Where does the Music Industry go from here?

I can remember, clearly, going into Virgin Megastore in Birmingham City Centre in the late 80’s and seemingly all the Vinyl Records had gone.

Vinyl was shifted out of sight. Literally moved to the back of the store. You could still buy it but less of it was available. C.D’s were now at the focal / entry points of the store. The thinking behind this strategy / shift is one I can only be cynical about.

C.D’s were more expensive than Vinyl in the late 80’s. You were looking at £12:99 for a C.D. album opposed to around £6:99 for a Vinyl LP.

Also albums you already owned were marketed to the public again. “Better quality” and “indestructible” format were both false claims by the major Record Companies. The average buyer fell hook, line and sinker for this.

In effect, collecting Vinyl was taken away from many music enthusiasts. This was a huge mistake. An example of this being when I myself worked in an Independent Record shop. In the mid-90’s a customer wanted to order Tuesday Night Music Club by Sheryl Crow on Vinyl. It simply was not available on this format (although subsequently it was given a limited pressing). The customers reaction (which I respected massively) was “forget it then”.

C.D’s are pretty soulless objects. Tools for listening to music. True, there are some exceptions in elaborate packages, etc but this is rare. A C.D collection is just waiting for the case to get cracked. The booklets practically remove what can be inspirational artwork.

Compare, say Led Zeppelin IV on C.D. to the gatefold LP. It is no contest is it?

In 2005 I started working for the first time in education. Working with 16-18 year-olds one of the first things I truly noticed was how students were listening to music. With their (then roomy) 8GB iPods they had, relatively, a lot of music on a very small device.

Songs that used to be evocative 7 Inch records were now no more than a blue line crawling across a screen. Whilst the iPod is both attractive and innovative it too put a mighty sword into music. I still had a Sony Walkman (I’ve still got it). Whilst iPods are convenient how much music on those devices is actually paid for? I’m guessing 10%, maybe less?

Soon, even close friends of a similar age to myself had too much music. Entire discographies of classic artists that, in reality, they would never listen to. This was opportunism and a reflection of the Internet not yet being policed fully. I’m not sure if this is a good or band thing. The moral dilemma over downloading music via file sharing and Rapidshare etc – is an easy one to crossover. It’s hardly seen as a huge crime – arguably it goes hand in hand with the rebellious nature of some music / scenes. This is reflected when you cannot find an album in a Record Shop – but can find it very easily by typing the band name and album title into Google. In many ways it is a no brainer. To look at, say, the entire back catalogue of The Ramones as nothing more than 1GB of space that you may need for something else is so wrong that it makes me angry / upset. That is a lifetime of work not Hard Drive space, yet many people now look at it in this way. Can this mindset be reversed.

The upshot of this? Bands do not get the money for their art. Understandably the buying public may not be too fussed over i.e. EMI not getting their cut. The big Record Labels were ridiculously slow in embracing the Internet. Arguably they shot themselves in the foot via complacency.

“But bands will now make more money from LIVE shows”. This I do not agree with at all. Gig prices have shot up and the real response is I do not want to pay £20 to see a relatively small / new band play at a mediocre venue. Real scenes start where gigs are put on through enthusiasm and love for music. Gigs at The Mermaid in Birmingham would be £2:00 for 3 or 4 bands. A lot of these bands are now cited as massively influential and the gigs are reflected on as a true scene. Nowadays festivals are all over the place and £100 or so for bands you’ve never really heard of. The LIVE music overkill and oversubscription is a bubble set to burst right about now.

When Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2007. They simply put the album, with no fanfare onto their own web-site. This was a pivotal moment that can be looked at in two ways. 1. You could pay what you wanted for the album, even 1p, and this medium got the music immediately to the fans. 2. Where was the anticipation? It used to be usual to read snippets about a forthcoming album from an artist you were in to. You’d check out who was producing it, the musical direction it was going in, etc, the mysticism was gone.

If Record Companies hadn’t pushed technolgy via C.D’s on buyers maybe this wouldn’t have turned on the same Record Labels when a younger, more tech savvy generation obtained their entire musical collections “illegally”.

Great Vinyl collections look like works of art and every individual collection tells its own story and reflects the owner. C.D. collections look primed for car boot sale £1 a pop fodder waiting to be cleared out?

New bands will always pop-up. It will never go away. Bands can connect directly to their fans but sometimes this does need steering by Record Labels to be done correctly?

Streaming music services like Spotify and even YouTube will get more advertisement heavy. Which, although is great for accessibility, would you want your first listen to Never Mind The Bollocks to be tarnished with an advert for Match.com…

I feel for new bands. They will, like the Public and Private Sector have to juggle their art with, at least, Part-Time jobs and although I’m not endorsing laziness this surely will dilute real art in music. Can you imagine a young i.e. Sonic Youth having to work in McDonalds to fund their expenses and living costs – no you cannot…

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