The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Fall in global music sales and the rise of independents

Global music sales are predicted to fall, with overall music sales in 2009 predicted to generate $US23 billion, roughly half the level of a decade earlier. The decline is attributed to downloading and piracy but I suggest it is a consequence of the risk-averse corporatised global music industry itself.

Legal downloads have actually increased while CD sales continue to decline. The US RIAA, whose preoccupation these days is fighting piracy, doesn’t like to publicly release information about how much new music is actually being released, because the number of new releases has declined since a peak in 1998. In other words, there is less product available from the corporate music giants like Sony and EMI. Less product means less interest from consumers and less sales. The reasons for this are many.

There has been a recorded music industry as long as there has been recorded music. Initially, much of the recording was done by US furniture stores as a way of helping to sell gramophones. Radio, of course, got in on the action to sell advertising, and recorded music was a lot cheaper than live performers.

Some of us old dinosaurs argue that pop music reached its zenith in the 60s and 70s. Even my 16 year old son and many of his musician mates prefer music from that era to today’s. The unprecedented wave of musical innovation and creativity from that time also marked a shift from a diversity of smaller companies to ever larger conglomerates wanting to get in on the action. Nowadays we really only have about 3 players on the entire planet, where once there were hundreds.

Smaller specialist record companies scoured the lands for new talent and were much less risk-averse in funding R&D than today’s corporate giants, whose main preoccupation is maintaining market-share and dividend to shareholders. As a consequence, musical innovation is stifled or overlooked by a global industry more interested in repeating yesterday’s hit formula. When an old fart like me hears two pop-girl hits in a row I think, “Didn’t they just play that one?” Artists like Johnny Cash or Janis Joplin simply would not get a look in with commercial music corporations these days.

I don’t lament the decline in global music industry sales – how many repackaged greatest hits can you have before terminal boredom sets in? Rather, we are seeing the rebirth of independent music made possible by the interwebs and affordable digital technology. Releasing an album in the 70s would cost in the region of $30,000. Now you can do it for about $3,000, even including the recording equipment.

Young people in particular are finding more and more music to their liking through myspace and other collaborative virtual spaces. Rupert knows this and is onto it. Pity the same can’t be said for EMI and Sony.

Even my own ‘hillbilly’ string band, playing mostly eclectic and obscure Americana from the 30s – 70s, averages about 300 unique downloads per month globally through mp3.com.au. On the scale of Sony, it ain’t much, but it’s gratifying as a musician to have a tiny global audience. How cool is that? I hadn’t really checked out what was going on on mp3.com.au for well over a year. While uploading some new material recently I was amazed to find that we are still #3 band in our genre. The penny dropped and I finally realised why the Google stats on my band site always show visitors from all over the world as they click through.

Now, if I can just get all those downloaders to one gig, we just might fill the Royal Albert Hall.

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Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Media, Music, Technology

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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