Changes in the Music Industry *updated 1/10*

Here’s a related article to the original post below. This one’s all about my favourite band, Dave Matthews Band, and how declining record sales haven’t hurt them because they’ve based everything on their live shows since the beginning anyway.

Damian Kulash, lead singer of OK Go, has written an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal about the changes that music industry is currently undergoing. Here’s an excerpt:

For a decade, analysts have been hyperventilating about the demise of the music industry. But music isn’t going away. We’re just moving out of the brief period—a flash in history’s pan—when an artist could expect to make a living selling records alone. Music is as old as humanity itself, and just as difficult to define. It’s an ephemeral, temporal and subjective experience.

For several decades, though, from about World War II until sometime in the last 10 years, the recording industry managed to successfully and profitably pin it down to a stable, if circular, definition: Music was recordings of music. Records not only made it possible for musicians to connect with listeners anywhere, at any time, but offered a discrete package for commoditization. It was the perfect bottling of lightning: A powerful experience could be packaged in plastic and then bought and sold like any other commercial product.

Then came the Internet, and in less than a decade, that system fell. With uncontrollable and infinite duplication and distribution of recordings, selling records suddenly became a lot like selling apples to people who live in orchards. . .

While I find some of Kulash’s points encouraging (the declining profits of greedy major record labels, a more direct relationship between artists and fans, the success of independent artists and labels, etc.), some of what he reports is also deeply discouraging to me (declining interest in attending live concerts among 12 to 24-year-olds, increases in merchandise licensing and corporate sponsorships, and the move from marketing music to marketing musicians).

I’ve read a lot of these sorts of editorials over the past few years because I’m interested in the changes in how we access and listen to music, and more broadly, because I’m interested in the relationship between technology and society. After reading all these editorials on the changes in the music industry in the last 15 years, I’m left with the same thought: I love music; I loathe the music industry. However, Kulash’s story of OK Go’s partnership with Range Rover has forced me to admit that not all corporate sponsorships are equally detestable.

Nevertheless, any close tie between capitalism and music — including my own slightly compulsive, consumerist mentality towards buying music (which I’m fighting) — continues to make me uncomfortable.

1 Comment

  1. What an interesting article. It is weird to see where the industry is heading, having been a music fan for so long. All i’ve ever known is the industry the way it is, and i’ve had a hard time adjusting to the transitions taking place with internet access etc. I still love the tactile feel of a cd case in my hand and the cover jacket staring me in the face.


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