Broken Records

Church

I started to type this in response to a few posts about the music industry on Audities, one of the oldest music discussion sites on Al Gore’s Interwebthing, but it got too verbose for a bulletin board reply. (Oh, you lucky blog fans, you and your hand-me-down thoughts…) 

The set-up is this: in their latest stab of brilliance, the major labels are trying to call back the horses into the barn with their new strategy – lower the price of CDs at retail. Of course, this doesn’t mean your mom and pop stores, mind you. Why would the industry support anyone who invested in a business to help move their product to the street in atmosphere that would attract the ideal customer? No, please take care of those big box stores, who are probably only a decade away from making you irrelevant by making you produce product on consignment, since you will have killed off the very competition that was your last remaining negotiating tool. 

But I digress. You can take Marketing 101 on your own time. 

So the Big Three (or four or two – I’m not checking my watch as I’m typing) think they can save themselves and the way that it was, simply by selling a ten-dollar CD. Great idea, pencil geeks…and about twenty years too late. Why they’ll even put the price right there on the spine of the CD so that you can see just how charitable they are. 

Two problems: The box stores don’t want to be told what to charge and they’ll mark it up anyway. And the indie stores can’t make a profit when the margin is now razor-thin and meant for national sales volumes. 

Nice move, dumbass!

So we were kicking this idea around on a list that’s populated by musicians, writers, label people and music fans where the age of the members probably ranges from late teens to Social Security. Some could give a rat’s ass about CDs, others don’t like downloads; although most do realize how hard it is for an artist to survive in this business. So needless to say, we see the pros and cons to the collapse of the industry. My thoughts… 

It’s hard to be objective as I grew up buying singles then albums then (skipped cassettes and 8-tracks) CDs and DVDs. I only reluctantly buy digital downloads, as I am sadly conditioned to think that it’s even less that what I was getting as a CD, which was less than what I got on an album.   

But I must also realize that I live in a world where the vast majority of the target market for most releases is used to getting whatever they want whenever they want for free.   Ironically, most of these people with large digital storage probably amassed a hundred times the amount of music I own in a fraction of the time and an incalculable amount less expense. It’s all there at the click of a button or two or three. 

It travels with them constantly, and if they were to lose it the smart ones have two or three backup copies at different locations – or they could just spend a short bit of time doing it again. I’m amazed, but I’m not jealous.  Even though they never had to turn down an apartment or a house saying “but there is no room for my albums“. 

Three dimensional and tactile

But they never had the pure joy of sifting through racks and racks of albums during thousands of days spent perusing record stores, poring over liner notes, cracking that shrink-wrap, seeing your murky reflection in the black vinyl grooves. And god knows how many gazillions of hours holding and reading the paper 45 sleeve or the album liner notes or (god bless us every one) the gatefold album’s multiple uses if you know what I mean and I think you do. It’s the same reason I would never buy a Kindle. I want to hold a book in my hands, whether I’m reading on the beach, on the train, or in…um…the room in my house with the best echo

I remember vividly when CDs were coming out and the promise was that they would be cheaper to manufacture, distribute, store and sell than vinyl. Yet they initially cost more than the albums and never dropped – even when the cost of blank CDs dropped sixty to seventy percent at retail stores. Yet the prices of CDs went up! You dug your grave with a round plastic spoon, major labels, and you still don’t get it.   

(And wouldn’t this be a great time to remind them that the Miles Davises and the Johnny Cashes and the Van Morrisons of the world who they dropped – because they weren’t selling to the new hip demographic – might have been providing them with an annuity stream all this time? It won’t be too long before the old guard is the highest seller in the physical market simply because the young market moved completely to downloads and the remaining audience is too old to adopt to yet another format.)

The Bird is the Word

So while major labels scramble to survive standing on the shoulders (and corpses) of their artists, maybe they should wake up if they still want to survive for a short time until the last of the tactile people like me die. 

Sell me a CD/DVD package for $10-12.  Put some videos, interviews, demos, documentaries, live cuts whatever on the DVD. Yes, I know I will probably be able to YouTube it. Yes, some zeroid will probably have it on a torrent site before you can say “oops”. But you can certainly put all that together and offer it to enough people like me who will say “that’s a great deal”, and not as many people are going to pirate the DVD as you think. And there are still a lot of us who would prefer to hang on, however futile that cling to the past might be. 

I will DVR my favorite TV shows, but I also wind up buying many on DVD because of the commentaries, the deleted scenes, the documentaries – the stuff above and beyond.   Make it special. It will work with CDs if you do it right. I have the tools to burn my own music and I could go steal it if I wanted to. But I’m right here offering you money to dress it up for me. To paraphrase a great line from Glengarry Glen Rossare you man enough to take it

There are a lot of people rooting for the death of the industry who gloss over the fact that a distribution model is still needed. Sure, I can find your band on MySpace or YouTube if I am purposefully looking for it; maybe  I’ve seen you play or you sent me a link. But with hundreds of thousands of bands now just faceless files in the ether, you’ll never be able to capture me with inventive cover art or the good fortune to be alphabetically racked near someone more famous. I will never find you by accident. You will be just another grain of sand on an endless beach. 

Be careful what you wish for. 

Stores gone. Radio dead. Hey - good luck!

National Record Store Day is April 17, 2010.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Music

6 responses to “Broken Records

  1. D

    Billy Bragg said it best on the cover of Workers’ Playtime – Capitalism is Killing Music. And boy, did it.

    — Dan Aloi

  2. drbristol

    Maybe that old slogan should be updated to This Contract Kills Guitars

    (Dan, old friend! I hope you are churning out some words somewhere, please let me know so I can visit!)

  3. Mike

    Great post, fellow Auditeer …. To me, one of the real contributing factors to this is the fact that the number of us who have experienced “the pure joy of sifting through racks and racks of albums during thousands of days spent perusing record stores” is dwindling. That was a pastime that I picked up in my jr. high/high school days (many years ago), and one that I still enjoy immensely (albeit infrequently) now that I’m on the downside towards 50. I still prefer CDs to downloads – even on my iPod, I rarely listen on random or to playlists – I almost always listen to entire albums. I get the feeling that I am in the vast minority out there … hell, even my wife and kids get most of their music, one song at a time, from iTunes.

    Will lower CD costs make me happy and buy more? Yes and no – I’ll probably still buy about the same volume. Will it help covert others from the digital downloads to the CD format? I hope so, but I kind of doubt it. Kids today only want the one “hot” song from iTunes (or some other, sometimes illegal download spot), will listen to it for a while and then discard it. Why not? To them, it’s totally disposable as they spent 99 cents or less for it. Remember those days of finding an album that you totally LOVED, based on one song that you heard maybe just once on the radio? I miss those days ….

    Now get off my lawn, you dang-blasted kids!!!

  4. drbristol

    Just really listening to an album is a lost art. I have vivid memories of cracking the shrinkwrap on the first John Hiatt, or Elvis Costello or Herman Brood albums let alone the classics from years gone by. It’s not the same with a CD and impossible to vibe on a digital file.

    Sometimes I think having less options to distract you is a good thing.

  5. Thank you for a well thought out and written piece. I also side with Mike’s comment above as well.

  6. Jackson

    I truly enjoyed reading this article.Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s