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Radiohead and the future of the music industry

a couple references:

We’re entering a new phase of the industry and it seems like things are starting to take shape where things were very unclear before. The writing has been on the wall for a long time for the CD. Download is just easier. The CD itself spelled its own doom by downplaying the fetishism of the original vinyl albums: people used to stare at 12″ album covers, if people look at CD booklets once, they almost never look at them twice.

The question has been more about DRM and pricing since iTunes, and it still is, but the future is written on the wall. The bigger question is about the eventual structure of the music business.

Are record companies still relevant? Sure, as promotions vehicles. As talent identification agencies, not so much anymore. That is something they brought onto themselves, though. The way forward for the record labels could have been as the talent scouts. They could have taken advantage of the lowered barriers to entry and lower costs and let a lot of artists bloom. Some of these artists would become mega-stars, some would be marginally profitable and some would lose money (but less money that they would in the old days). Overall, the labels would have probably ended up more profitable and more relevant. Instead, they went the other way. They circled wagons around their big money makers and only signed artists that sounded exactly like their big money makers. Now their money makers are wondering why they have these leeches attached to their earnings when they can do it themselves and the labels are in a true pickle.

The piece of information I’m desperate for as various artists do these experiments around digital pricing is the question that isn’t asked. “Why did you chose to pay what you did?” We can all speculate, but getting the average amount someone willingly paid for a download is one thing, but knowing why they paid that is just (if not more) interesting.  Some more data points not collected: did people download the InRainbows record off bittorrent because they didn’t like giving personal information to the Radiohead store, or did the store not work for them, or was it too slow, or was it just easier since they already used bittorrent all the time anyway?

I hope that future experiments along these lines will ask some questions and tell all of us the answers.

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Snocap going down…

Shawn Fanning’s Snocap Prepares for Fire Sale – Bits – Technology – New York Times Blog

The great thing about the internet is that it is really quite inexpensive to set up a global music download retail site. So inexpensive that everyone is doing it. Snocap had made the MySpace connection, but it is unclear how many downloads they actually sold. With Amazon, coming in very strong and iTunes still capturing the majority of the market, it isn’t surprising that Snocap couldn’t make a go of it.

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Dick Dale’s advice to young musicians

Change this to independant media creators and it still makes sense in these days when you can do it all yourself if you are willing to do the work.

[via This Week In Media]

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Slate on the death of the CD

So, Daniel Gross in Slate read the same article that I did in the NYTimes and came away with a very different conclusion.

He thinks that the CD (and the album) are alive and well, it is just the music business model that is bad. He points to several (of my favorite) small chain music stores that cater to more of a musical niche and says that since their business is booming, the CD must be doing just fine.

This argument makes no sense. It is like saying that because dance music companies and some independent record labels still produce and sell vinyl that the record is still alive and well.

The folks that shop at Rasputin’s, Wall of Sound, Other Music, and other are fanatics. How do I know? I’m one of them and I recognize the glint in the eye of my fellow shoppers when they come across that obscure Radboud Mens disc in the rack. We will continue to buy CDs (and vinyl) for a long time to come. Long after the rest of mainstream America has switched to digital downloads completely and the stores that cater to us will continue to thrive.

That said, this ballgame is nearly over. The fat lady has sung. Even the independents are moving to downloads. Shipping shiny discs around the world makes even less sense when you sell fewer of them and are completely dependent on your livelihood on the customer paying the store, the store paying the distributor, and the distributor paying you and then you recouping all the costs of manufacturing those shiny discs.

The business model for downloads is SOOO much more compelling than the business model for selling physical product. The only reason the majors haven’t switched is because they have so much invested in the infrastructure and can’t understand where things are going well enough to get in front of it. (Suing their customers isn’t helping too much either).

Lets bury this thing already, but first, please buy as many Unit Circle CDs as you can. I don’t want to store these things forever…

[my previous article]

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The end of the album?

The Album, a Commodity in Disfavor – New York Times

Last year, digital singles outsold plastic CD’s for the first time. So far this year, sales of digital songs have risen 54 percent, to roughly 189 million units, according to data from Nielsen SoundScan. Digital album sales are rising at a slightly faster pace, but buyers of digital music are purchasing singles over albums by a margin of 19 to 1.

(I’d written this originally for my other blog, but I figured that it would make sense here too, so I cross-posted it)

On the one hand this is to be expected. The wheat/chaff ratio of tracks on pop music CDs is one of the chief reasons for the decline in CD sales and the rise of piracy according to polls done over the last 10 years. Also, it is a natural consequence of radio promotion which promotes the heck out of one song of an album, and then the next song, and so on. So ‘natch, you give people the option to buy just the songs they like or know and what do they do?

On the other hand, this really is more than that. The album has been the primary format of music delivery for a long time. For an artist, you spend x number of years working on an album, you put it out, you promote it, you tour on it, and then repeat. For a label, your promotions people are focused on the current release, working the radio stations, and magazines, etc… For press, you focus so many column inches to music reviews, you can’t focus 1/10 of the space for a song as you would a record, so you can review less. The only part of the business that would probably be ok with this is radio, which has always been singles oriented.

Addressing this shift in the business will be game changing for the labels, I think. The major acts will do fine with their CDs for a little while, but this is really the chance for one to jump out ahead with some well timed and well played moves.

[via dvorak]

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Music business panel videos on

Branding the music artist
The long tail of Music
Music Marketing 2.0
The Future of Music
All of these are related to the article: Way Behind The Music

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