Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch is a big deal in the tech-blogosphere, which is why every record executive out there must be having a heart attack at the title of Arrington’s post on yesterday’s WSJ story about the music industry’s woes: “Good News! CD Music Sales Down 20% from 2006.” That title alone made us blink–surely an across-the-board decline can’t be good for everyone?–and then we had to endure the tortured rhetoric within, and we could do nothing but slap our foreheads.* To wit:
The problem is that [the music industry's] main product, recorded music, has a zero marginal cost to produce. It’s so cheap to make that consumers can actually make it themselves. And they do. A billion songs a month are downloaded, mostly illegally, from P2P networks.
We must be missing something. Yes, a billion songs a month are downloaded from P2P networks. But unless the Infofilter top 50 is missing a good-sized chunk of file-sharing traffic, we fail to see how the simplicity of making music at home has resulted in piracy being so high; as Yancey at 17 dots points out, not everyone has the ability–or the desire–to simply create the music they want to listen to on command. And even when people do go the DIY route to much fanfare, it’s not always lapped up by a lot of people, as Tila Tequila can probably tell you.
Unfortunately, there’s more:
As the marginal price of recorded music continues to fall towards zero, its natural price, bands will need to make money elsewhere. Live concerts will become more and more popular, and will be the largest source of revenue for many artists. Recorded music will be used to promote those live events. Popular artists will still make a very, very good living. Others will have to decide if love of their art is enough to keep going.
We’re well aware that the music industry is bloated and in need of a serious correction, and that touring and merchandise are a large source of revenue for artists. (Exhibit A.) But expecting live events to become the primary source of income for artists doesn’t only replace one bloated framework with another, it completely ignores how people experience music. Let’s list a few reasons why wholly replacing the recorded-music industry with the live-music one is unlikely: the relative price, and long-term cost, of going to a concert as opposed to buying a recording; the low number of live-music opportunities in suburban, exurban, and rural areas; the fact that you can’t just head to a concert when you’re struck with the urge to listen to “My Love” at work; and the relative time-sink of going to a show, as opposed to listening to a song or an album. And that’s just for starters. But the most obvious one is this: The likelihood of breaking new artists solely through live shows is pretty low, as far as reaching audiences who aren’t necessarily musical obsessives.
Then again, it seems to us like Arrington doesn’t really care about new music: his closing line, “Others will have to decide if love of their art is enough to keep going,” is the ultimate “let them eat cake” statement, one that could only come from someone who doesn’t give a damn about musicians, or the possibility that a Darwinian approach to music as an art form could result in what we hear day-to-day becoming even more calcified than it already is.
* We won’t even get into the commenters, one of whom blames the music industry’s woes on “motherhood (ie. Lauryn Hill, Shania Twain, Celine Dion).” Women! You just can’t trust them to keep up their pop-star personae, can you?