A Merry Christmas for some

I hope everyone that was celebrating holidays had a great time. With 42C heat New Years in Melbourne was as much an endurance event as a celebration (110F for the unmetricated). The music industry did not enjoy a Merry Christmas with revenues down 20% over the last holiday season. The reasons for this will surprise no-one. A move to online purchases has been accompanied by a decline in album sales, with people more likely to cherry pick the good songs out rather than pay for the poor filler songs quickly put together to fill up the album by the release date.

The smaller and boutique music labels may still strive for the album nirvana of “All killer, no filler!” but in the world of the pop charts, there is no focus on making a good album. Writing a good song is not easy and in a short sighted world it is not economical to waste those resources on a single new artist. Better to give them one or two “hit” songs and fill up the album with cheaper material. If the artist manages to make it past the first album and get a big enough following they can put more effort in to a known return from a bigger fan base.

I say in a short sighted world because although it has given record companies more control over their artists (and hence the money) in the short term, they have changed the dynamic of at least part of the industry. The relationship with the artist is what drives people to purchase everything they produce, and that is created by the emotional connection between the person and the music. It is hard to do this with a single (although definitely does happen) and much easier to do this with a well thought out, artistically crafted album that you can play over an over.

I am probably starting to sound a bit like a grumpy not-that-old-yet man. I discussed this infomally with somem friends as we sweltered through the new year, and while we remembered some of the hit songs from our youth they did not bring back the memories of the time like the albums. We recalled artists like The Knack, Carl Douglas, Toni Basil and The Buggles we wouldn’t dream of buying anything more than the one memorable song each of them put out. Meanwhile most of us spoke of a concert that we had recently attended or planned to attend of an artist that while aging had touched us in our youth through one or more albums. The Cure, Neil Diamond, The Police, Black Sabbath, David Bowie and even one mention of Bon Jovi, although most of the bands we wished would tour are not likely to. All the people in this group were Gen-Xers, but if you have a similar discussion with your own friends I am sure you will get similar discussions with sligthly different bands.

Art is an emotional thing, and does not sit easily with commercialisation, and cannot be built on an assmbly line. In trying to control the industry the record companies have messed with the art and alterred the connection between artist and fan. This is starting to effect their sales and will likely continue to. The problem for the industry is that the top 100 is where the youth enter the market. Boomers and Gen-Xers continue to buy music today because of their emotional connection to the medium. If the current generation do not develop that bond, where will the music industry get its growth from in the future.