The Many Killers Of The Music Industry: The Analog Era

from the all-industry-killer,-no-filler dept

The music industry has been around for as long as anyone cares to remember, and not for a lack of trying. Industry killer after industry killer has taken a shot at bringing down this mighty foe, but it still continues to limp along, bitterly writing most of the internet community out of its will. With this two-part post, separated between the Analog Era (or "Golden Age") and the digital era (or "the Apocalypse"), we take a closer look at this rogue’s gallery of stone cold killers, each one less successful than the last.

Formative Years
Ever since the early cavemen looked for ways to “punch up” their stories of the Coelacanth that “got away,” man (and occasionally, woman) has expressed himself through music.

Progress was minimal during the next several thousand to several million years (depending on religious beliefs). It wasn’t until a young composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart burst on to the scene that music was finally invented.

No sooner had Mozart invented music than he began to reinvent it through inappropriate hairstyles, setting his harpsichord on fire during live performances and marrying various 13-year-old cousins. His wild behavior and manic giggling led to him being credited with “singlehandedly destroying the music industry,” thus undoing all of the groundwork laid by him just earlier that afternoon.

After destroying the music industry, Mozart began to rebuild it, this time with him safely on the inside. After another manic, flaming performance, Mozart gazed into his piles of money and made an eerily prescient remark — “If ever there doth become an effortless way to perform these musicks at home, I am truly fuckt.”

Mozart relentlessly campaigned for protection of his musical ideas, which led to sheet music being horded by royalty, in order to protect their patronized income stream. However, as the price of paper, ink and quills continued to drop, an underground group of transcriptionists began distributing “copied” sheet music. A legislative effort to build so-called "royalty" fees into the price of these items had little effect on early "pirates" and Mozart was often seen hawking waistcoats embroidered with the inscription, “Verily, home transcribing is killing the musick industry.”

Fun fact: Emperor Joseph II was an avid home transcriptionist. His famous remark that Mozart’s music had “too many notes” was not a critique of the piece but rather a complaint about the pending transcription, as he was suffering from a case of “pirate’s elbow.”

Bedroom Composers
Flash forward 50 years: innovations in mass production make musical instruments more affordable than ever. Soon every saloon, bawdy house and tenement has a minimum of one piano. And it’s not just piano companies that see a boost. Manufacturers of harpsichords, claviers, pipe organs and fiddles see exponential growth.

Advances in movable press technology allow sheets of music to be reproduced faster than ever. Early ASCAP pioneers bemoan these developments and attempt to collect performance royalties from bar owners and burlesque house pimps. Even homeowners are subjected to handwritten missives declaring them responsible for “rights and royalties for performance of popular musicks.” The singing telegram industry folds thanks to the crippling fees levied against them.

The Player Piano
As the 19th century wound itself down, another breakthrough in musical entertainment surfaced in the form of the Player Piano (or Auto Pianist), a piano that amazingly “played” itself using perforated paper. (This form of “musick” would later resurface rather noisily in dot-matrix printers.)

Bawdy house proprietors and saloon owners benefited greatly from this invention, firing their drunken, incompetent piano players and replacing them with slightly less drunken and dimwitted paper-loaders (usually an unattended child). The tireless tones of the Mechano-Piano were the soundtrack of the “Gay ’90s” and the less-unfortunately named “Nondescript Aughts.” As usual, this new invention, with its user-friendliness and low-cost, was saddled with the burden of “destroying the musick industry, starting with the extraneous ‘k’.”

The invention of the phonograph by multiple people (and its resulting patent suits) proved to be the “death blow” for the music industry, with its ability to reproduce the sound of a miniature, tinny band playing in your anteroom. No longer could people be expected to leave the house to simply hear music and the resulting struggle for market share saw tours bloom into full-blown juggernauts of light, sound and outdoor toilets.

The record brought music to the masses in a handy 12″ or smaller package, which most men found non-threatening and women found non-overwhelming. These flat discs could hold more than 20 minutes of music per “side” and were played via a “stylus” or “needle” when not being used to sort seeds and stems.

Due to its multiple formats and speeds, the record had something for everyone, from Jethro Tull 4-disc opuses to Flexi-discs from local punk bands whom no one other than the band members ever cared about. The record seemed to be the zenith of home audio. However, a change was coming, much like the prophet Bob Dylan warned, and the musical media landscape would never be the same.

Fun fact: Audiophiles still cite the medium’s “warmth” and “crackliness” as preferable to those formats that don’t make your music sound like it’s being performed in a fireplace.

During the mid-’60s, the music industry added another “horse” (and possible "industry killer") to the race: a three-legged Clydesdale called the 8-Track. Its peculiar formatting and general hideousness did nothing to endear it to the general population and its reputation was further harmed by its performance in auto-reverse decks, where changing from Side A to Side B resulted in a violent action that registered in the low 5′s on the Richter Scale and frequently left small children and pets dazed and bleeding.

Perhaps sensing that this format would never achieve the success of vinyl or sheet musick, the music labels altered their distribution scheme and began shipping 8-tracks directly to swap meet vendors and pawn shop owners.

Highly touted by everyone (but audiophiles) as more “portable” than records, if slightly less useful, the cassette soon proved to be the “medium of the people.” Blank cassettes, in particular, had universal appeal as even novices could record their bulky records or capture “streaming audio” via the radio. They could then give these “tapes” to anybody, including friends, family and that chick they were trying to score with.

Widely hailed as the “death of the music industry,” cassettes soon became a ubiquitous feature of shoulder-mounted boomboxes, which were replaced with slightly less spine-maiming Walkmans. The Walkman also added a headphone jack, thus allowing the user to keep their shitty music to themselves while blocking out your stream of obscenities as they repeatedly roller-skated over your foot.

Despite cassettes and home taping having been fingered for “killing the music industry,” (usually in the form of t-shirts, bumper stickers and PSAs), the music industry enjoyed the monetary reward of having three “horses” in the race, not to mention the royalty fee levied on blank cassettes (aka, The Hissing Killer).Stay tuned (ha! that’s probably some sort of radio joke!) for the thrilling conclusion of this breathtaking series, overdramatically titled "Part 2".

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Comments on “The Many Killers Of The Music Industry: The Analog Era”

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Marcos (profile) says:

Actually, Mozart was the first music pirate. He cracked the secret sheet music for Allegri’s “Miserere”:

“According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome, when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Some time during his travels, he met the British historian Dr Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him and took it to London, where it was published in 1771. Once the piece was published, the ban was lifted; Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius.”

Chris-Mouse (profile) says:

I’m not at all surprised that a legacy industry has predicted disaster every time a technological change has disturbed the status quo. The fact is, that most of those changes were a disaster for some part of the industry, even though they ended up being very good for the overall industry in the long run.
I’m much more surprised that, after a century long unbroken string of false alarms, that anyone still believes the latest predictions.

John Doe says:

Music is what will kill the music industry

The only thing that can kill the music industry is the music itself. Put out crap and people will stop buying. Put out good music, people will buy.

Now maybe they don’t buy what the labels want them to buy (MP3s instead of plastic disks, concerts vs MP3s) and maybe they don’t pay what the labels want them to pay, but that is the free market.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Music is what will kill the music industry

Some artists will create genuine new art and the Music industry will survive. Bad artists may be able to kill their own business. For bad artists unsure of how to do this, the RIAA performs a valuable service by demonstrating how to destroy your own business, drive people away in droves, and become passionately hated. So hated in fact that labels carefully hide behind the shell of the “RIAA”.

AJBarnes says:

So how come....

If the recording industry has lost BILLIONS and TRILLIONS in sales from people who pirate music, why do we never hear that the auto industry has lost BILLIONS in sales from car thieves? Wouldn’t the same logic apply? A car theif would have purchased the vehicle he stole, therefore robbing the auto industry of money… right? So if we eliminate car theft, the industry would sell billions more and create more jobs. Where is COICA for the Auto industry?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So how come....

“If the recording industry has lost BILLIONS and TRILLIONS in sales from people who pirate music, why do we never hear that the auto industry has lost BILLIONS in sales from car thieves?”

And the auto industry has it worse: not only to the “lose a sale”, but they also lose the stolen product, unlike the music industry who only loses the sale (arguably) but keeps the product intact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So how come....

The auto industry has it better, because most people are insured and the insurance companies pay for a replacement car. The car companies get 2 sales and no negative implications, because the customer is still happy and driving car #2.

The auto industry won’t admit it, but replacement car sales is a pretty significant part of the industry.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: So how come....

There is a problem with your argument.

Car sales are physical. If you steal my car, I am one car short. Which means I have to buy a new car. So for the auto industry, a stolen car means one more car sale.

If you pirate a song I own, I still have my copy and you have one. You do not actually steal my copy of the song.

For more information see the following youtube video:

DevConcepts (profile) says:

How the music died

When Mozart passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard some strange noise coming from the area where Mozart was buried.
Terrified, the drunk ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave. Frightened, the priest ran and got the town magistrate.

When the magistrate arrived, he bent his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, “Ah, yes, that’s Mozart’s Ninth Symphony, being played backwards.”

He listened a while longer, and said, “There’s the Eighth Symphony, and it’s backwards, too. Most puzzling.”

So the magistrate kept listening; “There’s the Seventh… the Sixth… the Fifth…”

Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate; he stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, “My fellow citizens, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just Mozart decomposing.”

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Everyone's missing the point

My cellphone has a ton of music on it. Unlike the kids, the last thing I want is for anyone to text or call me while I’m ruining my hearing via Winamp while doing crosswords or zipping through 70-80 posts on my Google Reader.

Ever since I got a smartphone, I keep hoping the “phone” part of it will just die off from underuse.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: 8 track

Really? I could have sworn my parent’s old International proto-SUV had an auto-reverse 8-track deck. I do remember the noises that made it sound as though something was broken, followed by the warbly sounds of Air Supply, which made it sound like my best bet was to exit the vehicle quickly and drill a hole into my brain…

Rich says:

Re: Re: 8 track

An 8-track is one continuous loop of tape. To try to run it “backwards” would destroy it. It changed “tracks” by moving the play head up and down to the four parts (2 tracks–for stereo–per part).

Cassette decks had auto-reverse. That worked because each side played in the opposite direction. The tape would unwind from one reel and wind on to the other. flipping the tape over would reverse the process and wind back onto the first reel. Auto-reverse simple meant you didn’t have to flip the tape over.

pjcamp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 8 track

I lived through that era. This is correct. And it is responsible for the two most annoying factors that were actually what killed off the 8 track: a complicated tape transport mechanism that tended to snarl and terminate your investment, and a tendency to switch tracks in the middle of a song.

Cassettes fixed both of these problems at the minor inconvenience of having to reverse the tape direction. Some had auto reverse, some didn’t. Those that did were marginally less reliable.

They each shared the eternal problem of any cheap tape: a dramatically compressed dynamic range which tailed off at less than 15 kHz. The resulting loss of highs always made them sound muffled.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

But musicians also don't see what is coming

Most people focus on the music industry and how they didn’t anticipate changes. But I see the same reactions with musicians when you tell them that technology will likely replace them. Fans won’t need to be fans anymore. They will have tools that allow them to create their own music. The musicians come back and say that only they can make listenable music and not everyone has talent. But I don’t think that will protect them from changes in music.

(1) A lot of popular music today doesn’t really take a lot of talent to create.
(2) Music tools are getting smarter so what the users don’t have in terms of talent or training can be provided with the right programmed tools.
(3) Fans like feeling like rock stars themselves and don’t necessarily care if what they create is art. Why do you think karaoke has been so popular?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: But musicians also don't see what is coming

Most people focus on the music industry and how they didn’t anticipate changes. But I see the same reactions with musicians when you tell them that technology will likely replace them. Fans won’t need to be fans anymore.

Exactly the reason why all restaurants have died. Because everyone has the tools to cook at home. Oh, wait…

Exactly the reason why movie theaters have died. Because everyone has the tools to watch movies at home. Oh, wait…

Suzanne, you keep spinning this story that everyone will just create your own music and no one will be fans any more. I’ve seen no evidence historical or present, to suggest that’s even close to true. I know lots of musicians who are excellent at producing their own music and have for years… and they remain fans of other people’s music.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: But musicians also don't see what is coming

Exactly the reason why all restaurants have died. Because everyone has the tools to cook at home. Oh, wait…

Exactly the reason why movie theaters have died. Because everyone has the tools to watch movies at home. Oh, wait…

Music falls under entertainment. The entertainment dollar gets shifted around. Karaoke replaced live music at many bars. The movie business has changed, too. Theater movies shifted more to teen audiences.

YouTube has greatly expanded who makes videos. Now people you have never heard of can become YouTube stars. That is happening in music and will continue to happen in music. Music won’t disappear, but the people making and sharing bits of it will continue to expand until the lines blur and everyone is doing it to some degree or another. Instead of Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, it will be 15 seconds of fame for everyone.

We’ve seen this happen over the years with photography. Everyone has a camera. Everyone takes photos. Many people share those photos. The need to hire professional photographers goes down. Now you can crowdsource and just browse flickr and find what you want.

Crowdsourcing has also changed the design industries.

The trend in all the creative fields is to open up opportunities to everyone, and many people are taking advantage of that.

I think it’s denial on the part of “professionals” not to see that creativity can and does come from everyone these days. And if it hasn’t yet, it will as the technology develops. This is a great thing. Everyone can participate.

It’s the same with journalism and writing. We’re seeing journalism open up to citizen journalists. News outlets are reducing their staffers and taking more submissions from average people. One can argue that only professionally trained people can be writers and journalists, but there’s more participatory journalism anyway. The trends are there for music, too. In fact, if music doesn’t become available to everyone, then technology isn’t keeping up.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: But musicians also don't see what is coming

Here’s an example: | Future of Film | Filmmaking With a Participatory Audience: “Fortunately, the tools to pull off this type of interactivity were being developed simultaneous to our film becoming a reality. 100 years ago there was no screen, only a stage. Today we carry screens in our pockets. The internet is evolving at a mind-blowing pace. … Through our website, we’ve opened a door to a new interactive audience passionate about collaboration, and they’ve responded. Initially they took part in casting rolls, determining locations, naming characters, deciding on their looks. Then they joined our crew during production and now they are creating scenes for our final cut (and there’s more to come).”

The wall between creative and audience/consumer is blurring. That’s a good thing.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: But musicians also don't see what is coming

I think it’s denial on the part of “professionals” not to see that creativity can and does come from everyone these days. And if it hasn’t yet, it will as the technology develops. This is a great thing. Everyone can participate.

Suzanne, we’re not saying that everyone can’t participate. We’re arguing something different: your ridiculous claim that if everyone can participate they’ll no longer care about what others produce. That’s ludicrous. As I said, the best musicians I know still listen to others music. Why would possibly pretend they wouldn’t?

Darryl says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Why would possibly pretend they wouldn't?"

great sentince construction, I guess you ment “they” to be in there somewhere.

The fact that musicians listen to music other than what they create makes NO difference to the music they create, unless they have been “influenced” by that music, and no real musician does not want to ‘sound’ just like someone else.

They want to develop their own style and ‘way’, and you cannot develop any style or method without listening to music first.

You’re argument would be correct if for example someone wanted to claim rights over “blues” or jazz, but that does not happen does it Mike ?

Issues only arise if a musician directly ‘lift’s’ content or very closely immitates a commonly known peice.

Mike, you should find (legally of course) 10 or 15 versions of the classic blues song “Red House”, done by most banks and blues based artists.

SAME SONG, same style (blues), same timing (12 bar blues, 4:4), but you will find very little similaraties between the various versions, except for the words, timing and basic style.

That is what REAL musicians do, no dumbly parrot what you heard someone else doing and thinking to yourself “I could make a few bucks out of copying that”

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 But musicians also don't see what is coming

What I am saying is that the technology has directly impacted everyone in the musical chain. As recording technology became accessible to everyone with a computer, the need for recording studios lessened. Therefore anyone whose livelihood came from the studio felt the affects, and many studios have closed. High priced producers are not needed. Studio musicians are not needed.

As Broadway shows have used more recorded music, fewer orchestra musicians are needed.

The trend will continue. As the technology improves, the listener has more control over not just the music listened to, but also the music generated/created. The important relationship may evolve to represent the tool/machine and the holder of tool/machine. You love your music-making device rather than any artist.

There will always be music. There will always be entertainment. There will always been people relating to other people. But the situation where one person makes music and another person listens to that music passively and pays either for the music itself or the experience of being at a concert has changed with the technology and will continue to change. It will likely be that the music will become inseparable from everything around a person so that the musician is no longer distinguishable from the experience itself and won’t be identified as the music creator. You won’t necessarily know who was responsible for the music. It will just be there. It could have come from a box. It could have come from a person. It could turn out to be bits and pieces of music that had been written in the past and reconstructed by the box in such a way that you are not aware of an human touch behind it.

The idea of who is an artist and gets credit and who isn’t an artist will change. The ramifications of that for those who think of themselves as professional artists will evolve. The lines will get blurred. It will likely become harder to distinguish between artist, audience, and machine.

And if the box that makes music is a lot cheaper than connecting with a musician, and no one has any spending money, the people formerly known as the audience may decide all they can afford is the box. But if that box is the ultimately music-making machine that gives them unlimited original music, they won’t care. Think of it as one step beyond the cloud. Now, instead of having access to all the world’s music, they now have access to that plus to all the music that can be created.

AG Wright (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: But musicians also don't see what is coming

The problem with your assertion is that most people aren’t willing to use those tools that have become so common. I’ve been a musician for over 40 years and I don’t usually perform for money. I perform for fun.
I sometimes get paid but I’ve spent 5 times or more what I’ve made on instruments, strings, other accessories and even gas getting to performances than I’ve ever been paid.
Most people that listen to music just want to listen. They have no interest in performing.
The undeniable fact that a new instrument, the computer, has come on the scene and that people are using it to make music, even bad music, doesn’t change the fact that to a great extent musicians make music because it’s fun. Some of them make a living at it. Most of them don’t.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: But musicians also don't see what is coming

Exactly the reason why all restaurants have died. Because everyone has the tools to cook at home. Oh, wait…

I was thinking about this a bit. Cooking hasn’t been transformed by technology (other than microwaves) nearly as much as music, film, photography, etc., so I’m not sure it is a comparable analogy.

But it has been impacted by other matters. As people cut back on spending, going out to eat is one area that declines.

Here’s some good data. Visits to U.S. Restaurants Decline in Spring for the Eighth Consecutive Quarter, But Rate of Decline Slows Over Year Ago, Reports NPD

Because I think we’re going to see continuing recession, I think families are going to continue to be frugal and if they can save money by staying home (not going out to eat, not going to concerts, not going to movies), I think they are going to do it. So anything that entertains them while being low cost will get a boost. So I expect DIY for creativity, lifestyle, and entertainment to continue. I’m a big fan of the sharable movement and I think spending in general will go down as people find a way to get by with less.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Economies of Scale of Restaurants, to Suzanne Lainson, #27

Restaurants tend to have certain economies of scale, even very small restaurants. Back when I lived in Philadelphia, fifteen to twenty years ago, I used to go to a little Chinese takeout, down the street from my apartment, and get Shrimp Egg Foo Yung w/ Pork Fried Rice for $3.95. It was a little hole-in-the-wall store, with a sheet of bulletproof glass across the counter-top, and the proprietor had his stoves next to the counter, so that he could cook and tend counter at the same time. He had a row of three big woks on top of his gas stoves, kept so hot that when a drop of liquid fell on one of them, it would burst into steam. That is very important– the quality of stir-fry dishes suffers if the wok is not hot enough. So, when he received your order for, I think it was number 19, he would throw a couple of scoops-full of egg-and-shrimp-and-sprouts mixture into one wok, a quantity of rice-and-veggies-and-diced-pork into another wok, and some brown sauce into the third wok. In a very few minutes, he was dishing up the whole business into one of those Styrofoam dishes with the snap-top. He was set up with the specialized equipment to do stir-fry technique. You can see that, at that level, if you wanted to eat different things on different days, you could easily accumulate enough equipment for a hotel kitchen.

I visited the Chinese place once or twice a week. On other days, I would visit a Greek-owned pizza parlor-cum-grill. This was a somewhat larger place, with two sets of cooking equipment, the pizza oven, and a grill/griddle the size of a table, and a deep-fat fryer besides. I think there might have been three or four people working the store at any given time. On some days, I got a “garbage” pizza, and on others, the grill special, which might be fried fish, with fries and garden salad, or hamburger steak, ditto, or meat load, ditto. To Greeks, it was simply second nature to provide a proper side salad with a dinner. The owner’s gorgeously redheaded daughter tended to lapse into Greek when writing out one’s order, to the noisily expressed exasperation of the kitchen staff. There was no bulletproof glass or anything like that– in Philadelphia a certain calculated negligence about security could convey an ominousness of its own, a suggestion of being Uno Amici degla Amici, A Friend of the Friends. Every so often, nasty young men would turn up dead in vacant lots around Philadelphia, and the police speculation was that they might have held up the wrong store, one which belonged to Don Corleone’s “revenge is sweet” club.

Realistically, living by myself, scratch cooking was not practical, and given the kinds of things I tended to buy at the grocery store, such as quality cheese and deli items, etc., I came to the conclusion that the Chinese place and the Pizza parlor were cheaper. They had the equipment to turn a handful of flour into a pizza crust– I did not.

Stephen says:

Wow, some people here totally missing the point. Music is more than just algorithms and whatever app is going to be on the successor to the ipad 10 years from now. It’s emotion, art, talent, and a form of communication often operating on a spiritual level, that shows us something more, deeper, and intrinsically human. A song can accomplish what would take multiple volumes of books to say.

The cluelessness of some of these arguments is insane. Karaoke and guitar hero only exist because people want to interact with or mimic great music that they love and enjoy. Without the music, they wouldn’t exist.

There’s a difference between people dedicating their lives to producing art and consumers playing a game on a gadget.

Why do some have such a hard-on for gadgets made in China, and multibillion dollar social networking companies? This attitude of getting wet over gadgets and software developers is so mid 2000’s and it’s dated already. They’re not artists. Some Indian programmer who went to an Ivy league who works for Facebook is not John Coltrane.

Ubiquity = worthlessness
Computers are not human, no matter how much you pine for singularity.

Press a button, “oh look I made a song.” Who cares. When everybody makes songs, songs cease to matter. Audience of one.
20 years later. “Thousands of songs were tailor made for my brain in my sleep”
20 years later. We all live in a 100% customized virtual fantasy world. Reality becomes meaningless. When you say computers will eventually do everything people do, including innovating on their own, people become meaningless too. If reality AND people are now meaningless, the human race is meaningless too. Then our alien overlords will have completed their “goal.” Great job! Then they can harvest our creations. End experiment.

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