Monday, June 22, 2009

Question of the Day - THE MUSIC RENAISSANCE - June 22, 2009


Mark Milovic asks:

What will constitute the new era in Music?? In the class we discussed about how we are going to need an Elvis type person to fulfill that, but don't we have enough great musicians out there with just as die hard fans? And isn't the industry is still "hurting?"

Hartmann responds:

The new era in music is here. The Internet is a double edged sword. On one side it has cut the postmodern record business to its knees. On the other hand, it is the instrument that is carving The Music Renaissance. No one can predict for certain what this will actually mean in the long run. Some systems will fail and some will survive. There abides a flicker of hope, within the big four record companies, that some digital miracle will reverse their spiraling trend toward oblivion.

To arrest the labels' descent into irrelevance several significant changes would have to occur. First, an entire generation would have to suddenly regard music "piracy" as immoral and unacceptable behavior. However, the practice seems to be culturally protected by a moral code allowing that if its on the world wide web its free for the taking. That perception is not likely to change in the near future.

If rejecting peer-to-peer file sharing showed a serious lack of vision on the part of the record industry, the lawsuits filed by the RIAA against their customer base were down right foolish. The music fans all watch talent TV, and they know the record companies have never been artist friendly. Turning on the music user to thwart the spread of file sharing is somewhat like biting the hand that feeds you. The labels have turned their customers into enemies and even if they recognized the error of this tactic, there is still no obvious solution to the piracy problem.

Despite the fact that there is more music in play than ever before in history, sales are at an all time low. In the pre Napster era an album would have to sell upwards of a million units, in a window of a few weeks, to achieve the number one position in Billboard's top 200. Today that can be achieved if a CD sells as few as one hundred and fifty thousand copies in the first week of release. Such a dismal showing would have been considered an abject failure twenty years ago.

The infrastructure of the record business was built on the control of AM and FM radio as the primary promotional tool for recorded music. Enormous amounts of money were funneled into the acquisition of radio airplay. Some of this was spent on legitimate advertising. Most was channeled through a convoluted system of "payola" practices that constantly evolved under the occasionally watchful eyes of congress. In the modern record business cash payment for an actual number of spins was the common method of getting 45 RPM singles on AM radio.

In the postmodern era, singles were chosen from albums and exploited on AM and FM radio. The air play was purchased through "independent" promotion companies. Record companies would make under the table, and off the books, payments for blocks of stations to add certain priority records to their play lists. Indie promo men would deliver the money, goods or services and the stations added the records. When this practice came under government scrutiny, the paradigm shifted to an advertising based model. Companies purchased expensive advertising in "tip" sheets and trade magazines and some of those dollars found their way to radio station program directors. As record releases diminish these magazines and newspapers are slowly fading away.

The other mitigating factor is that most music fans no longer access their music through the radio. The building of new artists is no longer accomplished from the top down. Record companies used to decide what music would be offered for sale. From some narrow selection of choices the public would embrace what it liked best from the crop of new releases. This allowed "group" think, fad and trend influenced production, and committee diluted "product" to dominate the market place.

In The Music Renaissance the music mavens in each social community seek out the best of the new artists and quickly and efficiently share their discoveries through instant messaging and MP3 technology. Since the Internet is infinitely more powerful than AM and FM radio combined, the cost of promotion went from huge to minuscule over night. Now, new artists can be proactive about building their careers through social networking sites and on line music distribution and marketing systems. This leaves the record companies with very little to offer an artist.

The costs of manufacturing, promotion and distribution no longer require large capital investment. The record stores have closed and the on line sales mechanisms are functioning efficiently as downloads slowly eclipse the sale of paper and plastic CDs. Add to this the fact that subscription and advertising based methods of distribution are being experimented with every day, and it seems certain that the future acquisition of music will get even easier. It is highly probable that owning a CD will become more about ritual identity than a practical necessity.

Accessing the extant global music library, of just about every record ever made, is already here. Purchase is a choice, not a requirement. Owning a CD will be a sign of affection and support for the subject artist. Fans won't buy the album to get the music. They will probably already have the act's repertoire on their iPod when they decide to purchase CDs and merch. They will only do that after they have fallen in love with the act. It will be an act of homage, not a commercial exchange. This bonding action is most likely to occur through the intensity of live concert events

The new paradigm of music is alive and evolving. There will be no permanent form that controls the future, it will continue to change. Recording will continue to be low cost and universal. High profit album sales will be accomplished directly with the artist and talent will continue to define the margins. Live performing will provide the catalyst for bringing the public and the musicians together. If you can put on a good show, you can sell your "brand." A dynamic live act will bring the fans back, with their friends, and talented artists will build followings that will support their business enterprises.

The historical trajectory has always provided a superstar to embrace new technologies and advance the medium of music. Sinatra, Elvis and The Beatles were each catalysts for enormous growth and expansion. 78 RPM records, surrendered to 45 RPM singles and eventually 331/3 RPM and tape dominated. The Internet will produce a great star who will capitalize on the possibilities still being explored, and those as yet undiscovered. If a talented artist with great songs, charisma and sex appeal emerged today enormous global success could be achieved instantly.

Until a singer or band surfaces who can capture the imagination of the digital generation, there will continue to be a vast exploration of all the great genres of music. Internet access to "free" music has created a very sophisticated listener. Musical choices are niche oriented and several genre styles will compete for the popular vote. When the Avatar of the Internet arrives an eager and hungry audience will claim the next big thing as its own and if enough love accrues the new star could be rich and famous over night. Until then, music itself is the "superstar" of choice and fans will continue to search for the one great star that will bring them all together on the Internet. The fans will decide when that time has come and the music business will adapt to their selection.

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