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Sunday, April 6, 2008

music and industry, a system failure

There is an analogy with words. Stories had to be told before Johannes Gutenberg invented a suitable system for producing prints. The idea to print books had come soon after, people began learning how to read and the stories could be distributed in books. The storyteller became obsolete.

Of course, the world still needs authors who write stories, but there is no storyteller who brings the stories to the people, that is done by industry now. And this industry became big. Very big.

It is the same in music. Music had to be played to the audience before Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph. As it is with every new invention, it took a while until it was affordable for the common people. So the musicians still were needed to entertain people at celebrations, parties, dance evenings, fests, etc.

In the here and now, it is an industry that produces music, records and cds, and, in the meantime, downloads. Everybody has music recordings stored at home in one or another way, at social events it is a dj who entertains the folks.

So where is the musician? Good news, he is alive! Woohoo!!!!

We are divided into three categories now:

  1. The classical and folk musicians who are supported by most governments because they keep up "cultural good".
  2. The wedding bands.They earn their living by playing at weddings, beer fests and similar events.
  3. The diehard ones who insist on playing their own compositions.

Let's focus on the third category, because this topic is about industry.

So this guild of musicians write their own compositions and play them to people in concerts. It is quite good that there are labels that are willing to produce a record of the music, generate mass copies and do promotion. The labels spent their money for it all, and demand account. That is quite fair.

Or better: it was fair.

Nick Mason, who runs a recording studio once said Pink Floyd produced 3 flops in a row back in the golden times and no one cared. That'd be impossible for a band that has signed to a label today. They mostly feel the boot after their first flop.

Mike Oldfield offered his music to every label he could think of, but got refused by all of them. It was and employee at one of those labels who had the vision to quit his day job and produce Oldfield's first record. So the story goes. Quite a good idea, as the record remained number 1 in the charts for more than one year, and the only record that could beat Tubular Bells down to number 2 was Oldfield's 2nd record.

The name of the producer was Richard Branson, and his label was named Virgin Records. (No, not Virgin Air, neither Virgin Space.)

Several years before that all happened, The Beatles created their own label, Apple records, because they felt treated so badly by the music business.

That was the golden age of the music business. It's gone.

What happened? No it's not the internet. The net, of course, makes it easy to steal music for the common people, but the decline of the biz has other reasons at first; in my very humble opinion.

One reason is the diversification of modern music. Compared to the golden age there are so many more genres, and so many more bands filling the genres; that of course divides fans. People tend to remain inside the one genre they specialize on and ignore the rest. There is enough variety in the one genre that fans don't feel the need to satisfy their hunger for music by listening to genres that don't ease them accordingly. There's enough bands.

And that's counterproductive for a label. Producing more records that fewer people buy. Remember, a label is there to make money, and, if it is a stock company, it has to grow in order to increase the shareholder value. Just consider the fact that most of todays music is produced by the four big companies that are part of the 4 biggest media conglomerates, all stock companies. Yes, all the many labels that existed in the 70's and 80's had trouble at some times and had been overtaken by a competitor. All the business now belongs to 4 real big media giants that control 80% or so of the market.

The mission of those companies is not loving music. It it is increasing the shareholder value.

So the goal of producing has quite shifted. As it was to find good writers who put out something outstanding back in the days, they now have to care for something totally different. They gotta produce a record in another way; the production must be in a way that it attracts more people. Remember, the more people purchase a copy, the better the efficience of a production. More sold copies make a production more valuable. In other words, you get more profit for your production costs.

That's what the buisness is alike today. Let us all praise the shareholder value!

The producers' recipe is quite easy. Take any young band that can play their instruments a bit and are somehow likeable to the folks, remove any of their personal style, and produce a genre fiiting generic album. Generic? Yes, generic; that is a must. If there is something of their personal style left, there might be one person that doesn't like it and probably refuses to buy the cd.

What a waste of talents! I don't get it! The Beatles felt treated badly?

I put my head in my hands and cry for all the lost musical gift!

Now they wonder that people don't purchase cds anymore. Why would they? If all cds sound the same, why buy ten if one has everything you like, and all others have nothing else to offer?

It has been quite a while now, but I remember that good. In an interview about the evil, evil internet, the CEO of BMG (back then) said "the internet is not our problem. Our problem is our artists."

I thought: "WOW man, you're loosing your job." Two weeks later I read that he got fired....

But still he was wrong. Imo it is not the artists, but the way production takes place today. Why do they search for talents if they remove their talent later in the production? They leave a product there, not music. Erasing every single sign of an artists identity for the sake of the least common denominator is something that degenerates art in the most destructive and painful way one can think of.

It is no wonder that their revenues are shrinking year by year. Indeed, it is quite right. I hate them for that and it is quite good that the equalization of music doesn't earn.

There are so many new "independent" label arising since quite a while, it satisfies me. Just look at how amazingly Inside Out made it to success within the last 10 years. And there are so many others who successfully support unique bands. Sooner or later they will outdo the dinosaurs.

Or at least am I dreaming of it.....


arcarneiro said...

"The mission of those companies is not loving music. It it is increasing the shareholder value." I think this phrase resumes it all!!!
Like Dominici says on his 2nd album, it's the Greed, the Evil Seed!

You can see the same thing happening on other big companies of other areas. When a company is small, it treats his clients like friends or family, wanting to serve the best quality service/product it's able to offer. You can even make an analogy with a girlfriend/boyfriend. The company pays attention, wants to please. As soon as the company gets big and believes will not lose the client (a sort of marriage state), the company acts like "I'll attend you later", "I'll get back at you when I have the time...".
The important thing isn't to please the client any more, is to make money, no matter the cost (as long as isn't money)! They think that only because they are big, have a solid known brand, we'll buy their stuff forever.
Well, when you start to treat your customers as mere clients, not as a family/(girl-boy)friend, there's a limit to the bad treatment received. When you're a family/(girl-boy)friend, you let certain thing go by (like "you offended me, but it's ok. We'll come to an agreement, since we are family"). But when you're a client, you start to demand your rights as a consumer (like "you offended me! I pay for the service/product! I'll sue you! I know my rigths!").
What I'm trying to say in my fuzzy writings is that the companies should also take the responsibilities of the way they want to operate.

Enough of analogies and back to the music.
I saw something similar happens. When that Nu-Metal was a popular thing (dunno how it's right now), I saw a band being created by a record label to play that kind of music, just like the other bands where playing. I remember watching on the MTV the guy from the band telling how they formed the band, how a guy from a record label (don't remember the label's name nor the band's name) contacted him and the other members and told them how and what to play.
That also happens on the hip-hop/rap. The other day I payed attention, and most of the musics (at least all that I heard at that moment) sounded quite the same, with the same beat, ones faster than others, the same "keyboard clap sound"... most, even, singing about the same things.

Erik Norlander have a album that speaks about this. Music Machine tells the story of Jonny America, a teenager pop idol genetically created by a huge music megaconglomerate to take over the world. It tell how he rose and fell and who the huge music megaconglomerate plotted everything. Even if you don't like his music, the story is quite interesting.

This "same music artist, same thing all the time" may be interesting in the 1st couple of albums, but the clients get bored easly. If the record labels don't bring something extra, something to enrich the experience, they'll lose the client. Since the music is all the same, they have to find some other ways.
As a guy commented on an Ayreon community. We were speaking of the national release of the ITEC and how poor quality the booklet was (paper, printing) compared to the original euro version. He said "the music everyone have. I want the booklet in quality. I want a good packaging". Something like Mindflow did on his Mind Over Body album. They put the whole album for free download, but if you see the packaging, the care with the visual/graphical content, it's worthy the buy.

To be fair, that happens on the prog-rock/prog-metal scene (bunch of bands sounding the same), but the influence of the record labels isn't that strong. I can't say for sure that 100% of the labels doesn't influence the bands sounds, but I think the extend of the influence is very short, minimal. That's more a bands problem, but that's a subject for a whole new topic.

It's very interesting and satisfactory to see those new labels arising, like Inside Out, Unicorn Digital (a pretty young label who's getting big quite fast), Lion Music, ProgRock Records, Sensory/Laser's Edge, Musea, Metal Mind Productions, and sooo many others.
But, it's like prog-rock/prog-metal is a separated world. Since it's not THAT commercial music, they don't deal with those problems of "achieving a certain amount of money to please the share holders" and such. I have a feeling that it's more a thing of "fan to fan" business. How would it be if prog-rock/prog-metal was a mainstream thing?
In the end, I think it's a problem that both sides has it's share of the guilty.

BG said...

All this label talk reminds me of when Dream Theater's label got the idea that it would be ineverybody's interest to make a more accessible album. For a reason I never really figured out they agreed and created "Looking into infinity".

That is probably the only DT album I don't take for a regular spin.

Why? Well the songs are too mainstream, too short and have a too comercial sound to them...I actually find it quite boring.

They (the label) should have let DT do what DT does best, and every one would have been happier.

arcarneiro said...

actually, I quite like FiI. It was the 1st album that I heard most songs from DT (maybe that's why) before really knowing them.

BG said...


Of course the album is called "Falling into infinity" amd not "Looking into infinity" as I wrote :)

guitarsean said...

I think its taken me a long time to reply to Rays post cause all this blogging lately has just been depressing. Music isn't meant to be business. Its like mixing oil and water. And it seems to drive a turnover of genres in the mainstream faster and faster. The eras of classical music can be measured in decades and centuries. Jazz movements lasted a decade or more (often changed by one guy, Miles Davis). Rock has some overlap, but can be lined up with the 50s, 60s and 70s. Now a style hits the mainstream for a few years at most and burns out under the weight of a thousand copycats... I need to go think some happy thoughts...