Are Low Music Sales Simply Due To Bad Music?

Peter-getty-dylan-300x223Guest post by Peter Getty.

In 1991, Nielsen Soundscan started tracking album sales around the world. Back then, this data gave us valuable insight into current tastemakers, what genres were growing in cultural significance, and generally who the world was listening to. Lately, Soundscan’s reports are nothing more than a simple reminder that the music industry is, well…f’d.

Soundscan has announced a dismal new benchmark. For the first time, album sales have dipped below four million for a single week. I never thought I’d say it – but thank goodness for Wiz Khalifa, whose album Blacc Hollywood was the week’s best-seller, adding 90,000 sales for the industry. At least he’s helping overall album sales.

Or is he?

image from www.clipartbest.comWhat is happening to the music industry? It seems that they are battling against a world in which their product, songs and albums, can be downloaded free of charge. As a result, after fifteen years of this, sales continue to hit record lows.

But then I look at television. Their product had been available free of charge since its inception, after the up-front cost of a set. And most of it was bad for a long, long time. But now, television is experiencing this inexplicable renaissance.

So what’s the difference here? Where is music going so wrong where television has gone so right? I think the answer might be: quality.

Ten, twenty years ago, I knew a lot of people who had ditched television. It wasn’t much of a sacrifice. TV was bad, and we all knew it. And there was at least a little cache to those who had simply stopped watching.

Now the quality of a growing list of television shows arguably eclipses film. From the writing to the acting to the design…even special effects on occasion, are unsurpassed.

The Sopranos might have been the first to really change the game. The show was a wakeup call for intelligent & savvy adults that there was programming worthy of their time. Then came The Wire. Then Breaking Bad. Then True Detective. And somewhere along the way, the entire bar had been raised. Now we all pay for television. What a trick!

Music, on the other hand, hasn’t evolved in the same way. They seem to be stuck back in a time when they could find an act that appealed to enough young people, then market it until it sold. Intelligent & savvy adults looking for more substance can just head to Yoshi’s for a show.

Of the top ten albums sold so far in 2014, two are installments of NOW, and number one is the soundtrack to Frozen. The music industry at large isn’t looking for superb musicians, complex arrangements, new modes, interesting or provoking messages, high concepts, or true auteurs. If they were, there would be more of all of it.

Imagine how exciting that would be, if music was being released and marketed of such high quality that intelligent & savvy adults were talking about it. Imagine if music was good again?

When I hear that Wiz Khalifa has topped the charts in the official worst week of charts ever, I can’t say I’m surprised. In their review of his new album, the AV Club calls the rapper “a characterless interloper [who's] rapping a step behind whatever beat he’s on.” Sounds about right.

And we blame the music industry’s collapse on the internet?


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  1. There may be much truth here but that TV was ever free is simply untrue. Ultimately, it is paid for by advertising. Even in countries with a license fee that went to public funded broadcaters (e.g. the BBC who have consistently produced some wonderful television for many decades), we pay indirectly for much our TV viewing by buying other products and services and having our programming interrupted by advertising. And we see how that model applies to the internet. Do we want something similar for music? No.

  2. This is an often overlooked issue with the music industry. Quality of music, overall, has hit an all time low. There are a lot of people to blame for this — but many of whom are suffering the most (labels/radio).

  3. The industry is finally getting there with the streaming, but the rates are still not so good for the artists. Once more people get on board it’ll be better. I agree that the major label industry isn’t investing enough into major acts with chops and originality. Their focus is on a very small demographic that is easy to cater to, but won’t last.

  4. Inevitably it’s going to hurt the industry down the road. In ten years when streaming is ubiquitous they are going to have a big gap in their catalogs which is just bad business sense. You want to build careers that will last for years to come to maximize profits. Right now we’re balls deep in a rerun of disco and one hit wonders of the 80’s.

  5. The low music sales is mostly due to a poor business model that is built around that is unable to introduce new music to the marketplace effectively as well as generating a good revenue stream for artist.

  6. I want to say yes but I don’t think today’s’ music buyers really know the difference. Most of them think it is outstanding. Today’s music just blows! Last great band was the Pixies.

  7. Too many old people thing the music was better in the “old days”… I would say music is just as good as it once where, but its getting harder to find the quality as there’s too many releases today and no good filters…

  8. The 70’s & 90’s in my opinion was the best era in music! But that’s just it isn’t it? It’s only my opinion. That doesn’t mean I’m right or wrong!
    I feel that image and sex appeal has a lot to do with music today.
    I listen to music for the music and talent. I don’t really care if my favorite bands have appeal or not! If the music is good and there is talent, I’m sold!
    I also think that today’s music is going stale… Almost every song on the radio sounds the same to me. We need another big movement like what Nirvana did back in ’91.

  9. Ease of access is the biggest problem. Why pay if you can download for free? An album downloads at roughly 100MB. An episode of a series can reach up and beyond a gig. That makes you pause.

  10. There’s quality music out there for sure, plenty of it actually. Talented musicians just know to avoid the cesspool that is the mainstream entertainment music industry. Look around on Bandcamp.

  11. So let’s be clear about what we’re talking about with regards to bad music. The music that is popular and distributed by the majors or music that is from the hearts and streets distributed by the indies?
    Because it’s not about volume of music, clearly there are more people on earth so there is more people making it and presumedly they are saying yes I’m BuyingThis(tm) over that music. However until the Indie’s understand that the internet let alone iTunes is not distribution it’s but one of many channels. We’ve had so many meeting where artists ask if they need distribution – So don’t say it’s not a problem.
    Moreover on what is push out out via the majors since it appears that 6, or dozen at most. individuals write and product most of the Majors stuff why wouldn’t the public tune it out.
    Indies are the diversity Yet! having that mindset or lack of awareness about what distro even is leaves us all stuck with what the Majors are still cramming down the overall distribution supply chain. Just look at what RSD has turned into MROSTWGD — Major release the old stuff that was good day — try to get time on a 180 gram pressing machine.
    BTW we’ve done something crazy and made it really easy to get Distribution just visit http://DigitalDistributionDeal.com and find out how easy it is and then after a year of getting bands that need distro into a real distro deal let’s revisit this conversation.
    BTW was at the Country Music Awards announcement and one of the best new act is an indie which is CMA world is a very new thang.

  12. here’s so many things wrong with this article. Is it fair to compare TV to music? TV, arguably, isn’t free either.
    We pay for cable, and then networks pay for advertising. Is that a fair comparison? I don’t really think so. But where can we listen to music with ads, and maybe have to pay for a service? Streaming, radio.. etc.. (The streaming topic is a whole other discussion.)
    The TV comparison in itself kind of ruins his entire argument, really. He doesn’t really explain how he is comparing the two.
    But I’m really just confused with his point throughout. He opens with Wiz Khalifa bringing in (a small but significant) amount of sales for the week–and then closes with ONE bad quote via a review of Wiz’s album.
    What about the positive album reviews on HipHopDX, or All Music? Or the decent reviews in Exclaim, and Now magazines?
    Lastly, he mentioned 1991 as the year prior to the decline. If we’re talking billboard–what was the top album? Another pop-rap album: To The Extreme by Vanilla Ice. Not necessarily a masterpiece, but a catchy track with a large pop culture tie-in.
    While Wiz’s single off his album won’t garner the same amount of pop culture notoriety as Ice Ice Baby– it’s a pretty decent comparison. Both #1 singles, and both have already gone platinum.
    We simply cannot use the Billboard Charts as a way to track a “better age” of music. Things like Now That’s Music! and one hit wonders always populate the charts. We have to track the state of the industry with new technological trends, not what’s topping the charts.
    Sounds like a bitter boy who doesn’t like what the kids are listening to. The TV or Wiz references added nothing to his entire point.
    Here’s my article on how and why there wasn’t a golden age of music, just for kicks: http://www.wtylerconsulting.com/on-the-modern-industry-busting-pop-music-myths/

  13. How exactly are we judging ‘music quality’ here.
    In the same way whereby modern art isn’t as valuable as old school art?
    Based on musicianship?
    Singing ability?
    Writing ability?
    Production ability?
    Variety of music available?
    I’m afraid by any of those benchmarks music is arguably the healthiest it has ever been.
    There is always good music, always bad music. The problem is that the industry hasn’t evolved in the same way as TV, and we are left with an archaic system managing what most people hear.

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