Well, I’m back from a couple of weeks of trekking around the country and getting slammed at work. I’ve still got some reviews lined up, but in the meantime, here’s a neat graphic about the state of the music industry. It’s pretty sizable, but a very interesting read.
I’m honestly surprised that the Big Four still commanded so much market share in 2005. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s done since then. Other than that, there’s nothing really surprising. The market for albums is in sharp decline. I doubt this has much to do with piracy (despite industry protestations) and has everything to do with the fact that a lot of music is now being sold in single-song downloads or being given away for free by artists. Add in the tanking economy and albums really have the cards stacked against them.
The US, Japan, and the UK continue to be the three largest sales markets, much as it has been since time immemorial. Digital music is now a $4.2 billion industry, despite the Industry’s best efforts to smother it (and any resulting profits) in the crib. The growth in digital music for the past 6 years averages out to just shy of 150% per year, which is damned impressive.
So really, there aren’t that many surprises to be had in the industry. Catchy pop tunes still dominate sales, the Big Four still dominate the market (though that’s changing), and regressive and unoriginal thinking still dominate the captains of the Industry. Predictions: the Big Four continue to lose market share as more artists realize they don’t need them. Indie labels continue to innovate and bring the most interesting artists to market. More and more artists go completely label-free. Above all else, the digital music revolution continues with more music being sold and distributed over the Internet.
We’re on our way towards a much more decentralized industry that’s powered by the Internet, true-fans, long tails, and all the other weird emergent effects of a world of ubiquitous connectivity. This chart shows only the first few years of that transition. And I, for one, am excited to see what this movement has in store for the music world.
I have to confess, I’ve always had a gutteral dislike for Malcolm McLaren. But I suppose his recent passing does warrant some comment. Perhaps the best comment, though, is not any direct hagiography or corpse-kicking, but rather a reflection on some small, bizarre part of his life and career. Roger Ebert, who once collaborated with McLaren on an unfilmed Sex Pistols movie, offers this great explication of the project.
“Malcolm McLaren appeared with Russ in my room at the Marquis. He was a ginger-haired, wiry man in his 30s, who wore a “Destroy” T-shirt and leather pants equipped with buckles and straps. These were, I learned, the infamous Bondage Pants he introduced at SEX, the celebrated Kings Road boutique he ran with his romantic partner Vivienne Westwood. The T-shirt was also hers. The pants offered the ultimate on bondage convenience. When the mood struck, you didn’t have to rummage about for belts and braces; all your needs were built in. On his feet he wore what Russ approvingly noted were Brothel Creepers.”
Definitely read the whole thing.
I’ll have an album review up over the weekend (for realsies! I swear!) but in the meantime, here’s an excellent and actually quite even-handed overview of the invention, development, and abuse of auto-tune:
Here’s a new (though arguably inevitable) use for Pandora. Twee folksters The Swell Season are streaming their new album, Strict Joy on Pandora. I’ve not previously been a huge fan of Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard’s particular brand of breathy, mopey folk, but from what I’ve heard of the album, it’s pretty well done. If you’re interested in giving it a listen before laying down your hard-earned ducats on buying it, you can hit up this link to hear it as a Pandora station.
On the one hand, kudos for The Swell Seasons for being innovative in getting their music out there for their fans to hear. I hope that it works well for them and that their debut is a run-away success. On the other hand, it’s curious that it took Pandora and artists this long to collaborate on something like this. Pandora, as a platform, has been around for a few years now and they do streaming music in a robust and innovative fashion. This sort of presentation has always been a possibility, and I’m curious why it’s only now seeing reality.
It is possible that this sort of collaboration has always been on the table, but that there have been practical considerations that kept it from happening. Pandora’s history as a service has hardly been trouble free (thanks in large part to industry dinosaurs roaring and stamping around trying to avoid the epoch-ending meteorite that is the Internet). So it’s possible that other artists have approached Pandora with an offer like this and that Pandora simply wasn’t in a position to make it work.
Still, glad it’s happening. It seems like it’s win-win. The Swell Seasons gets press and listeners for their new album. Pandora gets more traffic. It’s hard to see a downside for anyone.
It’s no secret that I have a giant crush (musical and otherwise) on Kristin Hersh (of Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave, and amazing solo work fame). I ran across this quote and it got me thinking:
“I don’t mind what the market is, but why is it vapid? If they’re such a bunch of idiots, why don’t you show them good music instead? They’re not going to know the difference.” – Kristin Hersh
Now, she’s right of course. If the reason why modern radio-filling tunes are so watery and weak is because the audience are idiots (or uncultured or what-have-you), then there’s no reason not to prefer good music on the radio. (Or movie soundtracks, TV shows, streaming Internet sites, etc. etc. and what-have-you). This to me strongly indicates one of three possibilities.
1.) The reason this stuff plays and sells is not because people are stupid or uncultured, but for some other, reason.
2.) There’s some appeal in vapid, milquetoast pop music that’s NOT present in better music.
3.) Some admixture of 1. and 2.
I have my definite theories about which is the case. But before I dig out my soapbox and dust it off, I’m curious about what others think. Any responses from my audience listening in at home?
So many of my perceptive readers will know that I’m a fan not only of a lot of Dangerbird Records artists, but also that I’m a fan of the company itself. Quite honestly, Dangerbird is one of the few record labels these days that actually understands the changing landscape of music. They’re hip to new media, socially-driven advertising, and the facts and realities of selling and distributing music in a digital world.
Well, one of Dangerbird’s artists, jangly indie-poppers Dappled Cities, have a new album out. In celebration, Dangerbird and Dappled Cities are giving away the band’s last album totally free! [Link to .zip archive of the freeness!] Isn’t that cool?! Great way to promote an excellent band. Especially considering that Dappled Cities are from Australia which, for whatever reason, is often an indicator of poor performance in American markets. (Think about it. These days Americans love many Canadian bands. TONS of British bands. But bands from the Australian music scene rarely have much success in the US.)
Good on you, Dangerbird! And best of luck to Dappled Cities. Now stop reading my blather and go listen to some free Indie Pop!