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The moment when listeners became passive about music is the day that music really died.

Music Shouldn’t Be Viewed As A Loss Leader

How is it possible for a band to sell an album digitally online for any price the listener is willing to pay for it (even for nothing), and release the same album physically in stores months later and still top the Billboard album charts?

The music industry didn’t know what to make of Radiohead’s experiment, but it did seem to start a chain reaction that led artists away from the label system. With millions of people having already downloaded the album, the music industry was probably as shocked to see Radiohead’s In Rainbows sell 122,300 copies. The moral of the story? People are willing to (and will) pay for (good) music.

To a point I can agree that piracy has affected the music industry, but nowhere near the levels that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claims. With hints of the RIAA’s demise, the music industry might need to turn toward other means of enforcing copyrights and making extra revenue (lawsuit settlements aside). A music tax is possible, but there hasn’t been enough research in its achievability or feasibility.

Music’s biggest problem is really the product itself. Not the packaging, mind you. It’s this idea that music (and this would also apply to movies as well) isn’t something to worshiped and just listened to. Music isn’t considered good enough to be paid for. Music isn’t good enough anymore to exist on its own.

Unfortunately, the Internet can partly be blamed for this. The Internet made it easier to get music, but the music industry is guilty for not embracing it (and it still hasn’t). Napster was viewed as a threat, but those executives had no clue as to not just who was using Napster, but how they were using it. I was in high school during its heyday and everyone who was using it was really enthused by it. Not because they were getting songs for free, but because they were finding songs they hadn’t listened to in years and they could discover new songs not found on the radio.

The executives never understood this, and thus started the cataclysm chain against the average listener. Napster fell and dozens of programs replaced it. The industry fought and won, or did it? The result is the general apathy toward music in general.

Napster can be blamed for the idea that people expected to have music all the time. Music should be readily available whenever one wants it. That caused the CD’s decline. But most people associate the CD’s decline to music’s decline. Music is still popular. The music experience has just changed.

There aren’t many active listeners any more. I remember when people had to physically leave their homes and go to a record store to get the music they wanted. Music buying was an event. Record stores opened at midnight when high-profile albums were released. Listeners came and hung out.

The moment when listeners became passive to music is the day that music really died.

There isn’t any effort made anymore toward listening to music. Radio still is the most prominent method of listening to music, but that’s done while driving or sitting in traffic. Movies and TV can still create buzz (even commercials). Video games feature music as well, especially Guitar Hero III and Rock Band which have induced fans to buy seven million songs in addition to the in-game provided tracks.

The only real method now is the Internet. Some mouse clicks and a few keystrokes are all it takes to download (legally or illegally) the tunes you want. The Internet isn’t all bad though. World music is now readily available and it's cheap. No more high export prices. Up-and-coming bands are no longer relegated to their general area and can be heard any and everywhere.

Specialty record stores don’t really exist anymore. Tower Records is long gone. What’s left are mass retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart which heavily discount CDs and DVDs to entice shoppers into the stores with the hope they will buy items with bigger profit margins. Music is considered a loss leader and that doesn’t help its image any one bit. Take a clue from wine — raising the prices helps people enjoy it more.

If a track is $0.99, then people will treat it as such. Ninety-nine cents might seem cheap, but cheap doesn’t necessarily mean that people are more likely or willing to buy it. Just ask Radiohead. While I’m not lobbying for major price hikes, music certainly can use a facelift in terms of its value.

The music itself isn’t viewed to have any value. In a Web 2.0 world where content is king, the music industry seems to be on the other fence. The distribution instead has value. Music sales have lip-syncing or using body doubles doesn’t help.

The music industry needs to repair loads of damage. It needs to recreate the musical experience. Bringing vinyl back would help. Listening to music needs to be cool again. Does anyone just listen to music anymore? Or does it have to accompany other forms of action?

It’s up to the consumer at that point.

About Tan The Man

Tan The Man writes mostly about film and music. He has previously covered events like Noise Pop, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, South By Southwest, TBD Festival, and Wizard World Comic Con.

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