Friday, July 30, 2010

Music in crisis part 99

I love to read Bob Lefsetz' column. He can be a little freewheeling and stream-of-consciousness, but he knows the music business and has a pretty clear idea where it came from and where it's going.

Here's a little breakdown:

Quote all the SoundScan statistics you want. Then call Eric Garland at BigChampagne. Illegal trading of files far outstrips physical sales, to the point where the latter are essentially irrelevant. End result, everybody’s got a lot of music, and this is good. The only piece of the puzzle left is to move the public to paid services providing everything all the time for a low price. Emphasis on low price. The majors refuse to win this war, refuse to collect a little if it insures they won’t collect a lot. But rental/streaming/rented tracks living on handsets is the legal solution that’s imminent. Just like digital books.

We’re in the midst of a revolution, that’s what you can’t see amidst the chaos. People have not stopped making music. Everybody has access to recording equipment, everybody has access to distribution, leading to an incomprehensible marketplace. But for how long?

Search was baffling until Google. Now no one complains they can’t find what they’re looking for online.

In a matter of years you’ll be able to find all the great new music. Algorithms won’t be irrelevant, but human opinion will be key. In other words, the musicians doing it for the music first will beget online sites where it’s about the music first instead of profit/selling advertising.

I keep reading Jack White (of course - I have google alerts set) talking about how things are different today and musicians have to do different things to make a living. But that's not the case. The fact is, music was different for forty years, 1960 to 2000. Now, it's back to where it was. A forty year bubble in popular musician's remuneration when considered over the 45,000 years of music making... or let's just be conservative and say 3,500 years of music making... is not a norm that can be re-established. It was a peculiarity, and using magical thinking, like only recording using reel-to-reels and vinyl records in an attempt to invoke the manifestation of the rock and roll demon, is not going to work.

You have to love the music to buy it. You have to love the merchandise, and you have to love the artists. For all my bitching about White, he is putting in the effort to have the merchandise and mystique out there. But he does seem to think that a vinyl record (mastered from CD) is a triumph of its own, when in fact it's a buggy whip. A lovely collectible buggy whip, but a buggy whip nevertheless.


KaliDurga said...

And yet his buggy whip seems to be making money for him and showing little sign of becoming obsolete. "But the public admires passion, they’re drawn to people who do it for the right reasons..." His passion may be archaic, but it's passion nonetheless and touches a nerve with a lot of people who've never given up on the horse'n'buggy, or who're now deciding that it's cool or 'retro' to travel old style.

"Quote all the SoundScan statistics you want. Then call Eric Garland at BigChampagne. Illegal trading of files far outstrips physical sales, to the point where the latter are essentially irrelevant."

Just how do they track illegal trading of files to know how it ranks? I'm not disputing the statement, just wondering how they arrive at such statistics. This is old, but interesting in light of Eric Garland being referred to as an authority:

Peromyscus said...

I think that came across as more about Jack White and less about the record industry in general than I intended.
And also, I didn't say passion was archaic - I think passion is essential.
I'm not arguing that he doesn't sell records. I'm just saying that record sales, CD sales and even iTunes are tiny compared with what went before, and I don't think he'd argue with me there. It's not all about him, in fact. I just used him as a convenient example because I've read so much of what he's said. There are other rockers out there trying new business models but I don't keep tabs on them or their relative successes.
Sea of Cowards was expected to debut in the Billboard top ten with around 45,000 sales.
It did so, coming in nicely at #5 - a top hit. It debuted one spot higher than Horehound, which came in at #6. But Horehound sold more copies to get to that spot than Sea of Cowards (51,000 rather than 45,000).
One very good reason for that is May 2010 saw the lowest number of records sold since records were kept, if you see what I mean. "The total of 4,984,000 albums stands in stark comparison to late December 2000, when there was a one week sales total of 45.4 million. Even last year, the week ending May 31, 2009 showed album sales of 5.76 million." Even with these types of sales to compete against,, SoC only spent seven weeks in the chart; Horehound endured a whole ten weeks.
May was the month when Justin Bieber got to #1 by selling 60,000 records - an unusually low number, and the second lowest number for a #1 album in Soundscan's history.
45,000, 51,000 and 60,000 are very small numbers in one sense of the word and very large numbers in another. Every band who has pressed 500 copies of their vinyl single and sold them over the course of a tour wishes they could get to selling 40,000 in a week, and almost all of them never do. But compared with the days of multi-platinum albums, it's kind of small.


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