You may have heard about how the music industry is dying, being at its deathbed, breathing it’s last. How digital is killing it, the Internet is killing it, MP3 is killing it, file sharing is killing it. Actually, strictly speaking, it’s not the elephant in the room, because that would mean that ALL know it but NO ONE speaks about it…and EVERYONE speaks about THIS issue. Those who should, and those who really shouldn’t. Those whose knowledge and understanding of the industry’s past and present enables them and entitles them to speak, AND those whose ignorance compels them to speak. You know the cycle – ignorance breeds arrogance, and arrogance breeds mindless audacity, and mindless audacity breeds broad but shallow opinions, miles wide and an inch deep. Of course, as it often is the case in the society in general, the latter are usually louder and publicly more numerous, so their opinion prevails and drowns out everything else.
And so we got to “the death of the music industry” chorus, echoing through the endless hallways of the media and the cyberspace. But regardless of all the noise those messengers of the industry’s death are making, for good twenty years now, the music industry is still here and is not going anywhere, especially not to the great beyond. To paraphrase Mark Twain: the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated, the industry says, as it goes about its business. No, it’s not the same as twenty or thirty years ago. It’s not the same today as it was yesterday. What is? It’s changing, evolving, adopting to the new world and the new markets as it has done throughout its history.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, an iconic United States Supreme Court judge from the early 1900s, once said, commenting on one of the Supreme Court cases: “A page of history is worth a volume of logic”. And he is right. History itself validates and justifies this truth. The facts of history will always be more potent and compelling indicators than logic, of the true nature of the situation and the realities now and to come. So let’s look at that page for a second and see what’s there regarding music industry.
Doomsayers and naysayers have always been with us, especially at the pivotal, changing moments in the history of the industry. Some were even great music figures. John Philip Sousa, for instance, a star of the music scene in late 19th and early 20th century, the American March King, loudly opposed and demonized the recording technology, and boldly prophesized the doom of music because of it. “These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country”, he said. “The country band with its energetic renditions, its loyal support by local merchants, its benefit concerts, end so on, is apparently doomed to vanish in the general assault on personality in music”, he angrily opined. And then, the recording industry made him into a superstar that he was, and made him and his band pretty well off, to say the least, the income that aided him to continue making his music and to share it with the world. Didn’t return any checks to the Victor record label that issued numerous of his band’s recordings. And the music played on.
In the 1920s radio entered the picture, and together with all the economic changes in the country, seemingly threatened to decimate the industry. In the early 30s, record sales plummeted to mere 6% of what they were in the previous decade. 6%. And doomsayers and naysayers were everywhere, of course. Radio is killing the music industry. Why would anyone buy records if they can hear it for free on the radio? It’s over. And it wasn’t. Radio became the closest ally, a great partner, a business conduit and a significant income stream for the music industry. And the music industry went about its business, in spite of all the rumors of its immanent death. And music played on. And then when those two industries became allies (the radio and the recording industry) and radio switched from live musicians to records, musicians union cried foul, and saw it as the end of the musicians’ livelihood, and the end of the live music industry, because playing live on radio was such a significant income source for them that without it they would have to change professions, and there goes the live music industry with it. Radio and records are killing music they cried out. And in 1942 went on strike against both, and for two years, from 1942-1944 no union musician recorded or did radio in the United States. The end is near. And yet the industry went about its business, and the musicians didn’t change professions, and they got union recording contracts, and the recording activities and income eventually became a regular part of their livelihood, and the music played on.
And then came the 60s, and the dropping out of the society, and the drug culture, and the communes, and the free love and free everything else, and though 400,000 came to Woodstock, the festival lost money, and the doomsayers and naysayers were everywhere again. These young people can’t afford a haircut, much less records and concert tickets. It is over for the industry. If we are counting on these fans to buy music, and they are leaving the society in droves and joining the lala land where money doesn’t exist, then it’s game over. But industry went about its business, and the 70s came, and music played on, louder and more alive than ever before.
And then a cassette tape came, and the doomsayers and naysayers were positive it was the Armageddon of the industry again. Why would they buy, if they can just tape it from the radio, or from their friends’ records? It is the end indeed. And yet the music played on. And then a digital audio tape came, and a recordable CDs came, and larger and cheaper hard drives came, and MP3s came, and P2Ps and Napster came, and there was that doomsayers’ cry over and over again – the barbarians are at the gates, now it’s over for sure. And yet, time and time again, music industry went about its business, and music played on.
And here we are today. “Death of the music industry” chorus echoes through the halls once again. And music still plays on. On more stages, and in more homes, and in more cars, and through more services, on more devices, by more artists and for more fans than ever before. So tell me, you think it’s over? History speaks louder and truer than any logic we can conjure. And what does it tell you about the music industry and its doomsayers? Judge for yourself. All of which, by the way, doesn’t change the true nature of music, which is not only our product, but the essence of our industry as well.
Or at least, it should be the essence of the industry. Because all our industry is, its whole purpose, is to facilitate the communication between the artists and the world, while allowing the artists the benefit of livelihood so they can continue creating, and music can keep on playing. That’s it. And that’s all. Not fame. Not fortune. Not expense accounts, private jets, and penthouse parties. That may or may not be there, but if that’s our sole motivation, if that’s our true impetus, then we need to rethink the whole thing and perhaps pick some other industry to be a part of. Gambling industry comes to mind. Maybe banking? But not music.
Because at its best, music is not just amusement or entertainment. It’s much larger that that, much more powerful that that. It is nothing less then a miracle, as archaic and arcane as that may sound. Because when a vibrating molecule of air tickles your eardrum, and makes you weep or rejoice or dance or stop dead in your tracks, I don’t know what else to call it but a miracle. And because unlike anything else that we know, it speaks directly to our soul, crossing all of those boundaries of the physical form and image, and of language, color, gender, generation. It can say what no words can say, and show what no image can show. It speaks the language beyond language, and tells the stories that transcend the tactile and the ordinary, which connect us all with an invisible thread that is stronger than the strongest chord.
And with THIS flowing through its veins, it’s not just business. It’s the business of music, and that’s not an ordinary business. The danger lies in a temptation to make music a means for a business end, instead of the other way around. Business is here because of music, and not music because of business. When that gets mixed up, when music becomes just a mean, just another product, and given human condition, it happens more often than not, music itself suffers. It gets reduced to a can, a package, a pretty cover, to a pathetic, predictable, pedestrian shadow of itself, and becomes a street walker, fast food for the soul, that does more harm than good, no matter how much money it makes in the market. You know that music. You all heard it. On the airwaves and in the cyberspace. And you instinctively recognize it. You may not admit that’s what it is, because it tastes good and it goes down easy, but it’s empty and mute. It doesn’t nourish, it doesn’t say anything. It just is. Because business needs something to sell. No genre is immune to its numbing sting.
And it has been with us ever since the beginning of the industry. Refuse to be a part of such travesty. Be involved with artists you truly believe in, and be committed to music that moves you, that speaks to you, music that you understand and love, and then all that you learn in this course can set you on the path to something really productive, meaningful, and stimulating, which is what music industry was always meant to be and should be. Remember, business because of music, not music because of business. Simple, like all the great things