So much has changed in the music business in the past decade alone. That’s not really news to anyone, but it’s so much more than just the distribution model being turned on its head, for which I am extremely grateful. I remember being 13 and being so frustrated by $18 CDs at Camelot Music. (Does anyone happen to remember when Camelot was one of five music retailers charged with price-fixing?)
By the time Camelot had become FYE, I had sworn off buying new CDs completely, only picking up used ones from the independent record shop across the street. And when they didn’t have what I wanted, I swapped CDs with friends and also broadened my music tastes by scanning the dial on the radio, discovering blues, jazz, and even classical. On a small scale, I adapted to make things work for my situation and, on a much larger scale, adapting is the very thing that the music industry hasn’t been able to do so well. Or so it seems.*
Realistically, since the pressing of the first compact disc, technology was in the works that would someday displace those retailers wanting to charge an extra five bucks for liner notes and a jewel case. Looking back, it seems that no one really believed CDs were dead at the dawn of the 21st century, except for Apple….and Napster.
If you fast-forward almost a decade later, in case you aren’t aware, things have also dramatically changed for the musician. A lot of major studios have shut their doors for good because cheaper technology has allowed musicians to record at home, rather than having to optimize $100,000 sound consoles that always look so cool in trade publications. These days, a very basic, but effective, recording setup can be had for a couple thousand dollars.
So now, the musician-entrepreneur can record at home, pay a nominal fee to an aggregator, who then passes submitted music along to sites like Amazon and iTunes, and you then hope, through self-marketing and sheer talent, that someone takes notice.
Of course, the market is certainly more flooded than ever, since digital distribution is now so simple and inexpensive, when compared to the $1000+ bands previously had to pay for the initial, professional pressing of every album they self-release. And speaking of albums, even that whole concept is in danger. As we consumers have greater freedom to pick individual songs to purchase, a whole lot of junk gets weeded out that otherwise would have ended up as “filler” on a album. On the other hand, art increasingly becomes just a commodity when it gets picked apart to be recategorized to fit someone’s “workout mix” on an iPod, as an example. On the other, other hand, the proliferation of radio in our lives is hardly debatable, and no one has ever seemed to mind that radio has always been single-driven, often pulling only the strongest songs from an album. So it all just comes full circle.
No doubt, this whole world is changing, as the focus of business becomes all things digital. It’s an interesting time and, despite all the problems/challenges this complex world faces, it’s also more exciting than ever to see what advances in sciences and the arts the world will come up with. Stay tuned, and let’s enjoy the ride together…
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