Happy Halloween! Here Are Seven Reasons The Music Business Should Be Quaking In Its Boots

Dan Gibson | October 31, 2008 5:30 am

With layoffs to the left of me and a recession to my right, it’s been a disconcerting week on the fringes of the music industry. While I have my spectacular dishwashing skills to fall back on, the industry as a whole has been teetering on the brink of collapse for some time. What better time than Halloween for someone to give those music biz-types another alert to some of the issues that should be keeping them up at night?

1. The proliferation of idiots. The battle over the ability to actually sell music at all in the near future is still raging. While there’s certainly some room for discussion about how to market the creative output of music types, there’s always someone waiting to blurt out some sort of idiocy about how all music needs to be “free.” Today’s example is British music writer Jonathan Deamer, who follows a quote about how profitable performance licenses can be with this bit of Tumblred optimism:

I won’t use this as an excuse to bang on about my favourite hobby-horse of “the future of music is free”, “distribution is marketing” etc. But basically, new artists, get your music out there and listened to. If it’s any good, this will eventually lead to a bit of buzz so you get radio play, and thus income.

Don’t even think about selling your recordings until you’re playing stadiums. Or at least have enough of a diehard fanbase who will pay proper money (ie. that which results in a net gain for you of more than 40p/track) for limited edition stuff, fancy physical releases etc.

Will there be one act ever who can play stadiums without a physical product for sale? Ever? While acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails–you know, acts who were playing large venues already–might have fooled around with giving away their music, no unknown act is likely to pull this feat off without, at the very least, the marketing assistance of some label or organization, and generally that will require figuring out some way for the assisting entity to make back its initial investment. But thinking about the nuts and bolts of how music is made, and disseminated, is almost discarded by people operating under the “music I like will just make its way to my door at no cost” paradigm, and their thought processes become more pervasive every day. At what point will the madmen be running the asylum?

2. The labels are stacked with low-risk, low-reward acts. As laid out (in an exceptionally smart fashion) by Glenn at Coolfer, the number of albums released by major labels each year is shrinking; this results in a smaller margin of error, which requires every album released to be a hit (or, at least, not a colossal failure). A&R goes after established acts on indie labels instead of taking risks on unproven talent. Why can’t the majors look at investing in “risky” artists as a venture that’s as worthy of their time as investing in “risky” Web companies, instead of perpetuating a cycle that results in new artists sounding like the successful artists of months and years prior?

3. The RIAA. I know beating up on the litigation-happy goofs who make up the Recording Industry Association of America’s staff is a bit of a broken record at this point, but seriously, it’s hard to argue the organization isn’t still doing more harm than good. At the very least, those lawyers aren’t cheap.

4. The people in charge. This space has devoted a lot of virtual ink to the people running the biz these days (I’m looking at you, Edgar), but c’mon, when was the last time you heard a really good idea from someone in the higher echelons of a major label? The upper floors seem to be filled with those who lost their job for cause somewhere else, but got a seventeenth chance to prove their incompetence. There are certainly exceptions, but it’s pretty clear that the bold thinkers of our time aren’t going into the music biz, and many people who might have made for worthwhile successors have been run out of the system by layoffs or the inability to get out of the cubicle farm.

5. Radio, terrestrial and satellite. Both appear to be totally screwed. Regardless of how the tech-savvy bloggo sort listen to their music, the majority of Americans listen to–and discover–music the way they did a decade ago. If there’s no money in it for the radio stations and if the XM/Sirius conglomerate can’t solve their credit woes, where will my neighbors hear the next Kid Rock single?

6. The economy, stupid. If companies with viable business models are having a tough time, why would a business in which nearly every aspect of their product is available for free with ease be any different? Even Katy Perry can’t fix the mess that EMI is in these days.

7. [Your reason here.] Number seven is up to you. What’s the most pressing concern for the music biz these days? Outside of ripping it up and starting again, can the industry be fixed? Also, do you know anyone in Arizona who’s hiring?

Bone Crusher – I Never Scared [YouTube] [Photo by Our Enchanted Garden]