August 17, 2009

The "Death of the Music Industry" (again?!)

The music industry is always being prematurely written off. Thankfully, some people are there to point out that it is still alive and kicking. Andrew Dubber of New Music Strategies recently shared an interesting graphic on music sales. (Image via the NY Times)

Dubber goes on to share that people are dissecting the information incorrectly, that the graph does not necessarily show the end of the line for music sales. (As Dubber states, we will not even go into the wild misconception that the record industry is the same as the music industry).

The issue that it only shows the last 35 years means that you cannot see that music sales started a lot lower than is hinted at. Add to that the fact that music sales are more fragmented than ever before; there always used to be one leading format that people collected, now there are many more options to receive your music fix (CD? iTunes? mobile download?). Lastly, any rate of decline will not be constant until it reaches zero. Of course music sales will never reach zero. It will (and has) plateau off into a more reasonable steady rate. There will be more peaks and other declines I'm sure, again possibly linked to a new format discovery and replacement cycle, similar to CDs in the 90s.

Yes, people use illegal P2P file sharing sites. Yes, streaming is a big reason people may not buy or even steal music anymore. But let's not (continue to) get carried away now. Pessimists and those whom misunderstood the bigger industry have always been touting the "death of the music biz", and yet more artists are making a living from doing what they love than ever before. I've been to see more concerts this year than ever before, bought more CDs and downloads than I have for some time, and am finding more new talent every week. The music industry is going through an amazing transformation, and looking at one partial figure (declining music sales over the last 10 years) is indeed, looking at it wrong.

I totally agree that it's not the industry declining right now, it's the end of an unrealistic spike in physical sales. Much of this past revenue was going to the major labels' fat cats, and their decisions on artistic direction would be to make them further money, not to help the industry or music scene blossom. That is also one reason for the inevitable decline; people grow tired of their bland, commercial, overrated, over-hyped decisions. People needed new inspiration, yearn to discover new sounds, and the answer was the internet! Where we are going from here is maybe uncertain, possibly fragmented, and definitely exciting :)

Lee Jarvis.


Beanie said...

it would be interesting to see this alongside live performance revenue and (dare I say it) ringtones... I imagine the former is very difficult to calculate from the 60's though.

Jamie 'Stan' Stanley said...

I couldn't agree more with this blog. The plus side definitely outweighs the minus side in relation to the future of music and by extension the music industry. The bland, commercial, overhyped comporate model is all that's dying, and that's surely no bad thing.

I have two concerns however:

#1: The downside of the internet age of music and the decline of the established industry is that more often than not artists are expected to be their own label/manager/press department etc. Invariably, true artists suck at this and the ones that do get it together to do it all themselves invariably lose sight of their artform and become lesser artists as a result. The creative and business ends of the music industry are two opposite sides of the same coin and always should be. In order to remain good and relevant, true artistic talent will always need nurturing and shielding from the diametrically opposed realities of the artistic and consumerist world. In the current climate, this is very hard to achieve. The only way to counter this is for the music industry to be delivered back into the hands of musically minded entrepeneurs like it used to be, and away from the the corporate advertising types who have monopolised it since the early nineties.

#2: At the moment producers, who are invariably the most crucial element in the creative process as they are the glue that hold it all together, more often than not find themselves at the bottom of the food chain struggling to get paid. Back end payment through royalties is never guaranteed in the current climate and front end payment through fees is increasingly hard to establish with all the labels tightening their belts. Consequently, many talented producers are having to refocus their careers in other areas and often abandon producing altogether. The problem with this is obvious. Without Quincy Jones, Flood, Nigel Godrich et al, the music of innumerable artists would have struggled to make an impact and their careers would be only half as a notable as they otherwise are. This really needs to be addressed. So much of the mainstream music I hear on the radio is utterly synthetic and straight out of Brave New world. This is rarely a stylistic choice, it's often just half-baked production completely reliant on technology and therefore devoid of any soul or substance. Technology is a tool to aid creativity, it should never be it's master. Unfortunately, the industry is increasingly full of blaggers who call themselves producers when they are patently not. Again, the only way to counter this is for musically minded entrepeneurs to take the reigns and engineer a return to old school values regarding the creative artistic process where the role of the producer is properly respected and duly renumerated.

Rhizzy said...

Brilliant overview =)

Huw Evans said...

Hi Lee, this is an interesting article. In my opinion when people talk about the death of the music industry I disagree, I think it's the birth of a more independant and diverse one free from the 'fat cats' as you put it. I've been in a band for several years and from what I've seen things are moving from in-house PR, Radio and tv pluggers etc to independent ones. Labels are not so major, they just have more money to invest. If you have the time please visit my blog

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