June 22, 2003

It's About the $$$, Not the Music

Top Artists Balking At A La Carte Downloads reports Billboard.com.

Top acts and their representatives are expressing reservations about the creative and financial implications of shifting to a singles-based model. "The fear among artists is that the work of art they put together, the album, will become a thing of the past," says attorney Fred Goldring

It's amazing how hard it is to kill a cash cow.

I'll state the obvious -- to quote "Goldmember" -- "Well then there is no pleasing you."

Big artists really crack me up. You don't hear them complaining that radio stations don't play their songs together in album form. The album is not going to die as an art form. Apple reports that half of their song downloads are in album form.

Here's an idea: if your album is really good, people will want to buy the whole thing. If it isn't, they won't. The idea that there is any creativity issue behind this complaint is pure fantasy. It's clear that people are going to make their own playlists no matter how "artists" distribute their work, breaking the album model. What this really is is the recording industry worried about their previous ability to squeeze extra cash out of the consumer. In other words, to get them to pay for crap they don't want. Now that a new consumer model is appearing (one that consumers have long been screaming for) they're worried that people may no longer roll over and pay for music they don't want.

A few words of advice to the music industry:

  1. Quit whining. It's unbecoming
  2. If you want to be a successful business, stop trying to alienate your customers
  3. If you find that crappy music is hard to sell, make good music instead.
  4. See item 1
  5. Stop giving fodder to the folks who justify their downloading by imagining artists as greedy rich folks
  6. Streamline, cut costs, get rid of the dead weight and tighten your belts like other industries (and your customers!) are forced to do when the going gets tough. You're trying to compete against free downloads. Wake up. Start by cutting your legal budget at least by 50%.
  7. Reduce the cost of distribution and try harder to reach niches. You'll generate more excitement about music and expand your customer base.
  8. FIght the stranglehold of corporate radio, or find a way to use it for good instead of evil.

Since I'm not charging for this advice, it's a bargain.

Posted by James at June 22, 2003 12:08 PM
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I've been wondering about this for a while. What would happen if music companies no longer made money on filler? I thought the big labels would never make most of their catalogs available for online purchase for that very reason. It will be interesting to see the fallout next summer after Apple's music store has been available to Windows users for half a year.

Music isn't going away. Online downloads are mostly limited to age groups whose time is not yet worth as much as their money. Musicians are still going to be rewarded for their music in one way or another. Non-corporate radio programming would help. But the industry may experience seismic changes before this is all over.

Posted by: Mike at June 22, 2003 6:29 PM

Let's hope so.

Revolutions usually don't start until they are long overdue. I think the music industry is closing in on that moment very quickly. They are choking to death on their own fear - fear of risk, fear of change, and fear of creativity. (Real creativity, not marketing gimmicks.)

They could start by getting rid of those gigantic long-term contracts that seem great to a hot young act until they find out that they're actually being exploited and being required to tour and produce so aggressively that they have no energy to be creative and do the quality of material that got them on the air in the first place.

I don't blame some artists for being concerned, because it's the nature of the industry that forces them to produce crap.

Most of my favorite albums (the kind where you want to listen to every track) were either done when an act was still young and fresh (sometimes even before they were signed) or when they were rich enough to have their own record label and not worry about pleasing some conservative record label executive.

I'd add that to your list. Two-album max on record contracts. Stop squeezing the youngsters. Let them renegotiate while they are still hot and not yet burnt out. Or, if they are already past their prime, put them out of their misery and let them get on with their lives.

It is harder to feel sorry for people like Madonna who can pretty much do what they want, but if she thinks she deserves to be excused from the no-crap trend, then she's just as deluded about her music career as she is about her acting career.

Posted by: julie at June 22, 2003 8:48 PM

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