Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Music Stopped Growing

The musical sky is falling. CD sales have disappeared and iTunes barely keeps the industry from falling off of the radar entirely. Did music stop, did people stop caring about music, or did the music business just shoot itself (starting with the feet and working upward)? I vote for the latter option.

One place where that is most evident is in concert ticket sales. Sellouts are about as common as unicorns, where they used to be expected. Part of the blame for that has to come from ticket prices, typically in the range of a working person's daily income. I was reminded of how dramatic a change this is when I attempted to nail down a date for a show I saw in Denver in 1994. I was surprised to see that the all day 1994 LoDo Music Festival, that headlined James Brown, and was previewed by the Radiators, WAR, Marcia Ball, and the Sundogs cost  between $24 and $28 and there were no bad seats. JB was at the peak of his reincarnated career, still cruising on the Livin' in America popularity bump and promoting the 1993 release, Universal James. The Radiators were also doing well, riding on the resurgence of R&B and New Orleans funk. War, of course, never fails to attract their core audience. It was an amazing day and JB's band was unforgettable. It was the last time I had an opportunity to see the King of Soul and it was as good as every other time I'd seen him. (This would be when I normally might say, "Fuck the critics, I still love Gravity." I guess I did, didn't I?)

In his intro to Behind the Glass, Volume II, George Massenburg wrote, "What happened was that in the late 1980s large music corporations were consolidated, and often bought5 out, resulting in debt requiring a great deal of cash; cash that labels of the day were hoarding after the huge success of re-releasing their catalogs on CD. Music men--people like Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker, and Bob Krasnow, among others-- were ousted, to be replace with accountants, themselves responsibly only to new managers; managers who simply saw no reason to continue old policy, methodology, and style. Among those axioms bushed aside were the importance of building an artist's long-term career and the expectation that no more than one out of 20 recordings would turn a profit. Labels' bank accounts were stripped of cash to pay off corporate debt, leaving nothing for development, let alone artist support. Projects were directed by numbers alone; gone were the men and women who made decisions from their instincts, quick brains, sincere heart, and guts." That's a pretty good wrap-up of the decline of the American Empire, let alone the reason why the music died.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.