Top 10 Reasons Why the Music Industry is Failing
You know what? I miss my vinyl records.
I miss going to the record store (a real community experience) and buying an LP for $10-$15. I miss the larger sleeves with the cover art and the inside liner notes which told you who wrote what and who played on which track.
The last time this reality was in full form was the late 80s (perhaps early 90s). And since that time a number of changes occurred which created the mess the music business is in today (most of it self inflicted).
So without further adieu, here follows the Top 10 Reasons why the Music Business is Failing from both the perspective of a fan and a singer/songwriter.
1. Record Labels Stopped Doing Their Job
At some point along the way (late 70s) label executives became hipsters vs. real A&R agents, becoming more interested in keeping their jobs and playing it safe vs. finding authentic and original talent to nurture and promote over the long haul. We used to have an industry focused on finding the next new and amazing thing. Now we have an industry where labels copy other labels both in artists and material. Gone are the days of breaking out of the mold. For the last few decades it's been about formula. So it is then no wonder that radio has become a second tier medium that is mostly ignored in the United States (of course unless there's a game on).
2. The Record Labels Became Too Big
Much like banks, record labels became too big to service the industry well. By becoming larger companies within ever larger umbrellas they became more beholden to their masters to execute quick profits or upticks in stock value which from the 90s on down to the present only led to a race to the bottom.
3. Lack of Talent and Personality
Signed artists no longer have the staying power, personality or song writing abilities of their predecessors. They may be more marketable initially, but they're just not that talented. As such for the most part we don't remember many artists or "hit" songs from the last 20 years. I have to believe there are still amazing artists and song content out there, but some artists cling to the belief that they should write their own material when they clearly shouldn't. Others do come up with great songs but probably shouldn't be singing or performing them. Further, many song artists have failed to understand that music is a calling, a passion. You do it to do it. Yes you want to make a living, but fame and celebrity is the afterglow, not the inspiration.
4. Traditional Roles Have Disappeared
The music business was once an industry where producers, songwriters and artists used to be siloed within their own core competencies. As such, there were clearly defined expectations and requirements that had to be met in order for someone to take on these titles. To our benefit, these lines got a bit blurred in the 50s & 60s. However since that time, with the dwindling of funds for music education in our public schools, we now have artists calling themselves songwriters with little knowledge of music theory, composition or song structure or appreciation for styles that came before (to our detriment). We also have people calling themselves producers with minimal studio experience and an extremely limited understanding of orchestration/arranging to better help an artist in realizing his or her full potential.
5. Fan Abuse
Over the past 20 years the music industry has abused fans in the U.S with both unnecessarily high CD prices and obscenely high concert ticket prices. CDs cost pennies to manufacture yet cost the consumer upwards of $20 for a product that in most cases has delivered 1-2 decent tracks at best with the remainder serving only as filler. Concert tickets are also overpriced with all sorts of made up fees included in the ticket transaction to further pad the profits of the vendors who service this side of the industry. Frankly we live in an age where there are just too many other options available out there to entertain us that provide much more bang for the buck.
6. We Lost Some of the Old Experience
Compact discs which deliver music via the WAV audio format have provided excellent listening quality since their wider introduction in the 80s but we lost something in this transition in respect to the full experience we had with records. The product became much smaller as did the print which makes it less likely that anyone is going to take the time to actually appreciate the album art or read the liner notes or credits. This, along with the cost and quality of content issues pervading the industry, has only served to further lessen the level of satisfaction the consumer feels after making a physical music purchase. No one contests the sparkling quality of digital offered via CDs, however you have to ask if it's so great why are the old vinyl shops still managing to survive? Answer: something about the experience is still missing. And the music industry (and electronics industry) have failed to address it.
7. MP3s Sound Horrible
The MP3 format which made music truly portable also cheapened it by lessening the fidelity and hence the overall experience. Granted, we have reached a wonderful age where music can now fly thru the air and into our cellphones and music players. Further, we can literally carry a library of our favorite music in our back pocket to be made available anytime, anywhere "on tap". However, in its current format, MP3s sound tinny when listened to over an extended period of time. The format sounds even worse coming from most computers (MySpace's music player serves as a prime example of how absurdly degraded the sound can get). And so it's time to improve our delivery and storage systems in order to create the infrastructure to improve the digital audio format (either back to WAV or something better).
8. Too Many Choices and Not Enough Filters
There are simply now too many outlets and too many touchpoints where everything is just noise and clutter. At the same time no one trustworthy is directing, filtering or grading all the music being created and trafficked out (with the exception of the better known music blogs whose share of voice is still relatively small). Radio stations used to fill this role for the most part followed by the staff at your local record shop. Unfortunately with the gobbling up of local, independent stations by the likes of companies such as Clear Channel, all we have now are generic, universal playlists. Further, potential music enthusiasts are no longer simply being hit with the current offerings of the majors with their traditional marketing tactics. They are also being barraged daily by bands/artists and their management directly via social networking, email opt-in lists, etc. The fact that there is so much out there in the market is not necessarily the problem, however. The problem is that a lot of the good stuff is being missed entirely while a lot of garbage is being shoved down the throats of a consumer that as a result values music less and less, day by day. Put simply, we can't make sense of it all, so we turn a deaf ear. In short, we need better audience targeting and filtering tools.
9. Lack of Musicianship
There seems to be a serious lack of musicianship at play across so many of the song artists that are signed to major labels. It's become common knowledge that some of the most famous folks priding themselves on their singing ability rely way too heavily on auto-tune. There used to be a running joke about certain bands that made their living (and their hits) only playing 3 chords (nothing wrong with it - i.e. The Ramones). Yet now it really seems to have gone too far. Where are the virtuoso instrumentalists? Where are the guitar and drum heroes? The fact that we need video games to get our fix vs. seeing the real hero perform the real licks at a real show only further points to the fact that a deep seated need amongst music lovers is just not being served properly anymore.
10. Focus is on Beats over Melody
Finally, the loss of melody has been a major contributor to the decline in music's standing in American culture. Traditionally, songs have comprised of four ingredients namely; melody, rhythm, harmony and lyric. Over the last 300-400 years, the strongest and most memorable music ever written more or less received equal weight in these four areas. Classical music saw heavier weight applied to melody and harmony. Then jazz, blues and later rock each applied rhythm to a greater extent (i.e. the rhythm section using drums, bass and guitar). This gave energy to the songs and to their performances both on the turntable and on the stage. However over the last 30+ years so much emphasis has been applied to beats vs. melody that the rhythm seems to be all we know. Problem is you can't hum or sing a beat. You need melody for that. And, unfortunately many of our modern producers only know how to address this need by lifting melodies from other people's songs. This can't last. With the proper permissions it's legal but is effectively cheating. And, in the opinion of this song artist only serves as the final nail in the coffin of an industry that has for far too long overstayed its welcome.
Ramin Streets is a Singer/Songwriter and Entrepreneur from Chicago, IL