Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Music is a Dinosaur

Today, I read in The Washington Monthly that record companies are continuing to see CD sales drop. The discussion in the comments section is rather interesting too. While the RIAA continues to blame internet privacy of mp3s as the cause of their woes, many others have pointed out the fact that the RIAA fought tooth and nail to avoid adapting a new business model to include digital music files -- thus leading to their current crisis.

Others still have pointed to the fact that music today generally sucks... but I think that it can be argued that the pop music of any era generally sucked, with a few notable exceptions here and there. One comment suggested that artists today have to compete with almost 100 years of back catalog, which has created the appearance of no new music in pop. I tend to agree with this last point -- today, the music scene has been flooded with musical acts that lead nowhere, or that have virtually nothing interesting to add. It's much more difficult these days for an unknown band to get recognition, simply because there's so much out there already. And, as Steve Albini has pointed out, major labels exploit bands in ways that carve their short life-spans into stone before the first record contract is even signed.

I think the current trends in music and music consumption will lead to the complete destruction of the music industry, and there's no amount of copyright law that can prevent this collapse. Many in the youngest generation have been accustomed to getting their music fix for free. The album format appears to be on its way out, as music lovers continually complain about CDs having one or two good songs and the rest being filler. Additionally, as more people download music from places like iTunes, they are searching for individual songs instead of entire albums. Music is less about holding a physical copy in your own hands than about cramming an iPod with 80 gigabytes worth of music, which is more than enough music for one person to listen to completely in any reasonable amount of time. People may also feel that they have so much music already that there is no reason to go out and pay for more -- and on top of that, the latest musical acts are a lot less than even marginally tolerable.

Then you have this flood of amateur acts, which isn't necessarily a bad thing in-and-of itself. But this over-saturation of the market will bring down the value of music for the average consumer. Why would someone pay $20 for a CD of a mediocre pop act when they can log onto MySpace and check out hundreds of DIY bands for free? I think the trend is clear -- we're moving away from amassing physical copies of music. We're going into an over-saturation of the amount of choice available, which is now collected digitally.

So I propose something radical: stop selling music. Fuck record labels. Don't even create a physical product. Play shows, write songs, but don't bother trying to cement ownership into a physical recreation. At this point, I think that's futile. Instead of trying to claim ownership, just create music -- not to make a living, but to destroy the fucking culture.

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