What’s going in the music industry? Who has the answers? Better yet, who has the solutions?
In a nutshell, the music industry is simply following the lead of the US Government, isn’t it? Let me lay out some comparisons which will show that for the most part, business is simply following standards set by the highest power of the land, our feckless … er, I mean fearless leaders in the US Government.
After I lay out just a few of the problems I see with the federal government, I’ll make the comparisons I mentioned, and then I’ll try to show where that leaves us music lovers, and what we can do about it. It would take at least a short book to list all the problems in both government and industry, along with their consequences and proposed solutions, so I’ll leave that for another to tackle.
In the meantime, I’ll try to summarize and wrap this all up in as few paragraphs as possible.
On the national and international levels, the US dollar is in freefall, the Euro is double the value it was about five years ago, the unemployment statistics look grim, and banks and lenders are in trouble. Homeowners (gasp!) are in trouble, the American auto industry is still putting out Tinker Toys™ (and surprisingly, Americans are still buying them!), and our sixty-year near unquestionable NATO leadership is being (double gasp!!) questioned.
81% of Americans polled say we’re on the wrong path (triple gasp!!!)), Shrub’s approval rating is even lower than BJB’s* (fourple gasp!!!!).
*Blow Job Bill
Hell, the music industry is simply following the path that’s been well blazed by Uncle Sam, and is in fine and dandy shape in comparison, isn’t it? Well, Maybe not. Let’s put things into perspective:
1. So the dollar’s in freefall. BFD, right? Most Americans don’t travel outside the country anyway, so what’s the difference?
2. Pretty soon GM will be offering a fat $100,000 rebate on their cars, so what’s wrong with that?
3. NATO? Phffffttt!
4. Presidential ratings? Double phffffttt!
Those are important problems, right? But can we, meaning you and me, do anything about any of them? Nope.
Ergo, they’re unimportant to this argument for the time being. Music, however, is of supreme importance! It’s what gets us through those rough, sometimes hopeless looking day-to-day problems. So let’s keep our priorities straight. Can we do without NATO? Of course. Foreign travel? Yep. Presidential approval? Why not? We’ve been doing that without true leadership since Harry “The buck stops here” Truman left office. What’s one more term?
But can we do without music? Gasp, gasp, cough, cough. As the natives in downtown Milwaukee say, “No way Jose!”
Seriously, the money-jobs-dollar-Prez-car problems are essentially somebody else’s toys.
As of the latest semi-official US Census, which was July 2007, there are 301,139,947 of us here in the good ol' USofA. Music is what roughly 301,129, 946 of us need to maintain our sanity while the remaining 10,001 government and industry leaders are busy screwing up the world.
Does any sorta kinda sane person get by without music? Like the natives in Talladega, Georgia, say, “No way Jose!” The rest of the population, the less sane of us, are already hearing and feeling the music through their fillings or the earwax in their heads, so maybe they can get by without outside sounds.
So I think you’ll agree: We need music.
The problems that have plagued the record industry for the past ten or so years, which is coincidentally about the same length of time that’s passed since the natives began revolting (think Napster), are looking like they’re beginning to be settled by we da' people.
Going … going … soon-to-be-gone are the limos, the thousand-dollar lunches, the three-thousand-dollar hotel rooms, the private planes, the coke, the coke whores, and all the rest of the trappings that record company execs have surrounded themselves with for the past fifty or so years (think Cousin Brucie and Payola).
Certainly these things are not gone, but Joe and Josie Average have managed to put a serious dent into many of them. And, like a ripple effect, the waves have made their way from that single little Josie Average downloading plop, all the way to the Big Plop, the record company exec.
For years, the record execs have been following the lead of our politicians. I’ll probably tick off most of the nine people still reading this diatribe when I say that all politicians are swine feeding at the public trough. These pols, with their big business and entertainment followers, look out for one another because they know what a get-over they have.
Take a look for instance at Joe and Josie Average’s contributions to these pols.
Can we safely say that the world’s leaders and bankers caused our current situation? To be fair, what we can say is that these people allowed it to happen. The cause is irrelevant at this late juncture. We should be above finger pointing and name calling. What’s relevant is not how these problems came to be, or the stale, “What did you know and when did you know it?”
The only thing relevant at this point is, "How do we fix it?"
We can argue about the whys later.
On the other hand, how many of us have been educated in the finer points of finance and international diplomacy? How about our leaders and pols? Aren’t they supposed to be highly and expensively trained in this area? And if they themselves aren’t, aren’t they supposed to be hiring knowledgeable, highly and expensively trained people to steer us along in these extremely complicated and difficult fields? Isn’t that one of the things our taxes are supposed to be paying for?
Nowadays, how do these leaders go about working out these problems? Let’s start with the financial dilemmas facing us. Think Davos. Most of us know Davos only from what we’ve seen on television. And what is shown is about 90% protests, or overweight guys in $1000 shoes shaking hands. How many of you have been to Davos? Raise your hands. Just as I thought, I see one hand raised.
Well let me ask you this about Davos. What do you imagine the price of a hotel room is in Davos? I’ll help you out a little. There are essentially three prices: Expensive, Really Expensive, and Holy Shit! Now think about how many delegates there are attending. Add in the secretaries, assistants, personal assistants, drivers, and other bootlickers who’ve gone along with each of the delegates. Who do you think is picking up the tab for them?
Now that you’ve written all that down, on the other half of the balance sheet, put down (in whatever currency you’re comfortable with), exactly how much all this expense has netted you, personally?
Congratulations! You’re one of the people paying for this annual excuse for the delegates to ski and get fatter and drunker to their heart’s content. Let me help you again. Roughly 98% of you can write down a big fat zero.
And yet all you Joes and Josies around the world pay for this confabulation, year after exorbitant year, with pretty much the same result: More jobs shipped out of the country; those remaining getting crappy, or no, pay raises; cost of living spiraling up, out of control; the cheapest gas at $3.50 a gallon. Are these the results we want? Doesn’t matter. What matters is this: It’s what we’re paying for.
Well, folks, I repeat, the record execs took their lessons from the pols, so they were doing pretty much the same excesses, unquestioned by everybody. At least until about ten years ago. Since then, these execs have had to tighten their belts somewhat. But we still see the entertainers, the singers and musicians driving cars with fancy hubcaps, one of which costs more than what a lot of you out there reading this might make in a week or a month. Now who do you think is paying for it? You can all put down the same two-letter answer:
Let’s do the same balancing act with the currency for the record industry.
One side is all the designer dresses, four-pound gold chains, Escalades and their hubcaps, and so on. And let’s not even add in all the illegal purchases and rentals, such as drugs, guns and hos (or is that hoes?).
On the other side, write down how many minutes of entertainment you get. Factor in the price of a CD or DVD, whichever you usually buy. I don’t have to tell you what else to write down on either side of the ledger. Simply look at any rock/rap/pop star’s videos and you’ll see exactly where your hard-earned shekels are going. Then think about how many times you had to say, “Want fries with that?” to earn that figure. Are they following in the footsteps of our politicians and big business leaders? You can safely stake your life on it.
But what we do we see happening now?
We see that all you Joes and Josies have realized the power that you hold. Your individual ten, or twenty, or hundred or whatever, dollars doesn’t have much power in and of itself. But when you add the numbers, you have a helluva lot of power.
And you’re beginning to realize it. You’re saying, “Wait a minute! I’m paying a hundred, 200, or even 500! And it's going up a lot faster than your paycheck.
You look around and see several thousand others who’ve paid the same money. Ka-ching! Good money if you can get the chumps to pay for it, isn’t it? And rock stars, like sports stars and team owners, (and don’t forget our hardworking political animals), are all lining up for what they see as their fair share, and all paid for by … drum roll … M-E.
On the plus side, plus for you and me, that is, we’re beginning to see the record companies trimming staff, cutting or at least stabilizing prices for retail sales. CDs are holding greater content, performances are getting a little longer, although not to the percentage that the others areas have changed. Put your mind to it and I’ll bet you can come up with one or two more benefits that have come along lately.
The first few words of a recent story in the New York Times hits it square on the head.
An article published just three days ago begins, “In a move that reflects the anarchy sweeping the music business …” And anarchy it is.
Ya done good, Joe and Josie. CD sales are down a full third since 2000! So instead of having to shower, get dressed, crank up the gasburner and drive to the mall, it’s a matter of sitting down at your computer in your underwear, a few clicks and a short wait and voila! You have the cuts you want (the ones you don’t mind paying for), without all the extra deadweight baggage that is oftentimes simply filler material, of little or no redeemable value and certainly of no entertainment value.
Most of your actions have sizably reduced your environmental footprint. Plastic consumption is down, which consequently means electricity consumption is also down. Which also means that less oil has been used. Gas consumption is likewise down, so you’ve saved an hour that can be put to better, more efficient use. And you haven’t had to use any soap or water or shampoo. Suu-weet!
And speaking of sweets, for dessert you can give Mother Earth one less piece of useless plastic to add to the piles already in the landfill. The dynamic has also changed in formulating how the record companies will make back their investments. Instead of relying on CD sales, the emphasis is sliding over to live performances, merchandise, and non-tangible items such as ringtones. Which is also going to change the advertising dynamic.
I haven’t seen any official figures on it, but I’d venture to guess that entertainment advertising in periodicals such as music magazines and Sunday newspapers will drop or has dropped, and it will shift emphasis. Rather than promoting CD sales, the emphasis will shift to the areas mentioned earlier. Merchandise and live performances (which, by the way, are going up, up, up, with no ceiling in sight).
Further, with advertising rates for electronic advertising much lower overall, not to mention more effective, timely, and more easily redirected, I’d guess we’ll be seeing many more drastic changes than we’ve already seen. With the lead-time that print publications require, it’s a no-brainer. By the time a print ad is redesigned, rewritten, graphics added, edited, matted and whatever else is involved in the process, the CD being touted could be a couple months old.
Even some of the “geniuses” in the record companies can understand this. Because we already know that some recording executives were given their jobs based solely on the fact that it’s your sister’s doofus kid who can’t hold a job otherwise, and you hired him so you wouldn’t have to listen to him, your sister, her husband, or your mother.
With any luck, he’ll now be the one asking if you want fries with that. If he can even hold the job, that is.
Another potential earth-moving issue is that now, live entertainment companies such as Live Nation are going head-to-head with the record companies, facing off for what each sees as a goldmine. The changing dynamic here will mean bigger risks for all the businesses concerned, less hassle for the performers, but a much bigger payoff for all. If, and this is a very big if, the companies like Live Nation have put their money on the right horses.
The payoffs will be bigger, absolutely. But so will the losses, should something go wrong. And don’t forget Murphy’s Law, and my variations on it: Things that can’t possibly go wrong, will. Things that can’t possibly lose, will, and at the worst possible time, and with the worst possible consequences.
Now that we’re getting a handle on the problems with the music business, let’s see what we da people can do about Shrub, Eye-rack, the cost of saltines, and the rest of that stuff.
Should be a piece of cake, right? Like the natives in your local say, “Absotively!”