So What Can The Music Industry Do Now?

from the quite-a-lot,-actually dept

The Techdirt Book Club book for September has been The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation. Earlier this month, we ran an excerpt about the importance of “tweakers.” This second excerpt is actually the final section of the book, published after the “final” chapter, taking all of the concepts in the book, and seeing how they might apply to the music industry. We’ll be arranging a time to chat with the authors soon, so stay tuned.

In the final chapter of The Knockoff Economy, we tell the story of the music industry’s decline. In a decade-long crisis driven by Napster and the rise of peer-to-peer technologies — a development which the music industry met with an ineffective strategy based around copyright enforcement — the revenues of the record labels have fallen by more than 60% since Napster’s debut. And yet there was nothing inevitable about this tale of decline. Hollywood, for example, has fared better. To be sure, Hollywood worries a lot about piracy. But while there is plenty of it, especially overseas, piracy has yet to threaten the existence of the major film studios.

Why has the movie industry’s fate been different? For one, technology gave them a few years’ reprieve. Video files are much larger than music files. As a result they were, until recently, relatively difficult to download and upload. More important, Hollywood learned some lessons from the music industry’s straits. Hollywood fought copying, but as a part of a broader overall strategy aimed at capitalizing on the opportunities the Internet offered, while blunting the effect of piracy. We will examine some of the details of Hollywood’s thus-far more successful strategy as we consider music’s future.

That future is bound to be different from music’s past. Copying music is easy and the risk of getting caught minimal, and this is unlikely to change. But easy piracy does not mean the death of creativity in music. Nor does it mean the end of profits from music. Here are some ways that the music industry could adapt–and in some cases already is adapting–that mimic strategies we’ve seen deployed by other copy-prone creative industries.

Music as an Experience

The most obvious adaptation is changing what the music industry sells from product to performance. As we argued earlier in The Knockoff Economy, products often are easy to copy, but performances are not. One of the reasons chefs remain so creative is that competitors can copy a restaurant’s signature recipe but they cannot so easily copy the quality of the preparation or the restaurant’s ambience or service.

We won’t repeat the discussion here, but we do want to underscore the centrality of performance. Millions of people every year already attend concerts. A greater shift to performance will never replace all the revenues that currently flow from recording. But shifting the business model away from the easily copied product (the song or album) and toward the hard-to-replicate performance (the concert) can help to stabilize the fortunes of musicians.

In many ways, this is simply a return to the reality of the last two centuries of popular music. That point was made with terrific clarity by Mick Jagger in a recent New York Times interview:

“There was a window in the 120 years of the record business where performers made loads and loads of money out of records,” Jagger says. “But it was a very small window–say, 15 years between 1975 and 1990.”

The past was, and the future is going to be, much more about performance. In this new world, recordings often function as more as ads for concerts than as money-makers themselves. (And sometimes are bundled with concert tickets, as Madonna’s latest album was.) As a result, copying looks a lot less fearsome. A copied ad is just as effective–and maybe much more so–than the original.

Music as a Social Network

As the cost of producing and distributing a product falls, basic economics predicts that more of it will be produced and consumed. This axiom certainly applies to music: as digital technologies have slashed the cost of producing and distributing music, we see an unprecedented amount and variety of music on offer. But there’s another change. Digital technologies also change how the rewards of the music industry are distributed. In the heyday of the labels, a lot of revenues unsurprisingly went to them. This system produced some very successful stars, but a lot of musicians–even very talented ones–made little or nothing.

This picture is changing. While mega-stars still exist, a larger and more stable musical middle class is emerging–artists who are able, by making recordings, touring, and selling merchandise, to sustain a decent living. Because it costs these artists less to produce music, a viable career is possible at a smaller scale. And this can be done with less reliance on intermediaries like record labels. The same technologies that have made pirating music so easy also facilitate direct communication between musicians and their fans.

Just ask pop singer Colbie Caillat. Caillet’s music career began in 2005 when a friend posted several of her home-recorded songs to MySpace. One song, Bubbly, began to get word of mouth among MySpace users, and within a couple of months went viral. Soon Colbie Caillat was the No. 1 unsigned artist on MySpace. Two years after posting Bubbly, Caillet had more than 200,000 MySpace friends, and her songs had been played more than 22 million times. Caillet had built a global fan base while never leaving her Malibu home. In 2007, Universal Records released her debut album, Coco, which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard charts and reached platinum status.

Or ask rap artists Mac Miller, Wale, and J. Cole. Each of these artists built up a fan base by releasing free material on the Internet and interacting with fans on social media and blogs. And in a space of two months in 2011, each released a debut album that rose high in the charts (Mac Miller’s debut charted at No. 1 and sold 144,000 copies in its first week; Wale debuted at No. 2 the week prior and sold about 164,000 copies in its first week; a month earlier J. Cole’s album debuted at No. 1 and sold 217,000 copies in its first week). Fans could have pirated these albums–and doubtless some of them did. But thousands ponied up the money to buy them, perhaps partly out of appreciation for the free mixtapes that they’d downloaded previously.

Social media and the fan base it enabled made the music careers of Colbie Caillat, Mac Miller, Wale, and J. Cole, and they aren’t the only ones. Social media also broke UK stars Lily Allen, Kate Nash, and Arctic Monkeys, among others. This illustrates an important facet of the relationship between music and copying. Music fans love music, and they often want to support those who make the music they love. The Internet turns some fans into pirates. But it also turns fans into promoters. And the same technologies that enable piracy are also restructuring the industry in ways that create an entirely new relationship between creator and listener.

So how is the industry likely to change? There are two trends that are, in our view, the most salient, both of which flow from digital technologies. First is the fragmentation of the audience into smaller and smaller groups, as more music becomes more available and hence the universe of choices far more diverse. Second is the ability of these smaller groups effectively to communicate both with one another and with the artists they like.

What is likely to flow from these changes? These are the conditions — relatively small groups, able easily to communicate — under which norms can help to regulate behavior. As we describe in Chapter 3 of The Knockoff Economy, this is precisely what we see in the world of stand-up comedy–there are a few thousand touring comedians, and because they often appear together in the same comedy clubs, they communicate readily. These conditions allow comedians to control copying not by relying on copyright law, but through social norms.

The problem of piracy in music is, of course, very different from the problem in comedy. Stand-up comics worry most about a rival, not a fan, copying their jokes. Still, the reduction of consumer copying of music via norms may be possible, and will become more imaginable if the music industry experiences ever-greater fragmentation and communication. There is already an interesting example of norms playing a substantial role in controlling copying in music. In the culture of jambands, we see the fans themselves taking action to deter pirates. What are jambands? In a fascinating 2006 paper, legal scholar Mark Schultz studied the unique culture of a group of bands that belong to a musical genre, pioneered by the Grateful Dead, characterized by long-form improvisation, extensive touring, recreational drug use, and dedicated fans. Although acts like Phish, Blues Traveler, and the Dave Mathews Band vary in their styles, they are all recognizably inspired by the progenitors of jam music, the Dead. But the Dead’s influence is not only musical. Most jambands adhere to a particular relationship with their fans that also was forged by the Dead.

Touring is central to the jamband culture, and most allow fans to record their live performances. Many even encourage fans to share the live recordings they make. Some bands even set up special “tapers” sections at live shows, and occasionally even allow fans to make recordings directly from the soundboard. And many jambands also set rules whereby some recordings–the band’s studio albums, and some special live recordings intended for commercial distribution–cannot be freely shared. The Grateful Dead’s statement on taping is a typical example of these rules:

The Grateful Dead and our managing organizations have long encouraged the purely non-commercial exchange of music taped at our concerts and those of our individual members. That a new medium of distribution has arisen–digital audio files being traded over the Internet–does not change our policy in this regard. Our stipulations regarding digital distribution are merely extensions of those long-standing principles and they are as follows:

No commercial gain may be sought by websites offering digital files of our music, whether through advertising, exploiting databases compiled from their traffic, or any other means.

All participants in such digital exchange acknowledge and respect the copyrights of the performers, writers and publishers of the music. This notice should be clearly posted on all sites engaged in this activity.

We reserve the ability to withdraw our sanction of noncommercial digital music should circumstances arise that compromise our ability to protect and steward the integrity of our work.

Schultz documents how jambands and their fans interact on the basis of a strong and long-standing norms system. The fans are often very invested in the bands that they follow, and they believe that because the bands give them freedom to record live shows and to share those recordings, they are valued as community members and treated fairly. And in return, fans largely adhere to the rules and discourage others from violating them.

While the jamband ethos is unlikely to take over all forms of music, it may spread beyond its original home. And the changes in the industry we noted earlier may make this more likely. Digital technologies allow for smaller, more closely knit fan groups, and easier communication between bands and their fans. Facebook provides a virtual way for fans to interact, and of course live concerts allow a real-world version to develop. The jamband experience suggests that bands cannot simply set rules and demand compliance; Schultz argues that the fans must feel that they are getting something in return. For jambands, it is wide access to recordings of live shows. Given the likely importance of live performance in the future, this may be a workable strategy for a range of musical genres.

Norms are not a panacea for pervasive copying. The casual fan who treats music as a disposable pleasure is unlikely to respect the norms of any particular musical community. So for some types of music, norms are unlikely to have much effect. The pop music of the moment, for example, is unlikely to create the kind of enduring community that can form and sustain a norms system. And the very improvisation that is at the heart of jambands–the jam–makes copying generally less harmful, since no single performance is quite like another. Still, there is no reason to believe that a successful norms system is limited solely to jambands.

All Roads Should Lead to Your Content

For years, the record labels had a business model that was consistent and single-minded: (1) bundle together a dozen songs on a CD, (2) ship the discs out to retailers, and (3) collect money. The labels’ business became even simpler following the shift from LPs to CDs–it was at that time that the labels killed off the singles market. Why ship CD singles when, for virtually the same cost, you could ship an album and charge at least three times the price?

But it turns out that by killing the single, the record labels made the Internet piracy problem, when it arrived, even worse. One of the major attractions of filesharing was that it brought back singles. Consumers wanted the one or two songs on the album that they liked, and not the ten they didn’t.

What we learn from this is unsurprising. Consumers like choice, and new technologies frequently offer more choice than the old. In this case, Hollywood’s very different, more profitable, and more piracy-resistant approach is instructive. The movie industry has long managed releases according to a series of “windows.” Films are first released at the box office–and at a premium price. Then, after a few months, films are released to the DVD sales and rental market. Shortly after that, they are available via video-on-demand, pay-per-view, and on airlines. And later still, the films are released to pay-TV cable channels like HBO and Starz. And then, finally, they go to basic cable and broadcast channels.

This system gives consumers a wide variety of ways to watch movies. And different ways of watching movies appeal to different types of consumers. For those with willingness to pay, there is the new release in the theater. And for those willing to wait, there is video rental, pay-TV, and commercial television.

Hollywood’s release windows system was conceived long before the Internet arrived. For our purposes, however, the system matters because it functions as a powerful anti-piracy tool. Hollywood did not attempt to enforce a one-size-fits-all business model. Instead, it realized that different consumers would have different willingness to pay, and so it developed a distribution model that gave consumers more choice.

In sum, like the recording industry, Hollywood views copying–especially in its growing markets abroad, such as China–as a grave threat. But unlike the recording industry, Hollywood has responded, at least so far, in ways that effectively blunt piracy’s impact. It focuses on the experience–watching a movie in a theater is different and, for many people, better than watching a pirated copy on a computer monitor. It focuses on quality, both in the theater (new digital projection and 3-D technologies) and for the home viewer (high-resolution Blu-Ray). It offers multiple ways for viewers to access content. What Hollywood does is not precisely the same as any of the other industries that we’ve studied. But Hollywood has taken a page out of several of their playbooks.

Summing Up

Today, copying is a fact of life in the music world. Yet music is not dying. Even without any changes, music is vibrantly creative today. From a consumer point of view, life has never been better: more musical choices, more easily obtained, than ever before.

Still, the music industry can change further to better survive a world of easy copying. Rely more on the live show, an experience that cannot be copied. Attempt to woo customers away from piracy by emphasizing the quality of the legitimate product. Create (or bolster) social norms about copying. And diversify the ways in which consumers can access music. The result will be a very different music industry. But it will be a world with a lot of great music.

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Comments on “So What Can The Music Industry Do Now?”

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art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

while i’ve seen it a hundred times, i read the ‘flag’ as:
“This comment has been flogged by the community…”
hee hee hee

…and i have to say, i agree with other posters in another thread who say techdirtia is too quick on the ‘report’ button for ‘offenses’ of no real import, just ’cause it is a particular AC, or some other regular trollish tool…

half the time, it is a comment that is of no consequence anyway, and ‘hiding’ it simply gives it more ‘taboo’ interest than it is due…
just sayin’…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

David Woodhead (profile) says:


Oh, give it a rest why don’t you.

Copying has never reduced conventional sales, whether by casette, CD, V1000 / V2000 (remember them?), Betamax, VHS, DVD, digital or any other medium that I’ve forgotten. I’ve bought more original vinyl, CD or DVD media than you can imagine, as a result of listening to copies of originals that I wouldn’t have been prepared to shell out the cash for: sight / listening unseen.

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.

Milton Freewater says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Exactly. Not everyone can tour…particularly if they have to work 2 jobs to pay the rent.”

So they can record music and keep on working their 2 jobs. Most artists of any kind in the West in 2012 have to do this. Recording artists are not being singled out by any shadow cabal for unfair treatment … almost NOBODY makes a living these days from one creative stream.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ya ‘cus in the past when recording was hugely expensive and high quality required either a huge personal investment or selling your soul to a record label artist who are just interested in recording could walk up unknown to a a studio and spend as much time as they like recording their work.

Then once they had recorded an album they could just let the label go out and sell it. No need to work even if the label was taking your small cut from those sales to repay the lone they made you take out when you signed a contract.

Truth is that most recording artist out side the few megastart see very little income from music sales. In fact a lot end up owing the record label money. Touring is how musicans have always had to make their money, it wasn’t so long ago that bands where often making more money selling their CD at shows by being the merchant than the artist.

What today offers is cheap low cost recording where some one who’s talented can set up a home studio and produce high quality content while not being forced to go in to debt and retaining the rights to those songs.

Yes it maybe true that the product of that labour has sharply lost it’s value but given that most never saw any return on that value under the old system most are still coming out ahead.

A musician who wants to make a living has to tour, that has always been the case. The value of recordings may have dropped but labels used to suck up that value anyway. Only now you don’t need a label so what value there is, including the rights to your songs, can remain with you.

Anonymous Coward says:

One of the differences between the movie industry and the music industry that I didn’t see addressed in the article is their approaches to pricing. Where the music industry has dug into their belief that songs are worth about a dollar per track, the movie industry has shown far greater willingness to use supply-and-demand economics to set prices on movies, with the result that movies are most expensive early on and become discounted over time.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:


I like this section a lot… but I’m not sure I agree with the bit at the end about windowing helping the movie industry. We’ve seen multiple studies that windowing has contributed to the piracy problem.

I think a lot more effective path is one where you do release it in many ways and formats… but at the same time, and let the market segment itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: windowing

“I’m afraid that windowing is going to last as long as there are major differences in the price people pay in different markets at different times. Its what they believe is the holy grail of the profits. .”

Windowing isn’t the problem. The unruly mob unwilling to wait for the store to open is the issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 windowing

It’s because they aren’t unserved customers. They are customers who are YET to be served, but that will be served as soon as it’s economically possible.

It’s like people lining up to get an Iphone5 – would you feel it justified if they just broke into the store and took them a few hours sooner, or perhaps went to china and just raided the foxconn plant to get them? Maybe hijacking UPS trucks?

Oh, you say… that’s theft. Okay, well, should people be allowed to walk into the HBO offices and make off with next week’s episode of their favorite show, because they feel “unserved” by being made to wait until some arbitrary release date?

No, I don’t put customers in a bad light. I just call the criminals what they are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 windowing

That’s the worst analogy, wake up bud! Think of something else to compare it to.

The major problem with piracy has to due with availability, which apple realized and that’s why they are the number 1 online store for music.

I can’t just drive down the street and get the latest album from my favorite artists because the big box stores came in years ago and closed down the local record stores, then they started to stock there shelves with all the teeny bopper stuff after a few years.

The big problem was the music industry took too long to adapt. And that’s a good thing because I don’t have to swallow the crap they throw down my throat anymore. I can go find stuff I like on my own, and then go to itunes and download it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Today, copying is a fact of life in the music world. Yet music is not dying. Even without any changes, music is vibrantly creative today. From a consumer point of view, life has never been better: more musical choices, more easily obtained, than ever before. “

Short term, it’s the endless buffet feast. But like anyone who doesn’t budget correctly, the feast is often followed by famine.

Already, artists are skipping the process of making new music for the simple money of performance. Why spend a year or more to write and produce a great new album, when you can make bank off your existing content, by playing live all over the world?

What has happened is as the money has gone out of making new content, bands and artists have slowed their output. In the golden age Jagger refers to, it wasn’t unusual for a band to put out an album almost every year or every other years. The Stones put out 7 or 8 albums in that 15 year period.

Now? it’s usually 3 – 5 years between records for major acts, sometimes longer. Why bother with the process? It’s no longer a profitable part of being an artist, at least for existing acts.

New acts? Lady Gaga, the worldwide mega-star… 2 albums since 2008. That’s it. All the hype, all the coverage, 2 albums. Nikki Minaj? 1 single album. Britney Spears? 4 albums in a decade.

Prefer rock? Nickleback – 5 albums in a decade, but only 3 since 2005. Radiohead? 3 albums since 2003. Mettalica? 2 albums in a decade…

Bands are off now on tours with multiple legs, often going back to the same places more than once on the same tour, and those tours often last years. Mettalica’s last tour (World Magnetic Tour) started in 2008 and ended in 2010, with 180 or so shows.

In the end, the feast comes to an end when you stop paying the cooks to make dinner. Gorge yourself now, the coming times may be a little lean.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re:

Lean? Hardly. Before, there were few artist who would get the golden ticket from the gatekeepers for full backing in promotions and distribution–the one in a million chance at stardom. Of course, those lucky few had to pump out albums to keep up with demand. Now, there’s no need to have a golden ticket to reach a large audience, artist can do it themselves online.

So what if the lucky few ticket holders are cranking out less of the same retreaded sounds? There’s more artist now than ever, and they’re more than able to fill the growing demand.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“Already, artists are skipping the process of making new music for the simple money of performance.”

Do you have any evidence of this occurring on a meaningful scale?

“Why spend a year or more to write and produce a great new album…”

It does not take a year of full time work to produce an album. Stop overblowing your claims to try to make a point.

“…when you can make bank off your existing content, by playing live all over the world?”

Weren’t you just taking about short-term feast being followed by famine?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Do you have any evidence of this occurring on a meaningful scale? “

Read my post. Since around 2000, most bands have gone from 1 album every 2 years to one every 3 or even 4 years. They often do multiple tours for the same album, rather than 1 album, 1 tour. My post has examples.

“It does not take a year of full time work to produce an album. Stop overblowing your claims to try to make a point.”

Actually, it does. Well, it does if you want to create great work. Even the albums “recorded in 5 days” took a long time to write, arrange, and so on. You won’t forget rehearsal time as they learn the song and work out “the kinks”

You can produce an album faster, some do. But most artists will tell you that it takes much longer than you think to make a good recording.

“Weren’t you just taking about short-term feast being followed by famine?”

For the fans, it’s famine – no new material, just the artist slowly wandering the world. When you live in one place, you might see that artist once in 4 or 5 years, and you might getmaybe 3 or 4 songs in that time period that become popular. That’s it. It’s a real famine, it explains why play lists at radio are often stale.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“more music is being created overall than ever before. Hardly a famine.”

Is it more music people want to listen to though? Considering all that seems to get pirated is the label stuff, it seems that the demand isn’t with all the “new” source music, and still with the old reliable source.

You know, the source Trent Reznor signed back up with to get exposure.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“”It does not take a year of full time work to produce an album. Stop overblowing your claims to try to make a point.”

Actually, it does. Well, it does if you want to create great work. Even the albums “recorded in 5 days” took a long time to write, arrange, and so on. You won’t forget rehearsal time as they learn the song and work out “the kinks””

That’s basically what you do when you tour; write, rehearse, live your life, you know create.

Milton Freewater says:

Re: Re:

“In the end, the feast comes to an end when you stop paying the cooks to make dinner. Gorge yourself now, the coming times may be a little lean.”

If the albums don’t exist, what are we gorging ourselves on?

People stopped paying 10 years ago and things got lean. That’s your point, right? So why would things get LEANER?

Anyway, Gaga, Nikki and Britney listeners don’t listen to “albums,” but if you’re counting, Gaga has actually released 4 collections that granddad would call “albums” and Nikki 2. They’re marketed differently from collections in 1970, which is why you miscounted. You’re obviously not even a casual fan.

Another long, passionate, well-written science fiction story on TechDirt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“If the albums don’t exist, what are we gorging ourselves on?”

Albums still exist – and you have been gorging on the huge existing back catalog. It’s not really shocking that everyone your age goes through a classic rock phase.

“People stopped paying 10 years ago and things got lean. That’s your point, right? So why would things get LEANER?”

No, people started not to pay 10 years ago, and since then it’s gotten leaner, and as piracy becomes a more and more common thing, it reaches a point where it’s stops being lean and starts being non-existant.

“Anyway, Gaga, Nikki and Britney listeners don’t listen to “albums,” but if you’re counting, Gaga has actually released 4 collections that granddad would call “albums” and Nikki 2. They’re marketed differently from collections in 1970, which is why you miscounted. You’re obviously not even a casual fan.”

No, p[lease go check. Gaga has 2 albums, and then some remixes – but only 2 albums of material. Nikki has 1. Please check their discographies.

“Another long, passionate, well-written science fiction story on TechDirt.”

Yes, the original post is very long. I agree with you there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“No, people started not to pay 10 years ago, and since then it’s gotten leaner, and as piracy becomes a more and more common thing, it reaches a point where it’s stops being lean and starts being non-existant.”

There’s never been as much music around as today. And this includes free to listen/downloads from the artists. There will never be a shortage of musics and musicians craving to get noticed and heard.

It doesn’t really matter if yesterday’s and today’s major labels offering becomes leaner or even non-existant. Which I don’t think is happening anyway.

Maybe the majors will start taking their A&R role more seriously again, instead of trying to dictate the market and lining up watered-down clones of what’s been working. Maybe they’ll become so good at it that they would spark whole new musical movements instead of buying it out when it’s already there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Zappa said the music industry killed itself when it took the reigns from the old cigar chomping guys and put it in the hands of the hippies. cigar chompers didn’t have any idea what “the kids liked” and were willing to take a chance. The hippies “knew” what “the kids liked” and were not willing to give anything else a shot.

There you have it, the whole I know what’s best for you thingy biting the industry in the ass. Although I think it’s more of an I know what will make a butt load of money; repackage the same crap over and over and over again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Jagger said it best, and I paraphrase; in the entire history of music there was a very small window where music artists made a butt load of money, like 1970 to 1990. It was an anomaly. Why do you think they call us struggling artists anyway.

Once an artist becomes a pampered rich person the tendency is to lose sight of the art and focus on the bucks. The few that learn to do both will always be successful but the majority of the “true” art results from living in the trenches of pure struggle to exist, as that is the crux of human existence.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You know there are a number of bands that I wish hadn’t put out as many albums as they did because a lot of them sucked. Then when you go see them live you get the good stuff diluted by the crap and every one turns in to bitter “I liked them better back in the day” types.

My point is that quality not quantity is what I want from a given band. When there are more people making more music than any other point in history there is a lot more quality (and a lot more crap but there’s always crap) music to pick from. I don’t need to rely on the few bands in a genre who got the golden gate keeper ticket for the production of new content for that kind of music any more.

You are seeing a falling off in how often artist are producing albums and you are making the assumption that the rate of production as it was was a good thing and utterly failing to provide any proof that is the case. Lets just step back for a second and look at why there has been a drop in production from major bands shall we?

What you are forgetting is that most see a tiny return on sales if they are seeing a return at all. It’s the labels who benefit the most from album sales and it’s the labels not the artists who set the number of albums that the artist “owes” the label in the contract which I’m pretty sure that also comes with a term.

So the upshot is basically that since the labels made most of their money from album sales they want as many albums from an artist as they can get as quickly as they can get them. If an artist doesn’t feel like it? tough, you either have to buy out the contract or you make a album.

The change you are seeing in the major artist is again being driven by the labels contracts. Seeing how ablums are being devalued new label contracts are mostly, so called, 360 deals, where the label gets a cut of ever damn thing the artist does. Since the money in now in tours and merch big arits are, like it or lump it, having to do more tours and sell more merch as part of their contracts.

So what conclusion can we draw for that? Well, firstly people tend not to get bored with the stuff that made them love a band, at the very lest the turn over rate in albums was never driven by the demand of fans it was driven by the demand of labels. You still do need new content and bands still need to have produced enough content to tour on before being able to tour but the rate at which you have to do that is drastically lower than the rate at which the labels, who’s money came from albums, wanted to.

So given we are seeing a shift of value to the performance we’ll start to see the demands of the market playing a bigger role in the rate of production. Frankly I get the impression labels are going to be pushing for the smallest investment they can get away with in new content as it provides less return. Still the point is rate of product in terms of market demand was inflated by the labels and we are going to see something much truer to what people actually want in the future.

Next most bands and musicians are always writing, it’s just what they do. I am one, not very good admittedly, and I never stop throwing ideas around. It’s very rear that an idea work out and gets developed and even more rear that it produces a good song at the end of it but still creating music is something I enjoy so it happens. I know a large number of bands and musicians some who are always on tour and the same goes for them.

Point I’m making is that bands, especially bands who are independent or big bands who have favourable contracts, now have more of a choice in how much content they want to produce. If bands are not throwing albums and EPs out the door as often as they used to it’s likely, in part, that they never wanted to produce at the old rate.

Over all content production is up even if individual output is down. That individual output is at a label level is now more driven by actual market demands and more in control of the people who create it.

Not a bad place to be in my view.

TasMot (profile) says:

Fighting the BIG Fight

Part of the problem with the fight is that there are many different eggs in the basket with different problems and everybody (on all sides) seem to be looking for the broad stroke that will fix all problems. If tomorrow I decide to call myself a musician (and hand out earplugs to the people forced to listen to me play), am I automatically entitled to make a living at it (and quit my day job)? That’s a windmill that you can tilt at for a long time and never solve, yet I see frequent comments that seem to ASSUME that anyone who calls themself a musician is entitled to be a millionare. Like many other professions, there is a wide range of people who call themselves something and really shouldn’t be (just look at the mess the “bricklayer” made of my brother-in-laws brick wall).
On the other hand, “the recording industry” is having problems because they don’t like the fact that the technology of recording has escaped from their high price machines. The “Plastic Disk Production” industry that they are in is going the way of the buggy whip, just like the casette and the vinyl record (excluding purists).
In the “really” good old days, musicians “made it” as troubadors or court musicians. Many families had musicians and sitting around in the evening and singing were a way of life before radios. For many years, a musician would make a “recording” once well actually the label, and be able to make and sell millions of copies of the one effort. Those days are dissappearing. Now (well still), musicians are making more from live performances and the labels need to find something else to do besides make plastic disks. They need to get back to their other roles like promotion of musicians. Life was good when it took a $100,000 machine to make the little plastic disks. Now anybody can do it with a $25 CD burner and a download from the internet. The cow has gotten out of the barn. The “recording” industry AKA the labels need to find a new purpose in life and stop trying to penalize their customers for the lost cow.
Instead of trying to lock down all of the new technology, they need to give up the lost cow and find the “Next New Thing” and get ahead of the ball instead of losing relavance by paying politicians for new laws that will still not work (as in will not increase revenues).

Anonymous Coward says:


should worry more about…
1. The crappy quality of their fare.
Sure picture and sound are very good, no mistaking that, but the story they tell or retell in the case of a remake usually sucks.
2. The time between the announcement and the ability to rent.
It is absurd. By the time its available I?ve forgotten about it. I usually don’t go to movies because of the seemingly overwhelming majority of jerk offs that do. And I don?t wish to spend 15+ dollars on another movie that sucks; I?ve been down that sorry road to many times.

Corwin (profile) says:

It's the direction of history

They can legislate all they want, there isn’t enough money in the world to pay market prices for all copies of recorded music there are already.

The fact that it’s technically possible, and as easy as we know, to copy music (or generally, data) for $0, that exchanging all civil liberties for monitoring every copy operation on all computers everywhere is simply not sustainable. First, the technology costs money, and that makes devices without that tech less expensive. The basic economic argument it that someone, somewhere, will make them, because they’re cheaper and better. Second, a tech that works well enough to prevent copying, or tattle on illegal copies, is still quite a long way away, if it’s even technically possible at all. Third, even if that tech was working, and well enough to actually sue people over their results, countries that condemn their people to poverty for copying data will be made up of poor people, who won’t be able to afford what they make even if they work at making something. That is the definition of a non-sustainable economy.

So, it’s a matter of competitivity, ultimately. Countries that abolish or ignore intellectual property rights will be making so much more money in productive endeavors, that they will outright buy those that masturbate their money between lawyers because of retarded laws.

As long as countries exist as social structures, at least. Maybe I’ll live to see the day where all nations will be replace by a panoptic, distributed swarm system where everything is transparent, in direct and absolute democracy.

Chancius (user link) says:

Man this new David Byrne & St Vincent is goooood!

The major labels’ problem is one of quality and content, not quantity. Instead of promoting and investing in music that relates to different demographics, they only cater to Tweens and teenagers now because they are the largest piece of the pie that still purchases recorded music and they are easily swayed. When the president comes out and announces at a major event that his company will only sign talent with fan base of 100,000 and more or reality stars there won’t be much of a variety of music getting a fair shot to reach a large audience anymore.

Free album download at

Anonymous Coward says:

Interesting how obvious it is that this piece is not a techdirt originated article, particularly the underlying assumption that piracy definitively can cause problems.

“Hollywood worries a lot about piracy. But while there is plenty of it, especially overseas, piracy has yet to threaten the existence of the major film studios. “

With yet to, we “know” that it can, just that it hasn’t yet.

“Hollywood fought copying, but as a part of a broader overall strategy aimed at capitalizing on the opportunities the Internet offered, while blunting the effect of piracy.”

Because those effects are understood to be bad rather than neutral or good?

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Agreed. I cringed when the first paragraph described “a decade-long crisis driven by Napster and the rise of peer-to-peer technologies“. Not that the so-called crisis was at all owing to a government conviction putting an end to the labels engaging in price-fixing; or the advent of personal media players that could hold and transfer thousands of songs; or drastic price drops in the cost of high capacity media burners and thumbdrives; or the dramatic increase in entertainment alternatives competing in the market; or the loss of business from people generally disgusted with the labels suing their customers.

No, the woes of the music industry were driven by Napster and P2P — despite the music industry’s own studies showing that 70% of unpaid music is being shared offline.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Nice article, but it left out one key fact

Back in the day, before the fractional reserve banking system (which in and of itself is a scam,) the powers that be reset the whole economy, save the big boys, about every six hundred years or so because they knew the whole thing would collapse under the load of the the debt generated by interest on loans to the general populace.

That happens no more, the loss of jobs to technological advance, the “capitalistic” need to take advantage of third world economies for scaling purposes, and the fractional reserve system exacerbates the problem. We are heading for a fall, not if but when.

You see it all around. There is, on the whole, far less money to throw around in the average household around the world. I’m just saying there are a whole lot of things contributing to this, or any other problems involving money and how it’s spent.


X264 Standard definition the "scene NOW does"

was being done in 2004 and i know cause i ripped all the dvdrs and blurays and hd dvdrs and recoded xvids

funny how much cash i saved recoding the xvids and divx as they lost 50% of there size and kept 95% of the quality….

being poor forces people to make do with what they can. CAPS on net forces you to look to shrink the movie sizes and tv sizes….when a tv ep is only 180-200 meg its not far off the size of a music video at 60 meg
12 minute download on 5 megabit net
now think were in age of 50 megabit or 100 megabit home use….and now you have honking 40GB HD movies….
it dont matter people download it no matter how long it takes.
It is why democracy will always find a way….

Anonymous Coward says:

‘so what can the music industry do now?’

as it seems to be so reluctant to adapt to the latest technology, the C21 and even more reluctant to try to appease it’s customers by giving what is asked for, i would suggest the best thing is to cease to be completely. let artists sort themselves out without the legacy players. plenty do it already and make a damn good living

Anonymous Coward says:

fulltime artist musician here. right now is an amazing time to be a musician IF you realize and capitalize what century you live in.

I find it unbelievable sometimes that i can instantly contact 5000 fans for free and distribute my artistica wares to them, some of which are free and downloadable, some of which are very expensive and hand made and all of which are paid attention to increasingly by a growing word of mouth audience. i dont need flyers for shows. i havent had to contact an agent or venue directly in over a year because FINALLY they use youtube and bandcamp and soundcloud to discover new artists and paypal to pay them and online flight and hotel booking to sort the accomodations. i just create the most amazing stuff that represents me as an artist, put it online in a way that isnt so much “selling” as it is “sharing artistic insight”. you become part of their day…part of their social feed. they stop to see what you are doing now because they have been passively following your career now since the myspace days or before. now you have a crowdfunding campaign to create a thing or an idea and they are onboard. the internet is my agent now.

I have friends youngfer than me who still act as if the internet is some kind of apparition or fad. they are so screwed. the world has changed completely in the last 2-3 year, not even mentioning the previous 8-10 year before that. everyone that is in their respective game, has an internet concept now and if you get it, they want to incorporate you into theirs and vice versa.

piracy?! hahaha. let me tell you ow that plays out by describing my sunday afternoon last week, nursing a hangover. i click a link on youtube to watch some link from some tv show, which showed me one of those “you cant watch this” pop-ups so i went to vimeo, typed in scifi and spent the next 5 hours watching some of the most amazing short movies i have ever seen and contacted one of the directors about possibly collaborating on a future project, based on his movie. legacy music and films lose value the more out of the conversation they get and with the exponential rate of change on the internet, that is happening very fast. not only have i not bought any music in years, but i havent even tried to listen to many commercial artists of any genre. my “playlist” comes from word of mouth and social networks exclusively, AND (this is the best bit) of those that i have chosen to pay attention to that have had crowdfunding campaigns, i have donated to almost all of them that either gave me alow enough price point or something really cool for a higher pricepoint. so their music that i listened to for free, made me give them money just for making good music.

any label, artist or studio that doesnt understand these dynamics, is completely screwed. for those that do, a wonderful new world awaits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Links to your music, or else this is just astro-turfing.

i havent had to contact an agent or venue directly in over a year because FINALLY they use youtube and bandcamp and soundcloud to discover new artists and paypal to pay them and online flight and hotel booking to sort the accomodations

Come on now, man. Venues are paying you through Paypal?! That’s a first. And they’re buying your plane tickets and renting your hotel room?


Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

This is where the money is going

The money people are saving by getting their recorded music for free often doesn’t go to musicians in other forms. It goes to pay bills.

Cellphones Are Eating the Family Budget – “Americans spent $116 more a year on telephone services in 2011 than they did in 2007, according to the Labor Department, even as total household expenditures increased by just $67.

“Meanwhile, spending on food away from home fell by $48, apparel spending declined by $141, and entertainment spending dropped by $126. The figures aren’t adjusted for inflation.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is where the money is going

This assertion that people are saving money by getting recorded music for free is based on anything other than whim?

What the facts you quote are suggesting is that the credit crunch and it’s effect on employment and wages has reduced the amount of money people have available for entertainment and fashion and that telephone costs are up and not mentioned is that other things, such as gas etc. are also up and presumably also contributing to the strain on family and personal budgets.

What the credit crunch does not seem to have effected is piracy, which means it has much in common with DRM and the current fixation with increasingly strong legislation and much bypassing of the court system.

As no link has yet been shown between piracy levels and sales, except in some small cases where the suggestion is that it has increased sales in the case of particular items, it seems misleading to suggest that there is any money being “saved” in any meaningful sense by copyright infringing downloads, anymore than there is any support for the concept of money being lost due to copyright infringement.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: This is where the money is going

Spending on entertainment and clothing have been going down, so that’s not likely going to musicians. It doesn’t have anything to do with piracy. People can get music for free from legal downloads, streaming, YouTube. So they save money by getting music for free, but that saved money is likely going for bills rather than the non-digital stuff that musicians sell (e.g., live music, merchandise).

What I am saying is that economic times are tough, people are cutting back on non-essential items, and paying their bills. So for the music industry to count on people supporting the musicians may not happen given a global recession.

Anonymous Coward says:

here is my music

its kinda old-ish (a year or so) but is representative of my sound.

I didnt say that i get rich, i said that now it is easier to book online and get paid online. this has been the case for a couple of years but especially the last 12-14 months and it is super easy to find accomodation and yes, paypal makes it easy to get paid what you negotiate, not neccessarily big money. and its not neccessarily “venues”, like clubs. it is also presentations, workshops, and many other non-traditional ways of building around music. the (internet based) tools make it much much easier than even 5 years ago.

Lorrie (profile) says:

music industry

I gather that the industry is extremely corrupt now. Popular or not to say, but I read “illuminati” or “satanists” on everything on YouTube and yeah I pay attention to that. It’s not a good sign, too widespread to be a just a joke. It’s no joke. The class and creativity has taken a hit for sure, although that doesn’t stop a ton of mad talent. It’s not like there’s no talent…but I preferred the old days.

Marcel Zachary says:

Save the industry but make changes

My opinion what they should do is give more artists and musicians control over their music and albums and hire radio stations to promote them and pay for their art not for business and make the labels pay for the touring,and distribution and maybe give artist their royalities not keeping it all for themselves but share half and half and sue the priracy websites for illegal downloading songs that ‘s not paid for that way recording artists don’t lose their income wage and record companies don’t lose their status.

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