But then I'll admit, personally I mostly hate live performance--both as a performer and (with a handful of exceptions) as a concert-goer. To me, they're just big social events with the music relegated to the role of social lubricant. But that's just me, and I know that for some people concerts can be really vital experiences.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:16 AM on June 27, 2007


Bovine Love - well, I agree to an extant. But I have to say that most of my favorite recording artists are pretty dreadful live (for example: the Cocteau Twins, absolutely genius in the studio, were horrible live!). And though I'll probably end up creating some sort of stage show, in the end the goal will be to drive sales of CDs and MP3s.

As a tangent, I'm somewhat afraid that if every studio is musician eventually forced to play live, the live market will become even more saturated (hard to imagine here in Los Angeles), competition for gigs will become even more fierce, and the paying rate for shows will drop. While this may intially sound good to concertgoers, in the end I suspect that it will lead to less diversity and innovation as fewer and fewer musicians find it worthwhile to pursue their craft.
posted by malocchio at 9:35 AM on June 27, 2007


malocchio: good points. and on the flipside of your point, i've known and worked with tons of bands who are excellent live performers but can't get it together in a studio to save their lives. seriously, why try to shoehorn all musicians into the same size shoe? some artists are excellent live performers, some are studio wizards, and a rare few are both. if any one of these types of artists is excluded from the mix, the overall depth of the musical landscape suffers for it, IMO.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:44 AM on June 27, 2007


there are a lot more costs here to consider and that recording and playing out is prohibitively expensive for most musicians unless people are willing to pay for it.

melissa may: yes to all your questions. But I'm in a genre and scene in which musicians depend primarily on live gigs -- including local venues, festival appearances, lotsa touring, and playing private events. Most of them have put together a diversified package of musical services,and the full-timers make a living from it. They've all got recordings available, and their fans buy the recordings, but they'd be foolish to depend on income from the recordings alone.

there are very few independent musicians who play shows for anything but peanuts or for free.

This isn't my experience at all. I generally don't play for free and I know few people who will, unless it's a benefit and they've all agreed to donate services. I'm also in the position of frequently booking bands and musicians for events and private gigs, and I don't short-change them. It could be that the indie-rock world is quite different. I'm sorry to hear that so many bands you're familiar with play for free or too low a cost to make it worthwhile; but that seems like more a labor solidarity issue or perhaps a local glut issue than proof that people aren't willing to pay for live music. Musicians shouldn't sell their performances too cheaply - it's the one aspect of their business over which they have the greatest control.

I think muscians need to work harder at convincing audiences that their performances are worth premium payment. One thing I'm periphally involved with in town is a collaborative that promotes local arts and culture. The collaborative does a lot of simple, effective things to make the case for supporting local music - stages simple, sponsored Thursday night summer concerts, works with venues to promote music series, and markets the city as a music destination. To make live music work, you need the committment from venues to pay well, and you also need a corollary degree of interest from an audience that will come out to listen and buy food and booze. It's not sensible to expect venues to host music as a charity affair - so people who care about music have to work on two fronts to support a local music scene - get venues to support musicians, and get fans to reward the venues for it.

Some of the problems with making money from recordings are just a result of choices made on an old industrial model, though. Expecting to survive today as a musician on the sale of recordings is like going into the buggy whip business in 1925. And some of the problem is the result of artistic choices made by musicians -- choices about the types of equipment they want to work with, how elaborate their recordings should be, what structure they use when playing out, etc. I'd rather see musicians accepting responsibility for their artistic choices - understanding that studiocraft may no longer have a high market value - than see lawyers making the money turning IP law inside out and coders making money trying to produce super-double-uber-unduplicatable files.

I believe we just have to let it go. Recordings in the old days were nothing but promotional pieces for live performances, and the temporary assertion of control over the means of audio artifact production and distribution by a handful of companies changed that. It's wonderful that people without access to the powerful corporate studio machine can now make very high-quality recordings on home equipment - but along with that amazing advance comes the reality that with so much good recorded music out there, and endless ability to duplicate, the value of an individual recording is no longer what it was during the latter half of the 20th century.

Playing for audiences can be a tough life. And there are effects that are easier to create in the studio than live. But if a musician or band would rather stay home and concentrate on studio work to make recorded musical art, that's a choice. The challenge inherent in that choice, though, is making it pay. Whether you distribute independently or through a label, it's not likely you'll ever be able to recoup a fraction of what your time is worth by depending on sales of recordings, which these days are essentially donations given in thanks by people who have a strong appreciation for your recording time. I don't think criminializing people who like and share music is the solution. Perhaps an appeal to ethics is the solution, but even then, only a small percentage of people will (do) feel prodded to act ethically.

I don't have a solution that will allow all bands who want to make their living from recording to do so. What's certain is that what's happening with technology and the collapse of the big labels is going to change the way we understand and work at music in our time, just as the advent of recording changed the world of music from what had existed before.
posted by Miko at 10:20 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Loosefilter, that book looks very interesting. Thanks.
posted by Miko at 10:21 AM on June 27, 2007


To say live performance is what music is all about seems fundamentally wrong to me.

Of course, this perspective ignores all of music in all of human history up until the 1930s. I won't say live performance is what music is all about, but any musicologist worth his or her salt will have quite a bit to say about the fundamental differences in experience between solitary and communal listening, and the connections between performers and listeners that can only happen in person.

As a concert musician, all of my music-making is live, in concert, and I wouldn't have it any other way. For me, music is a communal experience, and while I love putting on my headphones and blissing out to extraordinarily well-produced recordings as much as anyone, I have a very hard time imagining the art form completely decontextualized from its role in human community.

If your concerts are full of people who are more interested in hooking up and doing drugs than listening to your music, that is most unfortunate--my audiences tend to be there for the music, and listen quite closely.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman, it sounds like you have had a pretty awful experience playing and attending performances. And no, I do not think Kraftwerk has made every sound, but they certainly are a group which is *extremely* studio oriented; when you consider the difficultly of making their sound in the era they did so, it is even more impressive. They found a way to make it work. Without compromise? I don't know. Certainly some works may need changing if you are going to do much more then just playback, but I am not sure it is compromise, just different.

But the real point is you are still in a 'concert' state of mind. I attend a lot of dance performances; some of the contemporary stuff is accompanied by fascinating and wonderful music. That is just one example of musical performance which goes beyond the local club. I am not trying to put everyone into one shoe, I am trying to point out there is a lot more to performance then a band on stage playing instruments.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:30 AM on June 27, 2007


The more I think about it, the more I think the burden is on people who primarily view recording as the art form, rather than the making of music as the art form, to figure out a way for recordings to support them.

The model might have to be akin to visual art - I dunno, create albums in unique editions, either single or in a limited run (like lithographs or something) and sell or auction these few original, authorized copies to an elite market that will pay premium? Or create packaging that's so desirable and so integrated with the music that it becomes really important to have the official package as well as the recorded music? Or give buyers a unique, one-time use password to a special online or real-life experience that duplicators could not access?

Value-add!
posted by Miko at 10:31 AM on June 27, 2007


The challenge inherent in that choice, though, is making it pay.

if you take it as a challenge ... i don't ... the challenge for me is to keep coming up with different things

Whether you distribute independently or through a label, it's not likely you'll ever be able to recoup a fraction of what your time is worth by depending on sales of recordings,

on one level this is very true ... on another level, if i said to hell with it and watched tv instead, what could my time really be worth?

I don't have a solution that will allow all bands who want to make their living from recording to do so.

and here, i have to interject that i don't think anyone's ever come up with a solution that would have allowed all bands, or even most, to make their living from recording

the riaa hasn't ... and the evidence is pretty strong that for the bands they've signed over the decades, they weren't all that interested in whether they made a living from the recordings or not
posted by pyramid termite at 10:35 AM on June 27, 2007


I don't think anyone's ever come up with a solution that would have allowed all bands, or even most, to make their living from recording

Exactly, p_t, and that's why I'm not sure where the idea that people should be able to do that comes from.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2007


The more I think about it, the more I think the burden is on people who primarily view recording as the art form, rather than the making of music as the art form, to figure out a way for recordings to support them.

That's probably true, but it also points to what for me is the key distinction: With the development of modern recording techniques and technologies, recording is an emerging art form unto itself. Magazines like Tape Op exist for that reason. Artists like Elliot Smith make their reputations, to some extent, primarily as recording artists (not that Elliot Smith didn't also play live, but that his emphasis was on recording as a creative activity). Many contemporary artists actually generate much of their material in the recording studio, and the technologies and techniques used in the recording process play a major role in shaping the finished output. Sure, these artists may then go back and learn how to pull off their recorded output live, but that's not where their creative focus is.

See, the potentially tragic thing to me is that I think we were just beginning to see recording artistry coming into its own as a pursuit distinct from traditional modes of musical creativity. Groundbreaking artists like The Beatles and The Beach Boys helped lay the groundwork for this development; more recent artists like Radiohead and Beck have to some extent capitalized on it. More obscure artists like The Microphones and Deerhoof have also explored recording as an artform unto itself. Granted, almost all these artists have also toured/performed extensively--but some artists, like XTC and Steely Dan almost never tour. And as a recording enthusiast, I'd hate to see whatever happens in the future preclude recording artistry as a viable artistic pursuit in its own right, because honestly, that's how I like my music: Recorded, so that I can listen and re-listen to every brilliant little detail the artist crafted into it. Live music mostly just doesn't do it for me (with the exception of shows I've seen by Low, Shearwater, Andrew Bird, Crooked Fingers, and a handful of others).

LooseFilter: I don't mean to ignore the history of music, only to suggest that recording has in recent history emerged as a distinct art in its own right, largely due to technological developments that have made the recording process itself a creative process (modern loop based recording techniques are only one example; there are many other developments that have contributed as well).
posted by saulgoodman at 11:05 AM on June 27, 2007


the idea that people should be able to do that comes from.

where does the idea that lawyers "should be able" to make a living practice law "come from"? how about the idea that football players "should be able" to make millions playing a game for a living?

where the idea comes from isn't really relevant, is it? it's just a fact.

and hopefully, from my point of view, it will continue to be a fact that recording artists are able to practice their art/trade in the future, and ideally, one day they may even be compensated for it.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2007


I believe we just have to let it go.

Not meaning to pick on you, but it seems that this is much easier for you than it is for some of us.

Look, there are a great many of us that make studio recordings who do not support the RIAA's strong-arm tactics, or the pointless DRM crippling. But if those of us that are in genres that don't lend themselves easily (or profitably) to live performance can't find a way to sustain ourselves, then there will simply be less music for people to enjoy. And in my book, that's a losing proposition all the way around.

No one is arguing that everyone that chooses to record an album should be able to make their living from it. I'm just worried that this attitude which depreciates recorded music will not allow anyone that ability.
posted by malocchio at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2007 [4 favorites]


I don't think anyone's ever come up with a solution that would have allowed all bands, or even most, to make their living from recording

d'oh. glossed over this part of the original comment, pt/miko. sorry.

i definitely don't think all bands or even most should necessarily be able to make a living from recording. i'd just hate to see a future where none could, or in which they all have to go about it the same way.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2007


or what malocchio said so much better.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:18 AM on June 27, 2007


where does the idea that lawyers "should be able" to make a living practice law "come from"? how about the idea that football players "should be able" to make millions playing a game for a living?

Those ideas come from the marketplace. Those people can expect a living doing those things because there's an enormous market clamoring for what those people provide and willing to pay for it. Part of that perceived value on the part of the market comes from the fact that their services can't generally be duplicated - a football game is a unique, live event (not unlike a concert). A lawyer's services are generally individualized, immediate, and customized. In the areas where they aren't -- for instance, the drawing up of contracts, wills, and other legal documents or generic advice -- note that law practices have suffered somewhat because of the easy availability of legal sample documents and information on the internet. Because of that, lawyers have had to find other areas of service to emphasize.

In addition, only a few pro football players make money doing what they do, contrasted with many more players who play in leagues other than the NFL, college teams, women's teams, all the way down the spectrum to the backyard pickup player. Not all of them expect a living, either - the living comes with being one of the few who makes it to the bigs and signing contracts. The NFL is the Rolling Stones of the sports industry; the pickup game down the street is the indie band. Should the indie band expect to make Stones money? (By the way, even bands like the Stones make the bulk of their money on touring and commercial licensing).

People pay for these services - professional athletic events, the help of lawyer - because they have to; there's no other way to get the services. But people don't have to pay for music if they don't want to - it's basically free, and the only thing standing between a listener and an illegal download is tolerance for risk.

What are we do with a product that is universally and quickly replicatable, not unique to time or place, and not individually customized? How can anyone expect to make a living selling something like that? It's like trying to make a living by sketching a gorgeous picture, and then selling Xerox copies of it, or taking a photo and selling prints. BUt the problem's even worse with recorded music than with visual art like photography, where you can sell prints of an original photo - there's so little loss of quality with audio now that there's little incentive to buy the original.

The comparison, though, with careers highly rewarded by the marketplace is interesting. How passionate are music fans, really? How valuable a service do people think music is? Why tell people they "should" pay for music if they don't see it as equally valuable as a ticket to a pro sporting event? Or even in the case of a $1 download - the price of a lottery ticket or a cup of coffee? Is this the market voting - just saying 'go ahead and play music if you like - it's not worth it to me to pay for it, though?' It's really a question for the economic philosophers. When music was hard to get for free, people listened to less of it but paid more for it. Now that it's easy to get for free, people listen to more of it but perhaps value it less.

I'm honestly not trying to say that recorded music is bad or that people who make recorded music are outmoded, or any such thing. It's just that it seems we've really got to recognize that it won't pay. It isn't paying! Rather than defend a defunct business model for musicians who want to make a living with their art, why not ask - What do we do about it? How do recording-intensive musicians make a living in the new musical age? What are the viable ideas out there? For whom is it working, and how?
posted by Miko at 12:10 PM on June 27, 2007


Those ideas come from the marketplace. Those people can expect a living doing those things because there's an enormous market clamoring for what those people provide and willing to pay for it.

See, this to me is the whole problem: This approach to defining value begs the question.

You seem to be saying the value of a good or service is determined by how the market values it, and yet, what determines how the market values something? Our ideas about the value of the thing, which we now often derive solely from what we consider to be the potential market value of the thing.

This is a more general problem, I think, with how all value tends to be defined exclusively in terms of market value these days. The argument goes: Let the market decide whether or not X is valuable. But since everyone looks to the market to decide what to consider valuable, this approach to defining value ends up not making any sense.

If we don't know what we consider to be valuable, if we don't think long and hard about it and make conscientious choices about what we consider valuable, the market won't simply make those choices for us, it'll just keep chasing its own tail, looking for ways to make money off of side deals related to a product or service rather than the product or service itself.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:31 PM on June 27, 2007


This has been a pretty fascinating thread to read. I've been making music for about 17 years now (and ran a label in that time, and handled advertising, distributing, promotion; I've booked shows, recorded, and toured, and been a DJ, and blah-de-blah-de-blah). So I've thought about this a fair deal.

As we all know, life isn't always (or ever?) totally fair. For going on ten years, it's seemed to me like neither of the proposed choices offered to people wanting music (pay or download for free) is a perfect deal; both these choices have pretty clear drawbacks, most of which have been examined in great detail upthread.

Still, I decided a long time ago that the better of the two roads as far as I was concerned was the free road. It no longer takes a huge amount of money to release music, and perhaps the fact that this happened right about the same time as file-sharing emerged tipped the scales for me. Maybe if I was ten years older, I wouldn't feel this way, I don't know.

But, as someone said earlier, we just have to let it go. I think it's amazing what's going on in music right now - anyone with an online connection (and that's anyone living near a public library) can now hear pretty much all the music that's ever been recorded pretty much for free. Probably 95% of what I download is stuff I've never even seen for sale in a record store - in many cases stuff that went out of print before I was born. This is really beyond my wildest dreams, record-buying-wise; better than a contest-winning five minute spree with a shopping cart in a superstore.

Should Beethoven have gotten a day job? Picasso? If your taste in music is as a pleasant diversion, it would be fine to live in a world of musical hobbyists. But I'm one of those anachronistic weirdos who actually views music as a serious art, and spends his life studying, practicing, and making it--and after 25 years so far, am just feeling like I'm getting reasonably good at it.

This is all equally true of the person who plays, studies, and practises after work, is it not? I would go so far as to say that *all* artists should pursue their art off the clock (and I've yet to find anyone who agrees with me on this FWIW, but then again I always have this argument with friends who want to 'make a living' pursuing their art). How free can you really be in following your inspiration if the result may or may not keep you eating and under a roof for another month?

Perhaps the revolution going on within the world of music will in turn affect other artistic fields. It will certainly be interesting to observe what goes on in the next few years.
posted by stinkycheese at 12:55 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I would go so far as to say that *all* artists should pursue their art off the clock (and I've yet to find anyone who agrees with me on this FWIW, but then again I always have this argument with friends who want to 'make a living' pursuing their art).

I've long ago given up on the idea of making a living pursuing my art (that's why I make the big bucks now as a programmer/analyst)--but I disagree, too. Why should all artists pursue their careers off the clock anymore than all professional golfers and all professional basketball players should? Even the worst professional athletes make a living wage; not so musicians, writers, or pretty much any other artists. In fact, even many highly successful artists often still have to supplement their incomes.

But don't worry. I won't insist you have to agree with me. Everyone's entitled to their own view, after all, and I respect yours. If you don't think art is worth paying for, fine. When enough people agree with you, it will disappear completely, and all that will be left is marketing disguised as entertainment. I'd say we're already about 75% of the way there.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:16 PM on June 27, 2007


How free can you really be in following your inspiration if the result may or may not keep you eating and under a roof for another month?

Charles Ives, one of America's most profoundly innovative artists, had his own solution--he had a day job, and made quite a bit of money (and was very influential and innovative in the field of insurance, too). I think that particular choice is left to each artist, and I'm not sure how one can construct a view of what path should or shouldn't be appropriate--if you want to follow your muse full time, you have to be OK with the fiscal realities of that; of course, many of our most innovative artists did follow their muses full-time, and have made a great living doing so (in music, John Adams and Steve Reich come immediately to mind). I was responding to an assertion upthread that music should only be a labor of love, a passionate hobby. That's not a supportable opinion, I don't think.

Perhaps the revolution going on within the world of music will in turn affect other artistic fields. It will certainly be interesting to observe what goes on in the next few years.

I agree--in my view, right now is a tremendously exciting time to be a musician, perhaps the most exciting time in modern history.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:22 PM on June 27, 2007


Oooooh, I really don't want to get into that argument. I probably shouldn't have even gone there. I've argued this with people for hours and, as I said, never convinced anyone of my view. I'm quite accustomed to being 'wrong' on this one.

That said, no, of course art wouldn't disappear - hopefully it would in fact undergo a shift in people's consciousness and be far more present (and helpful) in people's lives. In fact, I would agree with you that most of what people call art is marketing disguised as entertainment.

For myself, I'm very happy giving my music away to friends and having them give me their music in return. The whole concept of earning a living doing this feels me with revulsion, frankly.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:29 PM on June 27, 2007


On preview: Fair enough LooseFilter. I live my life according to my ideals and others can do the same. I'm not trying to impose this viewpoint on anyone else.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:33 PM on June 27, 2007


For myself, I'm very happy giving my music away to friends and having them give me their music in return. The whole concept of earning a living doing this feels me with revulsion, frankly.

As an artist and critic of commercialism, I completely understand this position. As a father and a child of a working class family, my every instinct cries, "No! No! No! Hard work must be remunerated!" I was taught my entire life to believe that hard work, undertaken in good faith, would and should be rewarded proportionally in a just world, and that the world is just. Letting go of that illusion has been painful, but hey, what can you do?

One other last point I might offer is this: Some artists who have important contributions to make, probably wouldn't, if not for profit motive. For a lot of artists from poor or working class backgrounds, the arts can seem to hold the promise of upward class mobility--artists like Elvis Costello, Sting, etc., came from working class backgrounds, and who knows, they might not have even bothered to pursue music if they hadn't thought there was money to be made in it. Even leftist icons like Woody Guthrie (if you haven't read his autobiography "Bound for Glory", I'd highly recommend it) was desperately trying to make a living for himself as a musician. What if there were no Elvis Costellos, Stings or Woody Guthries? I don't think music, as an art-form, would be richer for it.

But like I said, I really do appreciate your perspective. In fact, I kind of wish I could share it.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:00 PM on June 27, 2007


I'm not trying to impose this viewpoint on anyone else.

Aw, I was hoping for a good you-have-to-think-like-me flamewar.

Damn you and your reasonableness!
posted by LooseFilter at 2:02 PM on June 27, 2007


Art will never disappear. Human beings have to make art like they have to breathe.

Gillian Welch's song is right: "We're gonna do it anyway/even if it doesn't pay." Musicians basically can't not make music. Even if somehow a reduced demand for recordings meant a reduction in the number of people interested in making music, perhaps the music itself would be better overall, since presumably only those motivated by a burning internal passion to create would enter the field. Those who were not that invested or were hoping to make the big bucks would do something else.

However, most musicians don't fall on one or the other side of that binary divide. Full-time professional musicianship is still a rarity, and has been since recorded music took over from what used to be a viable career path for many more people than today - think of the pre-recording era, when string bands and brass bands and dance-hall groups and tavern piano players and singers and theatre orchestras played in every town of any size. Now that recordings aren't guaranteed to support you, we may need to redefine what a 'professional' musician actually does for a living. And those who want to emphasize the art of recording and be rewarded monetarily for that may have to figure out another means of getting people to pay for what they do.

the worst professional athletes make a living wage; not so musicians, writers, or pretty much any other artists

People seem taken with the analogy to professional sports - but remember that the big pro sports associations are privately owned corporations doing business with other privately owned corporations (teams). Their business model is to run sporting events tournament style, and they contract with the teams to do so , and the teams then contract with the elite performers in their sport, in essence leasing the players' time to give performances for that team. It's really not that different from what used to happen with major labels, except that rather than leasing time, labels sold recordings. "Even the worst" professional athletes are a teeny tiny minority of all athletes, the few who were selected and who agreed to sign those contracts. It's not a very helpful analogy, unless we were to separate into rigid genres with agreed-upon formal rules of play, hire some wealthy investors to promote us, form regional music teams in each genre, and have those teams songfight competitively through the National Klezmer League (or whatever) to win an annual championship.

Anyway, 'elite' in music is not so easy to define as 'elite' in one particular set of sports skills. There are many ways to be an elite musician, and in fact some version of this degree of professionalism exists already, for instance in classical music, when if you're an extremely skilled concert musician you might win a seat in one of the leading orchestras, or if you're an excellent guitar player you might be a studio musician in Nashville. But that kind of professional financial success again only accounts for a tiny minority of all musicians. And even then, a professional orchestra player doesn't draw the salary of a professional sports player - nowhere near it. Again, it's what the market will bear. If people were as fired up about orchestral music as they are about the NHL, players would make more money and it would be still more competitive to win those seats. But people in the main are just not that fired up about most kinds of music. How do we change that? I don't know - promotion, education, exposure, advocacy. But not by charging more money for something people already don't want to pay for.

You seem to be saying the value of a good or service is determined by how the market values it, and yet, what determines how the market values something?

Well, the thread is about whether people can make money on the free market selling recordings, so I think the conversation has to reference what the market is and whether that model is viable. I'm actually saying it's not viable, and I'm saying that because I agree with you - there are other standards of value for music. I value music a lot, tremendously, but I don't think recorded music has much economic value in the marketplace. That's the whole reason the music industry has a problem. But as for where I'm coming from, I reject the ideals of the market when it comes to music.

Different economic models for being a musician do exist, which are the ones I've been repeating in the thread. Sell recordings at your shows, nicely packaged. Give your digital files away happily online and elsewhere. Play out whenever possible. Have fun in jam sessions with friends. Noodle around writing songs all day and night. Sing 'em at parties. Teach classes at the university or adult ed program on genres you know really well. Record others at home, taking payment for the service, or teach others to record. Set up home studios for people who don't know the specs, and teach them to use their gear. Give lessons. Take lessons. Busk. Approach venues and ask if they'll let you promote a series.

I'm honestly not trying to be glib, but I've been thinking about these things a long time and this is where I've arrived. We really are at a point of asking ourselves what the role of a musician in our culture is, and whether music can be considered a commodity any longer. It does mean change and, for those who want to concentrate on the art of recording and don't want to play out much, we'll have to find some other way to compensate them for their art, and it might not bring that much cash in.

Like others here, I feel there's never been a more musically rich time be alive - except, perhaps, for the dawn of radio , when for the first time people living in their own regional cultures could suddenly hear the sounds of other regions and ethnicities. And then we got Western swing, country, bluegrass, rockabilly, rock, cajun, R & B, and a generally astounding array of fusion genres that exploded into being -- because music was being shared. Freely. And heard by the many. Today we've got a similarly wonderful field of an incredible array of music - from today and yesterday - just ripe for more cross-pollination.

You can still make money being a musician without relying on recording - you don't have to, but you can, if it is very important to you. I just seriously question whether you can make money making recordings any more. Curating, reviewing, selecting and presenting them, probably; but just putting them out? I think that train has left the station.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on June 27, 2007


"and have those teams songfight competitively through the National Klezmer League"

Please God yes.
posted by klangklangston at 3:08 PM on June 27, 2007


We really are at a point of asking ourselves what the role of a musician in our culture is, and whether music can be considered a commodity any longer.

It's really disheartening to hear other musicians tell you that your product no longer has intrinsic value. Whether it's true or not, it's not something I'd ever tell a performing musician. (No one HAS to spend $200 to go to a concert that they may not even remember two days later. At least I'm offering a product, or an experience that is dependable and replicable.) But you've said yourself that you don't generally play for free, well, why not? That's what you are asking me to do.

I don't know any songs by heart from going to see live music. The songs I love are from the albums I've bought, and listened to over and over, until I know every fill, every chord change, every nuance on every solo. That's when becomes a part of you, permanently, something that no one can ever take away. Listen to that song ten years later, and you'll still remember everything about it, perfectly.

Is everyone willing to pay for this? I guess not. But I don't think 50 cents or a buck is that much to ask.
posted by malocchio at 4:24 PM on June 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


boy do i like buying mp3 downloads from bleep and other music. i wish that every artist had a paypal pay button somewhere, too... I like to pay for art. you can never be too broke to pay a dollar. it was interesting for a while to grab a bagillion mp3s, but it made things more surface, less interesting to me. buying helps constrain the input and settle the tab with the artists.

that said my album is in the creative commons and has been downloaded almost 10,000 times, which is also pretty cool -- I doubt that I'd get 1/100th that many people to listen to my stuff if it weren't for the fact that it is free and online: http://leemonn.com/ohler

music that you find in communities that is free is also really interesting -- I find that I like it more than anonymous randomly stolen commercial music. so there is a place for both, at least for me, but no one ever agrees with me about things like this, so meh.
posted by n9 at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2007


Pastabagel writes "Sears didn't have to do this. They already had everything in 1993. It would have to be changed, sure, but they had already convinced consumers that everything could be bought through a catalog, not just books."

Another company that totally dropped the ball is Victoria's Secret. Very late to the online game and their website _still_ blows.

saulgoodman writes "Even the worst professional athletes make a living wage"

This isn't even remotely true. Sure the guys in the NHL, CFL, NFL, MLB, make money but, for example, almost every one playing professional lacrosse has a second job. And a minuscule few female professional athletes make enough to support themselves. Even some of the guys in the MLS need a second job.
posted by Mitheral at 6:18 PM on June 27, 2007


for example, almost every one playing professional lacrosse has a second job

Not to mention the guys who would have loved to go pro but couldn't for whatever reason (not tall enough, family to raise, or just not quite talented enough). How much money are they making from their passion?

And like musicians, there are many athletes out there who willingly work themselves to the bone for little to no money, with little to no audience, and at cost to their personal lives. I'm thinking especially of triathletes and those 100-mile marathon runners.

I actually think the music-sport analogy holds up well. A major problem facing the major sports leagues is declining attendance and dropping TV revenue (NHL, I'm looking in your direction) as people are becoming more personally athletic. This sounds just like the RIAA's revenues plummeting as more and more people make or find music for themselves.

Great thread.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:37 PM on June 27, 2007


Personally - and again, I can only speak to myself and my own beliefs - I wasn't saying musicians shouldn't make money period malcchio, I was saying musicians, and by extension artists in general, shouldn't depend on music/art as their primary means of support. How they make a living, in other words.

Any money I've ever made doing music has gone right back into the band I was in at the time, whether that be towards a recording, or towards equipment rental, or road food, or whatever. There's no such thing as profit. Whenever I've kept tabs, it was clear that I was putting more of my own money into music then I was getting out of it. So yes, it's an expensive hobby, as gross as that might sound.

When major labels started sniffing around independent bands in the early 90s, I naively believed that 'the scene' could bend the situation to 'our' gain and ideally have a positive effect on the music industry in general. Of course that didn't happen.

Now here is another moment rife with democratic possibility, born not out of ideals but of techonology - and every person will have to decide for themselves where they stand (and then when everybody's standing where they stand, we'll see a crowd form, and that'll be the way things are).

I'd far rather see a future where would-be 'professional musicians' have a second job than a future such as the RIAA would envision.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:04 PM on June 27, 2007


stinkycheese: I'd far rather see a future where would-be 'professional musicians' have a second job than a future such as the RIAA would envision.

I pretty much agree. I know too many 20, 30, even 40 year old "musicians" that are still living with their parents, as they're unable to support themselves. My own drummer has been living out of his car for the past week, because he refuses to get a Real Job* -- he's going to "hit it big". (old joke: What do you call a drummer with no girlfriend? Homeless.)

But one musician I know is a multi-millionaire, and that drives all the wannabes. See? He did it, and so can I! Keep workin on that jump shot, kid; there's a place for ya in the NBA.

The big downside is that if professional musicians have a day-job, and there's no chance of "hitting it big", there will be far fewer bands out there (fewer deluded people chasing false hopes), and, I believe, a greater percentage of cover bands, as there is far less incentive to come up with their own Next Big Thing. Cover bands suck.

* Well, plus a coke addiction, family problems, etc., etc., etc...
posted by LordSludge at 7:59 PM on June 27, 2007


One other thought--much of the discussion about pro vs. amateur musicians is only acknowledging one kind of music-making--that is to say, bands playing clubs, etc. There are thousands and thousands of full-time musicians who exist in the world of concert music, who make a living playing, teaching, writing, etc., their music.

Young people are also engaged in this world. I personally have worked with literally thousands of high school musicians in bands and orchestras in my 7 years so far in California (camps, clinics, all-states, etc.--I'm a university conductor/professor). This world is apparently invisible to most commenting in this thread, but it has little to do with the RIAA (I suppose because it is a performance-centered world). Hm.

Also: I'd far rather see a future where would-be 'professional musicians' have a second job than a future such as the RIAA would envision.

I agree, but that's a false dilemma. As has been emphasized upthread, music is un-do-without-able as far as human beings are concerned. There is no human culture in history of which we're aware, that did not make music. Even people living in caves 40,000 years ago carved flutes out of bone. (and used the aeolian--natural minor--mode, to boot!)

Music will be just fine.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:59 PM on June 27, 2007


miko, stinkycheese, et al...

I mostly agree with your comments, but I think ultimately some of these questions boil down to what we personally value most. Personally, I value music more than sports, although there are enough abstract similarities between the two that I won't argue over why. It's just personal taste.

On one hand, I don't think any athletes or musicians deserve to earn as much as some of the top earners do, given the practical, real-world value of what they produce; and on the other hand, I think there are a lot more athletes and musicians who deserve to earn more than they do given their level of skill, hard work and commitment. Of course, just as many athletes and musicians probably shouldn't be athletes or musicians, period. But even excluding those, there are a lot of highly experienced, highly skilled professional musicians and recording artists who aren't compensated much at all. Many of the artists themselves are okay with that. I say, fuck that.

When a failed CEO walks away from a company he's spent the last few year running into the ground at a salary of a million a year with a 2 billion dollar golden parachute to make his landing nice and soft, he doesn't question whether or not what he produces is something people would be willing to pay for on the open market. No one ever demands proof that what a CEO does is valuable enough to compensate at that level. The market, apparently, has decided that already--and by the market all we really mean in this case is the board of directors, which was probably handpicked by the previous CEO, who was probably the guy who formed the company and appointed the board. So this latest CEO is probably a relative of a family friend.

Meanwhile, who knows how many gifted young musicians died unnoticed in some rat infested hovel just in the time he spent negotiating his compensation package?

Alright, I'm being WAYYYY melodramatic, and kind of silly, but my point is, the distribution of wealth in every sector of our economy is all over the map, and there seems to be no rationality or proportionality at all to the compensation in some labor market sectors. I think if wealth distribution in general were just flattened out a little, there'd be a lot more elbow room for professionals in every trade... But then that probably makes me sound like a commie, so I should point out that I mean wealth redistribution through conservative reforms--i.e., slowly breaking up economic bottlenecks.

I'm actually saying it's not viable, and I'm saying that because I agree with you - there are other standards of value for music. I value music a lot, tremendously, but I don't think recorded music has much economic value in the marketplace.

What is economic value? The market doesn't generate economic value in a vacuum. I'd argue that economic value, particularly when it comes to the arts, is determined by individual consumer choice, and little else. So what you seem to be saying is that consumers just don't value recorded music enough to pay for it without value added. Fair enough. That may be true; I don't personally think it is, but it may be. If you're right, I think this will be bad for music in the long-term. I don't think, as some have suggested, that the quality of music overall will improve if only those with a "burning desire" to make it are left doing so, because very often those with the least talent have the most ambition, and those with talent are relatively unmotivated. In some cases, the promise of potential economic reward may be just enough to provide the extra push of motivation that turns a potentially great but uninspired artist into a truly great artist. I know that sounds antithetical to a lot of deeply cherished ideas about what art is all about, but I'm afraid it's probably true in more cases than one might think.

And LooseFilter: I have a friend who's a conductor, and of course, you're right. There's more to music than indie music. And in some form, music will always be fine. I think it's the fate of popular music that's really up for discussion (and in a sense, maybe up for grabs) here.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:47 PM on June 27, 2007


saulgoodman writes "Alright, I'm being WAYYYY melodramatic, and kind of silly, but my point is, the distribution of wealth in every sector of our economy is all over the map, and there seems to be no rationality or proportionality at all to the compensation in some labor market sectors. I think if wealth distribution in general were just flattened out a little, there'd be a lot more elbow room for professionals in every trade... But then that probably makes me sound like a commie, so I should point out that I mean wealth redistribution through conservative reforms--i.e., slowly breaking up economic bottlenecks."

I can't believe this is still going ...

This is going a bit beyond the music industry. The culture of the US produced the kind of music/arts/entertainment industry we have now. Parts of Europe still sees music as high art and encourage excellent orchestras and modern composers. Some countries pay a lot of taxes for the highest quality symphonic orchestras and ensembles - Germany is one. We see music as entertainment. That's a huge part of the origins of rock n roll; many jazz artists saw it as the death of their form, and they were prophetic. Jazz was the last musical high art which was popular in the US. (I say this as a deep lover of Delta blues and raw rock music, both of which can be sublime art.) Here in the US, you have to be a dead white guy to get played by an orchestra, or pay them a buttload of money (and, as Frank Zappa found with the LSO, it will probably not be played well, and you'll lose money on the deal). There is genius to be found even in pop music, but it's not quite the same thing, although some pop artists are definitely hitting new levels of artistry, though that is not necessarily encouraged, as it's not the best way to sell a lot of music. Some forms of electronic music are getting there, through a different angle. We may get there again. A shakeup of the music industry is necessary to do this, however. That's why current industry events are encouraging to me ...
posted by krinklyfig at 9:10 PM on June 27, 2007


After all of this discussion I guess that the MetaFilter sidebar text still stands:
"Sears could still be a huge American company today, instead of a historical footnote..."
Forget that it is the #3 'general merchandising' company and #33 in the Fortune 500. I suspect that here on MetaFilter your comapny needs to rank in the "Top Ten" to be considered more than "huge," and more than an "historical footnote." I'm looking at you -- Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart Stores, General Motors, Chevron, Ford Motor, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, Citigroup, AIG and IBM. Heaven forbid that you stuble on offering your products and services online. T'will be the "death knell" of your company!
posted by ericb at 9:27 PM on June 27, 2007


*company* | *stumble*
posted by ericb at 9:29 PM on June 27, 2007


Loosefilter: There is no human culture in history of which we're aware, that did not make music...music will be just fine.

I totally agree. Sorry if I gave the impression music would disappear if people didn't make a living at it. That's neither my belief, nor my desire.

saulggodman: I think it's the fate of popular music that's really up for discussion (and in a sense, maybe up for grabs) here.

I agree with this too. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:19 PM on June 27, 2007


ericb, you're missing that anytime someone writes an overly long, seemingly-knowledgable comment on MetaFilter that has some kind of "way cool" and/or "right on" factor, it means they're an expert on the subject. As long as you insist on posting ordinary length comments that quote mere facts, you'll never be taken seriously.
posted by cillit bang at 12:24 AM on June 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


After all of this discussion I guess that the MetaFilter sidebar text still stands:

i feel your pain, brother, but we cannot change the whims of populist opinion anymore than we can change the food at mcdonalds
posted by pyramid termite at 1:12 AM on June 28, 2007


Parts of Europe still sees music as high art and encourage excellent orchestras and modern composers. Some countries pay a lot of taxes for the highest quality symphonic orchestras and ensembles - Germany is one.

Yep, and the Netherlands actually has a Pop Music Council.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:47 AM on June 28, 2007


My last clarification, too: Some responding to me seem to be reading my comments as saying that I don't think recording will last. I do - people make recordings even when recordings don't make money, for all the useful reasons (storage, replaying, study, promotion) people have pointed out. I don't expect music or musicianship or recording to die out. I expect instead for recordings to stop beeing seen as valuable commodities in and of themselves.

Great thread, thanks all.
posted by Miko at 6:59 AM on June 28, 2007


Forget that it is the #3 'general merchandising' company and #33 in the Fortune 500. I suspect that here on MetaFilter your comapny needs to rank in the "Top Ten" to be considered more than "huge," and more than an "historical footnote."

First of all, I was the one who said Sears was a historical footnote, so I take full responsibility for that.

And calling it the #3 general merchandising company is nothing to brag about when number #1 has 7 times the revenue, but is half as old.

The Fortune 500 ranks companies by revenue. By that measure, Sears is above Microsoft. Great. So what? And yes, Sears is still "huge". So is GM. Anyone expect GM to do anything groundbreaking in the auto industry? Exxon Mobile is not only the largest company by revenue, it is also has the most profits. Is anyone looking to Exxon for innovation in the energy industry?

Huge companies don't make history, innovative companies do. Huge companies that don't innovate get replaced by companies that do. Innovators don't necessarily have to be small - IBM introduced the PC when it was 80 years old.

And before anyone jumps on the fact that IBM didn't invent the PC, which is true, what IBM did was develop a computer that businesses would buy. IBM designed the look of its PCs to invoke their mainframes - the cases were steel, not plastic, and were painted the same color as their mainframes. Durable, and reliable. The keyboards were designed too look like their mainframe dumb terminal keyboards. None of this was accidental - they researched the market and learned that information systems managers felt that other computers, from apple and commodore, looked like toys.

Again the whole point is that the problem in the record industry is not a technological problem, it is a vision problem, a marketing problem. "What do I sell? To whom? How?" The RIAA (the labels collectively) are not in the business of selling CDs. They are in the business of licensing and promotion. Among other things, this thread has concluded that the industry still needs promotion of some kind, but maybe not the old kind. Maybe videos and heavy FM radio rotation aren't going to work.

But I wonder how many more records (or downloads) John Mayer (to pick someone completely at random) would sell if he got a metafilter account and posted a demo over on music.mefi? You don't have to make money from every listen of a song to make enough money to make more songs.

Think outside the box, whether the box is a huge department store, a CD case, or an Ipod.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:00 AM on June 28, 2007


Also -- the IBM PC was the first desktop computer with a 16-bit microprocessor and one of the first software products for it was Lotus 1-2-3 (spreadhseet, graphics and database functionality). That product was released on January 26, 1983 and sold $53 million in its first year. It -- along with other products, such as Ashton Tate's dBase -- helped to usher in IBM PC,'s as well as Compaq's "portable computer"* (and other PC compatibles) into corporate America. And, as was often invoked by DP/MIS managers who were making significant capital purchases of hardware and software -- often directly from corporate account sales teams at the hardware and software manufacturers -- "No one ever got fired for buying from IBM."

* - Interesting to note that both Lotus and Compaq received initial rounds of financing from Ben Rosen and LJ Sevin in late 1982. The two companies experienced meteoric growth soon afterwards.
posted by ericb at 8:46 AM on June 28, 2007


Anyone expect GM to do anything groundbreaking in the auto industry?

yes ... i expect them to be the leader in drastically reducing employee benefits so the american auto industry can survive

Huge companies don't make history, innovative companies do.

successful companies make money, not history

Again the whole point is that the problem in the record industry is not a technological problem, it is a vision problem, a marketing problem.

but in this case, it's technological, too ... the simple truth is that they cannot stop online file sharing short of a) reversing the computer revolution and restricting the internet b) turning the u s into a police state

it's the technology that has made the marketing so problematic for them ... i certainly agree that in this case, they needed to innovate years ago and stubbornly held on to an outdated business model

Think outside the box, whether the box is a huge department store, a CD case, or an Ipod.

or the internet, which is NOT a solution to every problem or the medium for every business

or a catalog sales department, which is what sears did in the 90s

actually, montgomery ward was the real innovator in this field ... they were the first to come up with the catalog sales model ... sears' real innovation was to get the merchandise out of the catalog and into stores, montgomery ward was late doing this and suffered as a result ... sears' next innovation was to ditch the catalog period ... wards kept theirs and are no longer in business

on the other hand, in 1998, j c penney did just what you've suggested ... they kept the catalog and moved online with it ... they seem to be the innovator and leader ... the result? ... they've done reasonably well, they're growing, but they haven't beat sears or walmart yet

so someone did do what you suggested ... and it hasn't set the world on fire or beat "the historical footnote", although it has helped their business somewhat

it certainly hasn't made them the leader
posted by pyramid termite at 9:19 AM on June 28, 2007


Forget that it is the #3 'general merchandising' company and #33 in the Fortune 500.

Especially since, again, they were acquired by KMart a few years ago, and that ranking includes BOTH companies.

Also -- the IBM PC was the first desktop computer with a 16-bit microprocessor and one of the first software products for it was Lotus 1-2-3 (spreadhseet, graphics and database functionality). That product was released on January 26, 1983 and sold $53 million in its first year.

And by 1988 they were laying off tens of thousands of workers and were pretty much on their way out of the personal computer business. The industry they helped create nearly destroyed them.

actually, montgomery ward was the real innovator in this field ... they were the first to come up with the catalog sales model ... sears' real innovation was to get the merchandise out of the catalog and into stores, montgomery ward was late doing this and suffered as a result ... sears' next innovation was to ditch the catalog period ... wards kept theirs and are no longer in business

Except Wards had been on life support since the 1970s, unable to compete with Sears or Penneys or the growing chains of more upscale department stores (e.g. May, Sanger Harris, Foley's). Even if they had ditched the catalog during the 1980s they probably still wouldn't have survived; the best they could have hoped then for was a buyout by Sears or Dayton-Hudson.

on the other hand, in 1998, j c penney did just what you've suggested ... they kept the catalog and moved online with it ... they seem to be the innovator and leader ... the result? ... they've done reasonably well, they're growing, but they haven't beat sears or walmart yet

so someone did do what you suggested ... and it hasn't set the world on fire or beat "the historical footnote", although it has helped their business somewhat

it certainly hasn't made them the leader


But they're turning the corner. They're playing catch-up to Target on the web. They'll never be Wal-Mart, but they don't have to be. Good customer service and an effective web presence will help them bring in customers and keep the overhead low through innovation.

One other thing I forgot to mention when I was talking about Sears. A few years ago, in order to promote domestic tranquility (i.e. keep my marriage from collapsing under a heap of unwashed dishes), I decided to buy a portable dishwasher, the kind on casters. I went to Lowe's, found a dishwasher, and tried to buy it. For 15 minutes. Couldn't raise a sales person anywhere to help me. In fact, I started rolling the dishwasher around the store, making myself a complete nuisance to everyone just to get attention. Nothing. Disgusted, I left.

Next day, I went to Sears and walked straight into their dishwasher selection. Saleswoman appears within 2 minutes. We have a brief conversation about what I'm looking for. I look at the washers and make my selection. She runs it, sets up the delivery time, I pay for it, and I'm done. In less than 10 minutes.

Now, I could do all of that online. With the "Web 2.0-hype-ification-a-winner-is-you!" of things I could go online, compare, and read reviews. And if Sears were smarter about how they set up their website, I could do that on their site. But at the end of the day, if I need to go get a big ticket item right now, I don't have time to do the comparisons. What I want is the ability to pick out what I need, filter for the sales crap, and walk out 10 minutes later with what I was hoping to buy in the first place.

And to get this back to music, I want to do three things with my music: Listen to it, move it to other formats for me personally to listen to, and share it through mixes. I'm not sure the RIAA wants me to do the two latter ones, and for that matter, I don't even think they care if I do the former so long as I buy it. They're like Lowe's with DRM. Meanwhile, through music blogs and free tracks I can get the Sears sort of customer service and do all three things I like to do with recorded music.

I think that's what Sears is missing -- extending what they're good at online. And the RIAA is missing the part about not treating their customers like they're all criminals.

(Yes, I know Sears has crappy repair customer service, and their salespeople can be clueless. But just accept my illusion.)
posted by dw at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2007


This thread provides a better and more rational examination of the disintegration of the music business than any single article I have read or speech I have heard to date.
posted by caddis at 12:23 PM on June 28, 2007


I want to do three things with my music: Listen to it, move it to other formats for me personally to listen to, and share it through mixes.

Absolutely. These are critical issues that the major labels have failed to recognize. Consumers have spoken pretty loudly about what they want:

1) Various/multiple formats
2) Higher bitrates
3) No DRM
4) Lower prices, particularly for physical CDs
5) Ability to purchase single tracks instead of albums
6) Try-before-you-buy

I'm not sure the major labels can feasibly offer all of this to consumers. But given the lowered recording costs and unprecedented access to distribution channels that artists now enjoy, I think there is a real opportunity to redefine the way the industry operates. And it will be far more egalitarian for unknown artists; now the market will decide which artists are supported, rather than the decision being made by the A&R guys at the major labels.

If you look at what happened to the software industry in its infancy, you'll see a lot of similarities to what the music industry currently faces. The software guys basically dealt with it in three ways: 1) raise prices (exorbitantly!) to make the "honest" consumers subsidize the pirates; 2) enact some form of copy protection or DRM; 3) adopt a share- or freeware model. The share/freeware model may not seem like the most attractive option to a label that is struggling to survive, but I think it may be the only way to regain support for the industry.

People do want to support the artists that they enjoy. I think they understand that an artist that has more time to devote to creating will produce more, and better art. They are much less supportive of an industry that they perceive as bloated, greedy, and unfair. But maybe if more labels actually respond to the consumer, and give them all or most of the concessions listed above in good faith, they'll find that their disappearing support won't evaporate completely.
posted by malocchio at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2007


Just got finished reading the following article regarding the inclusion of user info embedded in iTunes Plus DRM-free tracks --

The iTunes User Mark: Dangerous for File-Sharers?
posted by ericb at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2007


And by 1988 they were laying off tens of thousands of workers and were pretty much on their way out of the personal computer business. The industry they helped create nearly destroyed them.

IBM sold desktops and laptops* until 2004 when they sold their PC business to Lenovo -- the Chinese company which had been their manufacturing partner which built the IBM ThinkCentre, ThinkPad and other IBM PC lines. As part of the deal, Lenovo hired 10,000 IBM PC employees - including about 2,300 in the United States.

* - I am typing this on a IBM ThinkCentre PC (and have an IBM ThinkPad) which I bought three-years ago through my college/university alumni purchasing program.
posted by ericb at 1:39 PM on June 28, 2007


BTW -- "Lenovo will become the world's third largest PC manufacturer, after Dell and Hewlett-Packard/Compaq. IBM will hold an 18.9% stake in Lenovo. Stephen M. Ward Jr from IBM will take over as the new Lenovo CEO."
posted by ericb at 1:46 PM on June 28, 2007


Re Sears "shortsightedness": Yes, apart from: their stores, and the products they sold, were nondescript, boring as pastel in the 80s & 90s ... Wal-Mart was booming ... and the resulting drop in sales required major slash.
posted by Twang at 3:18 PM on June 28, 2007


"now the market will decide which artists are supported, rather than the decision being made by the A&R guys at the major labels."

Apart from Top 40 radio, which also went bye-bye.
posted by Twang at 3:20 PM on June 28, 2007


Top 40, and other radio genre, fueled new artists for years, until payola came back and left us with Spears, boy bands and other assorted dreck. Luckily the internet came along at just about the same time and gave fans other options to find new music. Unfortunately for the business these came with the ability to obtain the music without paying.
posted by caddis at 7:05 PM on June 28, 2007


need i point out that many of these users were using 14.4 or 28.8 modems on phone lines that weren't all that reliable and were subject to hourly charges?

What on earth are you talking about? Hourly charges?

so someone did do what you suggested ... and it hasn't set the world on fire or beat "the historical footnote", although it has helped their business somewhat

But unless I'm mistaken. JC Penney did not also own a major credit card, a major investment firm, a real estate broker, and an online service. The sad, sad thing about Sears is that it had synergy all lined up.
posted by desuetude at 8:42 AM on June 29, 2007


After all of this discussion I guess that the MetaFilter sidebar text still stands

Yes it does. It's a direct quote, not a policy statement.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on June 29, 2007


What on earth are you talking about? Hourly charges?

yes, hourly charges ... aol started flat monthly fees in 1996, compuserve in 1997 ... many isp's of that time would give you 10 or 20 hours at a flat rate and then charge you per hour

not to mention that if you lived far enough outside of town then you'd be calling long distance to get online

this was phasing out when i got online in 1997 ... but it was a radically different and much more primitive internet back then ... in fact, i couldn't have gotten local online service until 1996 and i lived in a city of 50,000 people in a populated state ... fidonet was bigger and more used than the internet back then

that's part of my problem with this whole scenario ... people seem to be forgetting what it was like then
posted by pyramid termite at 9:18 AM on June 29, 2007


yes, hourly charges ... aol started flat monthly fees in 1996, compuserve in 1997 ... many isp's of that time would give you 10 or 20 hours at a flat rate and then charge you per hour

This is true, but "pure" internet access services charged a flat monthly fee. Netcom (so to be absorbed by earthlink) did this in 1995, when I signed up with them. And I lived out in the sticks.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:16 AM on June 29, 2007


Not forgetting what it was like back then. I lived in southeastern VA and was accessing local BBSs (though which I accessed what little of the WWW existed) starting in 1992 with just a telcom program, a phone line, and a modem. Eventually moved to a local ISP that charged a flat fee when e-mail finally got more standardized.

Anyway, my point wasn't that Sears should have tried to become Amazon in 1993, but that it was remarkably shortsighted to not hazard at least a decent guess as to where this "online" and "e-mail" thing was going to go.
posted by desuetude at 11:32 AM on June 29, 2007


You're all assholes. Please step off your moral high ground, your ginned-up excuses, your sudden interest in the economic breakdown of record sales, your phony posturing on behalf of "the artists", and just admit it:

Free beats paying for it any day of the week.


Yeah, it does. And like most people outside the US, I can get it for free legally. So the producers and artists have to figure out a business model that makes money even though I can get music for free. I don't have to pay for it to make up for your lack of vision.

That doesn't make me an asshole in any way, shape or form.

So fuck you and your fucking moral-high-ground reasoning.

No, fuck *you* and your sense of entitlement. You think you're entitled to be paid for artistic works released into the wild? No, you had a period of a couple of hundred years where the state was able to mandate that people had to pay for art, and was able to enforce that mandate for you. They can't enforce it anymore to any appreciable degree.

And so, this chapter of history -- this aberration of the history of art -- has ended. Suck it up and think of some other way to make a buck. Go on tour. Find a patron. Watermark your releases. Whatever. Don't expect me to buy your CD because you used to be able to have the gubmint enforce a system of "rights" that you shouldn't have had in the first place.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:01 PM on June 29, 2007


Obligatory link to Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music".

Now excuse me while I spin some Big Black at an unsafe volume.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:16 PM on June 29, 2007


That's a huge part of the origins of rock n roll; many jazz artists saw it as the death of their form, and they were prophetic.

Huh? Until be-bop, at least, jazz was dance music. Louis Armstrong wasn't, and didn't think of himself as, an entertainer?
posted by raysmj at 9:14 AM on July 1, 2007


There's so much going on in the world of music nowadays. However, it seems that with all the technological advances and new ideas for support (go see the show! buy the tshirt! etc), a huge chunk is being ignored: the Asian market. (Omit Japan, because that's a case of its own.)

I'm from Malaysia. I grew up in a time where cassettes were common. Cheap, every release came out on cassette, walkmans weren't too hard to find, every car had a cassette player but not a CD player. My dad was an extremely avid mixtape maker (we still have stacks of old 8tracks and cassette mixes in the house, and Dad still plays some on the road) and cassettes were just common. CDs were double the price of cassettes, and the only reason you'd buy them was if it was someone you really liked - otherwise why bother with the expense?

I bought most of my music on cassette, mainly because I didn't want to have to go to my computer every time I wanted to listen to a CD, but there were some special albums that only came out on CD, and I made the significant expense (they were often only found overseas, and were extra pricey) to buy them. At one point my sister in London would supply me with singles, which was great because they often had extra tracks that you couldn't find anywhere else.

I did use P2P programs for a while, but being on a dial-up connection, this made things really slow and pointless. A lot of my music came from compilation CDs - often pirated - that my parents would buy. Old stuff, largely; a lot of disco, because my family was full of disco freaks. When I acquired a better laptop (this one), I burned as much as I wanted.

Was there an indie music scene? Yes, but I didn't live in KL so I didn't really know too much about them. The ones I knew about weren't my taste - a lot of them were alt-rock and I'm more of a pop-rock or pop-dance person. It didn't help that for quite a while (even now), random bands and gigs would be raided and arrested and villified in the press for supposedly encouraging "Black Metal" or other such crap. I didn't even realize there was such a thing as an "indie music scene" till fairly recently, that people could go record albums without needing a multi-million dollar record deal. But when you have a general mainstream boyband coming under fire from the religious authorities because their tour had the word "Fanatic" in it...things can get REALLY silly.

I would like to support my bands by going to their gigs, but they hardly ever came! They either skipped off to Singapore or went to Japan, where EVERYONE goes. When they did come to Malaysia I would be away somewhere. After 9/11 this got worse because somehow Malaysia (and Singapore after Bali's bombing) got lumped in as "terrorist danger area" and bands were cancelling performances 18 months after, claiming "increased risks after 9/11". RIDICULOUS. At least I had mainstream tastes, so there was *some* hope of an international tour. Imagine if I had been a fan of someone more obscure!

I moved to Australia last year. Our college is part of an inter-college P2P network and I've amassed SO MUCH MUSIC from there. Funnily enough, I still haven't found an indie band to my taste; to me it's still all the same alt-rock. (If someone can suggest Savage Garden-sounding bands, please do.) But I did amass tracks I liked growing up that I didn't want to buy RM40 CDs for, I did get to listen to new things I wouldn't have considered...and all this was for free. And I get to go to gigs too, if I wanted - again, I normally only go to gigs of those I really like, but it helps that one of my biggest favourites (Darren Hayes) is from the town I'm in, so I've managed to see him live. Otherwise I'll listen to uni bands, go to free concerts in the city, rock out at my college's Bandfest.

I would buy them from a place like iTunes...if iTunes would work for me. The Australian iTunes won't accept the fact that my credit card had a Malaysian billing address. The hell? It's not like my favourites were ever there. At least I'm in Australia so iTunes is (sorta) an option. What about in Asian countries where they don't even SELL any sort of music? We've caught up with broadband, often BETTER than "western" countries, but no one wants to sell to us for some reason, Because we're all fraudsters or something.

Y'know, there's this BIG audience ripe for the picking. How come no one's making more of a concerted effort to give them what they want?
posted by divabat at 6:43 AM on July 4, 2007


I'm just amazed reading this that anyone would ever want to go back to the old evil days of vinyl. Do they not remember the late 70s, when it was a red-letter day if your vinyl album had fewer than five permanent skips right out of the shrink wrap? Oh, you could buy "audiophile" albums for three times the price (and sometimes they really were higher quality - snicker yeah right), but for those of us who came of age in the early 80s CDs were a breath of fresh air. Your album wouldn't be ruined if a truck drove past your house and made the needle skip! What a change!

And anyone who thinks cassettes shouldn't be burned with fire has never had to spend an hour wriggling stretched tape out from behind the playback heads of a hungry cassette player.
posted by watsondog at 4:14 AM on July 6, 2007


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