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Before The Music Dies

Posted by bmac on February 22, 2008

I caught this documentary the other day on IFC, “Before The Music Dies.” A doc about the current state of the music industry. As a musician and hard core music fan myself, it hit all the points I’ve been complaining about for many, many years, and specifically, the corporate takeover of all the major record labels, and radio stations.

I’m old enough to remember free form FM radio, that allowed the DJ’s to play just about anything they wanted to. Requests were taken and played. It was really pretty great. That would never happen today. The playlists on radio are now computer programmed, the DJ’s only role is to provide some local flavor so you know what town your in, because the music is exactly the same music, in exactly the same order, by exactly the same ten “artists” as in every single other city or town in the entire U.S. Thanks Clear Channel.

Same with record labels. All the majors are owned by 2 or 3 mega corporations. This is why you can’t go to a record store anymore. Downloading music didn’t kill Tower Records, the insatiable greed of Seagrams Corp did. (they own most of the major labels)

Why are we paying 16-20 dollars for a Cd in 2008? When they were first introduced in the early 80’s, they were $25, and at that time, it probably cost 5 or 6 bucks to make one. It costs a label pennies to produce one today, artwork, jewelcase, distribution and all. Artists get about 7-10% of physical sales. Recording costs today are nothing, I know, I’ve made three albums myself. The only realistically high cost is promotion, and the label recoups that money from the artists. $16-20 for a cd today is outright gouging, and everybody knows it, hence, goodbye Tower Records, hello downloading. The irony is, if someone downloads a song they like, they’ll be happy to go buy the cd, they just don’t want to pay $20 for it.

No more developing artists, it cuts into profit. If your first song is not a hit, your career is over. With todays major label attitude, we never would have gotten “Dark Side Of The Moon,” because Pink Floyd had a shitload of albums that tanked before it. Same with Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” or “Frampton Comes Alive” or anything by Springsteen, or Aerosmith, or Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye, Black Sabbath or Kiss. Well, we could have done without Kiss. But all these artists had albums that flopped before they found their voice and became huge sellers. How many Marvin Gayes are out there that we’ll never get to hear because they got dropped?

The music industry as we knew it is over, major labels are the Walmart of music now. Just the hits. In fact, practically the only place you can find cd’s now is Walmart. Radio is worthless.

In a way, it’s good, because the internet has made it possible to find new and interesting music again, but I feel like we’ve lost something. It’s insular now. I miss going into record stores and trying to figure out what I might like, hearing something cool being played in there, seeing stuff I never would have looked for and getting it before my friends. You had to put a little effort into it, as opposed to just typing in “Metal” or “Acid House.”

Anyway, here’s the trailer, but the trailer kind of sucks, the movie is way better than it looks in this. It’s probably available on Netflix.

Oh, and this movie features a guy that I had kind of forgotten about but used to love, Doyle Bramhall, so I immediately went and downloaded his stuff. He’s great, check him out if you like soulful, bluesy stuff with a hint of country and some kick ass guitar playing.

9 Responses to “Before The Music Dies”

  1. I miss going into record stores and trying to figure out what I might like, hearing something cool being played in there, seeing stuff I never would have looked for and getting it before my friends

    Oh that’s wild! I forgot I used to even do that. Seems like it’s been ages. I remember going in and putting the headphones on and having the opportunity to listen to new artists and then we’d go hit the local coffee shop and play checkers for hours. Wow, I feel all nostalgic now.

  2. bmac said

    Good times, good times.

  3. blogoprofundo said

    I don’t really get what you’re saying here. Doesn’t the internet open up all sorts of pathways to hearing new music? Honestly, if the only way I heard about new music was through the radio (even something like college radio) I probably wouldn’t hear as man new bands as I do surfing music forums or reading internet music zines. It sounds like you just don’t like the internet as a way of doing business. But that has nothing to do with the state of the music industry.

    It’s certainly easier to hear new music. How is that fact compatible with the claim that the music industry is dying?

  4. bmac said

    The internet is great, I love that we can hear new artists on the web, I have no problem with it at all.
    The only downside is the massive amount of it makes it harder for artists to break out and acheive mainstrem success.

    Hearing new music is great, but all those artists are not getting the type of exposure they would get on a major label, and most of them will never get past the touring in a van stage, even with thousands of downloads under their belt.

    With radio and major labels closed to all but a handful of hit makers, the leftover cacophony is almost too much for anyone to sift through, and ultimately, this hurts the overall scene, and is killing the business.

  5. blogoprofundo said

    Oh, I see what you’re saying. That makes sense.

  6. bmac said

    Also, commercial radio is still where most people hear new music, more than the internet and more than satellite radio.

    Comparatively, it’s not even close. Commercial radio still drives the business almost completely, so the only new music most people hear (not counting hard core music fans) is whatever 5 or 10 artists the major labels choose to push.

  7. blogoprofundo said

    I see. There seem to be three angles evolving here. First, it’s getting tougher for the individual artist to make a living. Second, the average, uninterested, non-curious music listener gets a narrower range of music choices. Third, the interested, curious music listener gets a much wider range of choices via the internet. All three of these things seem to be happening at once.

    There was an interesting article in the WSJ journal about this, where the author points out that the mp3 format undermines the music industry’s hegemony, but in so doing makes it harder for individual artists to make a big buck from music since,at best, they make $0.99 per song sold.

    One trick would be to figure out a way to increase the number of interested, curious music listeners. If you can get teenie-boppers listening to 15 different bands instead of two, then you sell a lot more $0.99 songs.

  8. bmac said

    That is exactly where the major labels have totally blown it.
    They could have worked in concert with downloading by reducing the price of cds, and offering more diverse artists, or even offering some kind of discount if you already downloaded a song because like I said in the post, most people will buy the cd of someone who’s song they downloaded and liked, but who wants to get gouged like that?

    Instead, they flood the market with crap, and charge $18 for it, and cry poor when everybody moves to downloading because they’re tired of getting ripped off.

  9. I used to never listen to country music, but it’s changed. A lot of it is more mainstream and I like that. Plus the women are hot and that makes everything better!

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