Fingers pointed in all directions, the music industry has been assessing its shortcomings again this week. Chart numbers are setting all time lows and the rise in digital sales is cooling.
The music industry remains in denial, citing threats to its channels-of-distribution. Frances Moore, the chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry states in its Digital Music Report 2011,
“As we enter 2011, digital piracy, the lack of adequate tools to fight it, remains the biggest threat to the future of creative industries.”
Really? How about lack of a good product? The industry has been experiencing a fundamental change over the last 10 years: the culture of “hit” music that the industry created has resulted in a lot of crap that people don’t want to buy. They want to listen to it, then delete it when the next hit comes along (there are lots of exceptions of course – we’re talking overall trends here).
And how about letting people subscribe to music on demand, rather than making them buy a copy of something that has a lock on it? How about massive, widespread licensing of music so that everyone can access everything, exploding the myth of ownership of music. By making all music available to everyone for a small amount of money each, collected at a choke point like a mobile phone company or an ISP, the revenue base can be huge.
This brings us to The Album.
Billboard reports this week that Cake scored the lowest-selling No. 1 album since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. Cake’s debut sold 44,000 albums. Cake? Albums? Cake was written off as a one-hit wonder back in the 1990’s when rock was still Modern. Maybe this is a great album from the Cake guys, but the problem is, it’s an album. We don’t buy albums any more, apparently. We buy singles.
People have been buying singles because they can. iTunes lets you select the hit song from an album for 99 cents. You don’t need to buy the whole album. This results in revenue decreases to the record companies and the music publishers. But wait! The music industry has adapted quickly! Artist releases tend to be pushed out as singles projects. They’re “hit” driven, but what is a hit? It’s a song that’s popular with a lot of people. Yes, as a strategy, to go out and create a song to be popular with a lot of people, requires a kind of deliberate dumbing-down of the content. Smoothing off the rough edges. Playing by the rules. This is what we have created. Industry and consumers are both to blame. People don’t even talk about selling-out anymore. It’s already happened, and it’s the elephant in the room.