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10 Truths About The Modern Recording Industry

image from brucemarkow.com(UPDATED) Fellow music industry journalist and net friend Jason Feinberg published a post yesterday on MediaShift where he chronicled the ten things that he believes to be true about the modern music business. Not to be left out of the fun, I decided to form my own list of truths. Over the course of the last two years in my post of writing for Hypebot, I've learned a thing or two, have written a number of essays, and have had the chance to talk to some of the leading thinkers and writers of our time. Below is a look at the ten things that I believe to be true about the recording industry:


1. The CD-Release Complex Is Dead.

The record industry built a huge economic engine around an idea of this system, and now it's going away. The backbone of the record industry was that fans discovered music through the same mediums that major labels promoted new music. There are no specific delivery mechanisms for music and the symbiotic relationship between the audience and the record industry is now dead. The mediums that fans rely on for music aren't ones that major labels can't control.

2. The Consumption System Is Broken.

The current music consumption system is optimized for a different era than the one we are living in today. The Internet has promoted ranges of social behavior the young and the digital which are incompatible not only with the old system, but with the assumptions that the record industry currently operates under.

In the digital age, there will be many different consumption systems, promoting evermore complex and different ranges of social behavior. The system has broken, for good.  And, by treating it as if still defines how fans consume music, we are only denying ourselves access to the ongoing redesign of the system.

3. The Barriers To Consumption Have Fallen.

In the span of about ten years, the proliferation of the personal computer; the shift from Dial-Up to high-speed Internet; the increased processing power and hard drive space in computers; the falling cost of media storage; the widespread use of CD burners; the social phenomenon of the iPod and iTunes; and the epidemic of file-sharing occurred.  And, with these societal and technological shifts, all of the barriers that defined music experiences of previous generations and the act of collecting it fell. Those who attempt to rebuild that barriers to music likely will fail.

4. Too Much Choice Decreases Satisfaction.

As counterintuitive as it may be, more music is less.  That as the number of cultural options goes up, the amount of satisfaction that a fan derives out of any given choice will be lessened as a result; it may even cause them to opt out of the decision making process all together.  In culture, the effect of overwhelming choice has the potential to cause fans to opt for the same old songs as a way to avoid facing unlimited options online and off, to rely on filters rather than on themselves, and to become ever more passive participants in their cultural lives.

5. The Hype Cycle Kills What It Creates.

The media hype cycle has accelerated.  The Internet has amplified the speed of word of mouth and music publications have interlocked themselves in never-ending competition to see who can champion an aspiring artist first. And with a seemingly endless supply of new artists to advocate for, publications no longer need to worry as much about the merits of the subsequent albums by artists who have since lost their buzz. On the other end, fans shy away from artists that are quickly popularized, perceive them as a fad, and likely file-share their short-lived music instead of buying it. The hype cycle creates stars, but it kills them too.

6. Attitudes Toward Technology Impact Ecology.

In the advent of the digital revolution, a more genuine, yet chaotic social ecology of music culture is now starting to re-form itself on the web, but this ecosystem, that took decades or more to develop offline, isn't just going to reappear overnight online. Our attitudes toward technology have a great impact on the new digital ecology. From the major labels to the artists to the fans, what matters most is their attitudes toward technology. How they choose to integrate web technology into society and the music industry is important. It will take embracing as chaos as they can stand, to some degree, to allow for a new digital ecology to form.

7. The Music World Now Centers On The Fan.

The record and music industries have shifted from being artist-centric to revolving around the fan. The focal point of the traditional consumption system used to be the artist; it was up to the fan to do the rest. They had to track the information.

Now, the fan doesn’t have to keep track of the radio stations and publications that might happen to feature their favorite artists. They track only the ones that their most interested in. Instead having to visit the various sites of artists, concert promoters, and ticket retailers, fans can subscribe to artists and be notified of their activities as they happen in real-time. The music world centers on them.

8. File-Sharing Culture Is Hard To Change.

The RIAA and the record industry can't mandate cultural change. Thus far, litigation has proved to be failed method of changing mass-behavior and a costly strategy with questionable results. They'll never force fans to stop file-sharing.

If neither social institution is willing to evolve themselves, no meaningful behavioral shifts will occur. The only chance they have at gaining back an entire decade worth of fans is to innovate and update the current music consumption system to reflect the behaviors of fans—until then, they will choose not to use it.

9. The Sky Isn't Falling, Just Record Sales.

Throughout the history of recorded music, new technologies have arrived and the record industry has worked in concert with lobby groups to thwart innovation.

They've gone to war with everything from the phonograph to player pianos to home-taping, claiming that these technologies would effectively kill music. "Of course, each of those sky-is-falling alerts from the music industry over the last century was a false alarm," says author Greg Kot. "With each technological innovation, music became more accessible and more lucrative than ever."

10. Music Would Suck Less If Fans Savored It More.

More important than any of these inferences may be the simple, yet powerful notion that fans need to savor their music. There's quality music out there, fans just need to take the time to experience it. Distracted by the calling of their always connected lives, fans aren't willing or simply aren't able to make a true time investment in their music. This means, much like it does at the dinner table. They need to set down their forks and taste the food that’s in their mouth.  Same goes with the iPod.  Set it down, forget all the added choice, and just listen.

Note: #10 has been reworded a bit.

Please also take a moment to read Jason's excellent take on this subject.

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13 Comments

  1. #9 is probably the most true and important to remember. Music will never die, but the record industry is certainly dying a little because of a resistance to innovation and overall change in models.
    I will say that I disagree with #10 slightly, mostly because I believe the quality of music is growing worse these days because of the slow failure of the record industry. As available money shrinks, less risks are taken and more “sure bets” are pushed. You’re more likely to hear Ke$ha/Katy Perry/Black Eyed Peas knockoffs in sound these days than any other.
    The homogenous sound of pop music especially is worrisome, but surely a sign of the times we’re living in.

  2. It maybe should've just been the mantra of Savor Your Music.  Or just that aside from the not so good stuff, there's great music being made.  I might tweak the wording.

  3. Great article. This is why a band like Def Karaoke Jam is getting nearly 100 downloads per day from their website but making $0 because the “consumption” is now the promotion. Completely Backwards!!

  4. I completely disagree with everything you said. Especially number nine. The music industry is changing believe me I have actually worked amidst it, nastiness and all. It’s just that the type of change you are talking about can’t happen at the click of a mouse. These are multi-national organizations and corporations that represent literally thousands and thousands of artists. I think it is easy to make the statement you did if it applied to indie labels who have less bureaucracy and corporate technologies to worry about.
    As for your comment on #10, I highly disagree with the context of the argument you made. You have to take into account the consumers taste. Also this is music business after all emphasis on business. Though Ke$ha and Katy Perry do sound familiar (because both have worked with Dr. Luke)it has been consistently shown by their album sales that this type of music sells. So as a business why not try to take those sounds into account when promoting new artists. Everyone knows the first album of an artist isn’t made to state a sound it is made to gain an audience to sell (ahem John Mayer, Pink, etc). The quality of music has gotten higher in my opinion it is just different than it has been previously because music evolves which it is supposed to do. And FYI there is no “sure bet” in music. If there was then people wouldn’t be losing their jobs because the industry could just manufacture artists over and over with the same sound and make money. And they aren’t.
    The artists you refer to make pop music. A genre which is made to be broad and appealing to a mass audience which is why it sells so well. Duh.

  5. 2 Truths About Modern Music Journalists:
    Their proof reading skills need improving. At least two dropped prepositions up there.
    They don’t know the plural of medium, even though they probably say it several times a day. It’s not ‘mediums’ it’s ‘media’.

  6. #11 Repeating old slogans does not bring a new development.
    However, stopping to repeat them might.

  7. all this being said – take the rampant illegally free supply without consequence out of the equation and sales will rocket.
    remove the illegally free supply, and the paid supply will increase. simple math. simple economics.
    the amount of denial and rationalization the surrounds piracy is stunning.

  8. I tend to agree with point #9 brought up by M.Bylin but I would have to add that, if the industry(or their lobby) would spend as much effort into trying to discover and/or work with new technologies instead of trying to prevent them from coming out. Those bureaucrats wouldn`t feel the heat of their empire coming down on them right now.
    Furthermore, by doing so, they could have understood point #7 and prevented point #8.
    The way I see, and excuse me but i`m a mere consumer and not some experience music industry guy like you, it`s simply that the industry had built a business model around the sale of cds, they pushed it, then those bureaucrats, as you call them, sat their bureaucratiful butts in comfy leather chairs and cashed in on the rewards.
    And to be honest, so far I don`t REALLY have a problem with that.
    Where I do have a problem is that, when consumers tell you in no uncertain fashion that the business model is outdated. The industry doesn`t react or reacts by blaming EVERYTHING ELSE than it`s own business model and then STILL tries to shove the product down my a.. throat
    My opinion doesn`t reflect the masses out there i`m sure, but it does reflect some parts of it. We`re tired of watching the bureaucratiful butts down on their comfy chairs just complaining and nagging about sales numbers.
    Get up and do something INTELLIGENT about it. Don`t fight the future, you`re only condemning your present.
    All of those previous paragraphs could have been summed up to just a few words :
    LACK OF VISION
    That`s the REAL problem of the industry. Never forget that the industry is their to sell a commodity.
    Translate this in other areas of our lives:
    If company X doesn`t make item Y but company Z does .. i`ll go with company Z if it`s what I need and.. not what company X wants me to think is what I need.
    The 1st part of your 2nd paragraph is laughable at most and you should ashamed of writing such nonsense.
    Take into account consumer taste .. Please don`t insult anyone`s intelligence here. Please rephrase to Take into account the `10-16 age group` consumers taste.
    You know, as well as I do, that the industry aims for the teens. Those bureaucratiful butts know that those teens are being brought up in a society that consumes more and more consuming products,namely here music, and at a faster and faster rate.
    What better crowd I ask you! Give them more and more of the same .. just with a different name and they`ll eat it up .. for 30 minutes then they`ll be ready for another one of them. The industry knows this and uses it ad nauseam.
    Could this be one of the reasons for #10 on the list .. Of course it is.
    Emphasis on business .. Simple basic business logic and analysis of what has to happen when something doesn`t work(in this case let`s take something like.. YEAH.. CD sales)
    Product not selling why ?

      Is your product still good ?
      Is your product still adapted to your target consumers?

    If your answer is NO.. why would you want to keep it up ? It`s bad business period. Adapt, change. Those that do ARE the real entrepreneurs. Any other should be left there until they go bankcrupt. Simple as that.

      FYI there is no “sure bet” in music

    .. Please stop being condescendant, we ALL know there is no such thing. You are not bringing any NEW news to anyone here.
    Hmm, you just reminded me of something though(and it`s off topic .. please stay with me if you aren`t already gone!)
    Where did those music scouts ever go? Do they still go to shows to actually HEAR and SEE bands ? `Of course not`, says the Scout at CoyoteWalker.com, `we have the internet now we don`t need to go out anymore.`
    So, I see this as a double standard .. The industry uses the internet to cut in it`s personel and costs .. yet .. on the other hand it complains about other things from the same tool it uses.. Things that make you go hmmm!
    Finally, times are changing for everyone in the world .. the world is a smaller place .. we ask everyone in their daily jobs to go out of their way to be more productive, find ways of making more with less or they`re going to lose their jobs yet, you seem to think that the industry should sit there with it`s 20 year old business model and expect it to perform as well as it did in the past ?
    Get real, we all know this is NOT going to happen unless the industry itself is WILLING to change using concrete actions .. as all other business in the world, the music business WILL have to re-invent itself or suffer the consequences (read : close up shop). It`s as simple as that.
    And as you mention so clearly earlier, things move slowly in that industry because the machine is big and fat.. Too bad, they should have kept it lean and mean because the digital train is passing right by them and they`re out of breath.
    BeN

  9. Point number 4 is nail on the head territory. Not a lot of people can handle that amount information and freedom of choice, so they opt out of choosing, and follow what the tastemakers tell them to. In this case nothing much has changed; only the tastemakers have the same issue and probably don’t push something as much or as long they would have done for fear of being seen as ‘out of touch’ or ‘behind the times’
    Which brings the self killing hype cycle – Ive seen a band blow up EVERYWHERE for literally ONE DAY then disappear from discussion – Madness.
    yes access to music is FAR FAR easier but its counterbalanced by the AMOUNT of music.

  10. ‘the amount of denial and rationalization the surrounds piracy is stunning.’
    Stunning is right – I’ve seen and heard some outrageous reasoning delivered with the skill of a well greased political machine in the issue of illegal downloading – the best one is where people say – but we have free access to it therefore we take it – without a hint of irony or thought!

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