Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Joe Depaoli asks:

The music industry is ever changing with different genres, rhythms, and melodies. Where do you see music heading in the future? Who do you feel is the next "rising star?" Is "Elvis Land" attainable for contemporary artists?

Hartmann responds:

Everything changes. It is not surprising that the record business would be drastically effected by digital technology. The shock would be if the music industry failed to adapt to the evolution. Instant access to all music genres, on demand, is not the only contributing factor in the decline of record sales. The DigiKids have a deep rooted perception that if it's on the web it belongs to them.

The "its mine" mind set is universally accepted and evolves out of the fact that broadcast radio has always been free. The penalty is tied to enduring the constant barrage of commercials. Record companies spend millions of dollars creating "product" and millions more to place their "priority" records on the radio. Music fans tune in and purchase what they like from the choices offered.

As Rock & Roll morphed into its classic form there was a golden age of music that made every song, from a favored artist, relevant. The Beatles set a very high standard and every new band and artist was forced to reach for a the highest plateau. In the sixties and seventies many great bands delivered. Fans purchased albums because they wanted to know the artists they loved and the resultant profits created the postmodern record business. The artist/fan dynamic has changed.

In order to feed the insatiable system a constant flow of product was required. As the machinery grew, the quality declined. Mediocre talent was able to reach financial success, if not critical acclaim. Artists who would have been laughed of the stage in the golden age of music became regular residents at the top of the charts. Celebrity provoked more sales than virtuosity or performing skills and the fans became more influenced by peer pressure than intrinsic value.

The old formula of quality being determined in record company board rooms and sold through the purchase of radio airplay has been replaced by a new filtration method. The Internet is the new arbiter of quality and it cannot be fooled. The millions of videos on YouTube reveal the artist's talent, or lack thereof, instantly. And, as always, most of the content is not commercially viable. The shear volume of material makes it extremely difficult to identify the best new artists.

Every band thinks it is great and the ones that get the most encouragement attempt to achieve success in the professional realm. The ones that make their living from music attempt to reach the pinnacle an done percent reach The Big Top. Success can only be measured over time and it is the survivors who look back over their twenty or thirty year careers who compete for Elvisland.

For decades Elvis Presley has been the highest earning dead person and thus demonstrates the most enduring career in music. Artists who seek to be the next big thing must compete with Elvis' legacy. It is possible that a charismatic and talented artist could emerge and through the power of the Internet establish a formidable career. Instant fame and fortune could accrue to such an act if the fans elected to pay for the music instead of stealing it. That's a big if! Such an artist may be just over the horizon, but has failed to reveal itself so far. For sure, its not The Jonas Brothers.

One of the key mitigating factors is the changing role of music in our culture. What was once a central force that permeated every level of society and maintained an ubiquitous presence has lost its primary delivery system. Radio is no longer the common denominator it once was. Access to new music is accomplished through peer-to-peer file sharing and is mostly free of charge. Songs are discovered, explored and shared one at a time and whole albums are rarely interesting enough to download.

Piracy comes with no moral imperative and nobody steals something they don't want. Regardless of the opinion of the prevailing systems and protocols the digital generation claims music as there own. If they love the artist they will support their live performances and purchase their CDs and merch. Even though they probably already have the songs on their iPods they will purchase the artist's product as a demonstration of their affection. The Internet is the ultimate promotional tool. What the record companies really cannot stand is the fact that it is free and makes them irrelevant. This phenomenon is the greatest boon to artists and puts the profits in their pockets.

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