Music for dummies

music for dummies

There’s been quite a buzz in the past week about all things related to the business of music.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry recently announced that global music sales fell 7.6% in 2003, representing the “the steepest decline since the advent of the compact disc.”

Not surprisingly, ‘rampant piracy’ was cited as a chief culprit. This has been the conventional wisdom…if you can get something for free, you would do so rather than paying for it, right? And yet, according to a recent study (NYTimes, subs required) by two business school professors, “‘downloads have an effect on sales which is statistically indistinguishable from zero, despite rather precise estimates.” The RIAA’s response was to paint a picture of this study as outlandish…this being the same governing body that filed outlandishly lawsuits against teens and oldtimers for swapping songs. The RIAA faults the study for relying on survey data…nevermind that survey data has been used for years and years by thousands of organizations large and small to understand human behavior.

Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here about the decline of music sales, but how about the MTV effect, casting out dozens of potential up-and-coming artists into the cold harsh world of waiting-tables-reality because the tune isn’t “pop” enough? How about the fact that most record companies behave like pre-dot-com-bomb-IPO-investor-vultures, trying to get the quick hit and then watching as the business bottom out on them in the long haul because they didn’t cultivate the business–the talent!–over time? Or that the big record companies caballed together and inflated CD prices because they could get away with it?

Too much attention has been paid to the mechanics of the music business, and not enough to the melodies. The freefall in music sales will continue until the labels recognize that their way of business has changed, there are retirement parties across the board rooms, and the next generation of the industry embraces artists, technology, and consumers.

It’s the music, stupid!

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1 thought on “Music for dummies

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Tom Hespos April 9, 2004, 9:38 am

Speaking of the advent of the compact disc, I love how the music industry flip-flops its model when it’s convenient for it to do so. When folks are downloading songs like crazy, all of a sudden the music industry model is based on a limited license of a copywritten work. But when the music industry pushes a new format, there’s little mention of the license model. In other words, why didn’t the record companies reimburse me when I replaced the 45s in my collection with tape cassettes? Why didn’t I get a nice, fat check when I replaced those cassettes with CDs? I love the RIAA lawsuits, too. How do they know that the offending downloaders hadn’t already purchased the music they’ve downloaded in another format?

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