Big label music’s rag of record could be on its way to oblivion. Billboard has a web presence, new owners and loyal readership among big music’s insiders. It also has a declining reader base. Big labels are shrinking. Musician culture has moved away from the label driven mass markets. Storefront music has evolved from a shop in major retail center to a much smaller collection of independent destination boutiques. Billboard has made little effort to capitalize on any of these new trends.
Whether this publication is “on the verge of economic collapse,” as one executive describes, is difficult to gauge. But reports from the inside suggest an uncertain climate, with considerable anxiety over future direction. That includes a possible hiring and spending freeze, according to a separate source. It’s the same old economic cocktail of woe, though this time, worsening advertising, subscription, industry, and macro-economic elements could be coming to a head. (Digital Music News)
Billboard may very well be following the path of so many formerly successful publications into extinction. It’s just one more example of old media refusing to adapt to change at its own peril.
There’s been a lot of industry talk lately about producing higher definition digital music recordings. Actually, the big labels have threatened to start offering better digital samples several times, but it never seems to happen. With big music’s sales in the tank, it could actually happen this time. For today, it’s just talk.
While the MP3 revolutionized how music recordings are packaged, it also nearly killed the average person’s quest for accurate sound reproduction. That quest was widely shared in prior generations. While today’s tools make very high quality recordings possible, most of the digital recordings released for the last couple decades have been produced and mastered for earbuds and car mounted subwoofers. As a result, an entire generation has grown up expecting its music to sound bad. A change could be coming as a growing number of them are discovering how good recorded music really can sound.
Many purists, or audiophiles who grew up with analog recordings have stubbornly stuck by the vinyl LP, keeping it alive. In recent years. they’ve been joined by a growing group of younger artists and their fans. These vinyl fanatics will pay a high premium for music in their desired format, and their numbers are growing. Vinyl sales are projected to be up 25% this year. In light of CD/DVD plant closures and a horrible economy, this is startling.
Beyond the obvious there’s more to this story. Since most sound recordings also fall into that space, the masses have been “dumbed down” to be happy with playback gear that is engineered for MP3′s. That means the average person will hear very little difference between high and low quality recordings when played back on common consumer gear. Very little of the home audio gear sold today is actually ‘high fidelity” by 1980′s standards. A few boutique manufacturers are still producing enough great sounding gear to wow music fans who hear it. As live performance has become a more dominant revenue generator for artists, fans are also becoming more familiar with music really sounds like. The glaring inadequacies of the MP3 format are becoming more noticeable to many who grew up with it. That leads me to believe the audiophile market will continue to grow.
I’m not personally an analog bigot, but I do refuse to pay for poor quality recordings. I think a good many audiophiles will agree. With CD’s virtually gone, that leaves LP’s as the only higher quality option. Carefully made recordings can shine in both digital and analog formats. To be kind to the likes of iTunes, the quality of what you find sold for download today is crap. Unless digital download quality improves improve dramatically, we can expect the LP business to explode.
As the saying goes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. The bubblegum Europop of long disbanded group Abba has inspired a number of tribute bands that are attracting large numbers fans to shows. Since the original does not release new material or tour, what better way could Universal find to sell more copies of the old original recordings than to support the tribute bands that keep the music alive. But Universal seems to be determined to self destruct by hassling the very performers that are attracting new fans to Abba.
“We’ve had complaints from all over the world where fans feel they’ve been misled and we feel it’s our duty to protect the Abba brand from misuse,” explained an official spokesman for Universal.
The legal action could signal the end for the likes of Abba Queens, Abba Mania, AbbaDabbaDoo and Swede Dreamz Abba Tribute. However, Bjorn Again, perhaps Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s most famous imitators, are not reported to be under threat.
Anneli Stockwell, singer in Abba Queens, admitted they had been left stunned by the news: “We’ve been established for four years with the band name, working our way up from playing in pubs to theatres. If we have to change the name we’ll lose all that business and reputation. We’ve also spent a lot of money on backdrops and publicity already,” she explained. (Yahoo)
I find it very doubtful that anyone with a correctly functioning mind can’t distinguish between a copy act the has Abba in its name vs just “Abba”. Then again it escaped me why anyone wanted to listen to this stuff when the original band was active. Universal hasn’t just looked, but hit a gift horse in the mouth. Plus it’s made loyal fans of an old act appear to be very stupid from it’s statements about them being misled. While there’s no accounting for taste or rational thinking, I’m even more mystified by Universal’s counterproductive behavior than the devotion of Abba fans.
We have been very vocal about the music labels. Especially the tactics of their RIAA industry team. But there is a glimmer that some of the labels are starting to understand that they can’t fill an inside straight holding 2 of diamonds and the ace of spades. –
Although eMusic is a great service—for a flat monthly fee, you get a set number of downloads per month of DRM-free music tracks—it’s about to get better. Or maybe worse, depending on the breadth of your musical tastes. Today eMusic will announce that Sony is adding its back catalog of songs to eMusic’s library. The bad news is that eMusic also plans to slightly raise prices and/or drop the number of downloads per month. Even if it works out to between 50-60 cents per track, though, that’s still far less than iTunes Music Store or Amazon, and probably the cheapest way to grab music from Sony artists without resorting to piracy.
Even at the new pricing that eMusic is proposing the cost per track hovers around .50¢ per. Sony adding their back catalog to the mix is just icing on the cake. Which is kudos to Sony. Hopefully this will be the trend that continues with the other labels as well. We can all back out of the DRM/RIAA debacle in a graceful manner and act like adults.
iTunes take note. Your pricing is out of whack.
Left to their own devices, lawyers tend to be pretty deliberate predators. That means most of us with limited net worth are not likely to do battle with one of them operating on his or her own nickel. The RIAA has made plenty of enemies with its shoot first, ask questions later tactics in prosecuting file sharers and may have broken a few laws in the process. Since RIAA does have deep pockets, it should come as no surprise that enterprising lawyers are filing a class action suit on behalf of the victims of RIAA’s legal adventures. I have little doubt that the victim’s won’t be getting much of the spoils, but watching the RIAA take a good beating may be a justice enough for many of those it harmed.
Not content simply to defend Jammie Thomas-Rasset in her high-profile retrial next week in Minnesota, lawyer Kiwi Camara is joining forces with Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson to file a class-action lawsuit against the recording industry later this summer. The goal is nothing less than to force the industry to pay back the alleged “$100+ million” it has collected over the last few years. (Ars Technica)
You can bet the MPAA is in the crosshairs. While defending file sharers is a little dubious, there’s a larger issue with the DMCA. It criminalizes any of us who convert digital media from one format to another for our own use. If there’s a really benevolent attorney out there looking to self promote, it’s high time that this unconstitutional law gets a challenge inthe courts. Most of Congress has been too completely corrupted by big media to undo it. The courts may very well be the next best hope we have to restore fair use rights in America.
In case you didn’t hear this story before, rock and roll gained familiarity and popularity with the masses via pirate radio broadcasts from just across the Mexican border. At the time, the big music and US based broadcast networks were certain that all the youth of America needed was a slighter younger version of Bing Crosby. I mention this is passing to reminder readers that big music has a long history of being at odds with fans. Even 50 + years ago the business model for big music was broken. While American youth craved Little Richard and Bill Haley, big music gave them Pat Boone.
Fast forward into the early days of online music. An upstart called Napster made a broader range of artists and titles readily available via fan to fan files sharing, CD sales gained momentum in spite of the lackluster new releases the big labels were offering at the time.
According to a study done by the BBI Norwegian School of Management, those who freely download music from file-sharing sites and elsewhere buy ten times more music (yes, they actually pay for it) than people who do not participate in file-sharing systems. In fact, the figure that the report cites for the amount spent by the file-sharing subculture is so high that the record industry doesn’t believe it. Well, I sure do, mainly because of an observation I made back in the late 1990s. And I’ve harped on this observation ever since. This research just confirms my suspicions.
The simple fact is that during the Napster era—a period in which there was no significant musical movement that would trigger any excitement in the business—CD sales increased. As Napster got bigger, sales continued to increase. As Napster was shut down, you could see CD sales decline, and once they put the lid on open file-sharing, the industry went into a tailspin. (PC Magazine)
Instead of seizing an opportunity, the music industry fought file sharing and has had it’s focus on controlling file sharing instead of delivering the music fans want in a format they want. Many of the most popular artists have shunned the labels to distribute their own material and it’s becoming very easy of upstarts to mass market their tunes as well:
TuneCore is poised to partner with Amazon’s on-demand CD-printing-and-distribution service, Wired.com has learned. It’s a deal that could put powerful new physical publishing options in the hands of musicians, even as the world goes increasingly digital.
The service is expected to be announced Thursday, linking Amazon with TuneCore, a novel digital distribution startup that’s made waves signing the likes of Trent Reznor, Keith Richards and other stars seeking a way out of the label system, as well as slews of garage bands and hopefuls on their way up. (Wired)
Some things never change. In the 50′s big music labels and the broadcast networks lobbied hard to shut down pirate radio that was popularizing rock and roll rather than embracing it and making a fortune. In the 50′s when big labels and broadcasters eventually saw the light, they systematically picked up artists and destroyed the small labels and across the border radio that introduced the world to the music.
In our new Third Pipe world, the marketplace has already advanced beyond the big label, broadcast network model. The shift these corporation must make to survive is to embrace the change. As long as they focus on prosecuting individual fans, and lobbying for the extinction internet radio and file sharing, the faster they will hasten their own demise. One difference between now and fifty years ago is that there are no small labels to kill. Artists are self distributing and putting much of thier product in the creative commons. This difference alone could mean it’s already to late for big music to recover.