Monday, February 1, 2010

The music industry is dead

Posted By on Mon, Feb 1, 2010 at 4:00 AM

As someone who's followed the music industry closely for more than 30 years, I always take great interest in the annual Grammy Awards telecast for several reasons.

There's the trainwreck appeal in seeing just how painful the three-hour broadcast will be and just how many cringe-inducing moments will take place.

There are occasional moments of excellence as well but frequently Grammy shows reflect just how awful popular music is at any given time.

Then there's the analytical side, which involves deciphering just what kind of message the Grammy voters — who are musicians, producers and executives — want to send the rest of society.

In this economy, all forms of entertainment face challenges in attracting the dollars of consumers but the recorded music industry perhaps has it toughest of all.

After all, if I want to see the newest Hollywood blockbuster, I actually have to leave my house and pay for a ticket.

If I want to play the latest video game, I have to go to a store and buy it. The same goes for live theater, professional sports and other fields of fine arts.

With music, if I decide I want to listen to, say, Green Day's new album, all I have to do is go onto a file-sharing site and it's mine for free within 10 minutes. While I'm there I can also download every other album they've made, or for that matter, every song the Beatles ever recorded.

I can then take those songs and burn as many CDs for my friends as I like, or I can add them to my mobile phone, iPod or PlayStation 3 with almost no effort.

In a perfect world, Green Day doesn't mind that much if someone steals their album on the Internet. They're hoping that you'll buy a Green Day T-shirt, a concert ticket or a DVD later on. They'll probably ultimately get paid for the $15 album you stole.

The people who release the CD, that is, the music industry, are the ones losing out on the 21st century concept that recorded music is free.

So it's doubly interesting to see how the music industry tries to reposition itself each year with the Grammys. The formula for the past decade has been to couple new phenomena with past legends and to reward acts who still sell CDs with boatloads of trophies.

This year, it was Taylor Swift's turn to become the new face of recorded music, And, truthfully, there's not much to dislike about this young woman, which makes her the perfect spokeswoman for the music industry.

She's impeccably wholesome and non-threatening, appealing to nearly every (white) demographic from children to senior citizens. She doesn't espouse any radical political beliefs and is unlikely to cause any scandal anytime soon.

The only problem — and it's not much of one, from the music industry's perspective — is that the level of her talent pales when compared to her predecessors.

This became very painfully clear when they trotted out Stevie Nicks to duet with her during the Grammys broadcast and poor Taylor was hopefully outmatched, out of pitch and out of time.

Granted, it was an unfair comparison, akin to putting a hotshot high school player in a dunk contest against Michael Jordan, but it was indicative of the problem the music industry faces.

Today's acts, with some exceptions, are simply not on a par with the musicians of the 1960s and 1970s and yet the music industry has to promote them as if they are.

This is only a concern if you have sympathy for the recorded-music industry, which almost nobody does. They spent the better part of the 20th century shortchanging and stealing from artists simply because they could.

One would almost feel sorry for them if they hadn't proven to be such greedy scumbags in the past.

Today's true innovators in music create, perform and distribute their music without the need of the music industry that dominated in the time of Stevie Nicks.

Consumers are smart enough to find the acts they enjoy without the help of the infrastructure of the music industry. You won't see The Elms on the Grammys; their music has spread by word of mouth and through the Internet.

So that leaves the traditional music industry with no hope but to celebrate the most blatantly commercial acts, give them trophy after trophy and hope for the best.

The true message of the Grammys was that the recorded music industry is dead and, despite attempts to give itself CPR, nothing will change that fact.

Music, however, lives on, in the hearts and minds of people, whether it's a little girl picking up an acoustic guitar and imitating Taylor Swift or a teenager in a basement trying to top the rhymes of Biggie Smalls or Jay-Z.

Music will always endure, unlike the music industry of the past. And that's the encouraging news to come out of the wretched excess of the Grammys.

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