Record sales are bad. The New York Times says so1. While the shareholders might be hoping for a way to reverse the trend, what the majority of us need is a way to convince our bosses that it isn’t our fault.
When we’re scared, we like simple stories, especially when faced with dramatic change in a complex system. The economy is bad? It was the banks. Climate all screwy? That’d be the carbon dioxide. Feeling tired? You need to cleanse those toxins.
Here are ten reductionist explanations for the state of the record industry. None of them will save the business2, but one of them might help you keep your job ;-)
1) It’s a pop music problem. Incompetent and greedy executives left over from the CD boom have made pop music an artless and soulless commercial wasteland. It’s the ill-conceived responses to this that have pushed classical music into a corner as major-label bosses and retail chains concentrate on ever narrower selections of their most profitable titles.
2) It’s an education problem. We stopped teaching kids to love music, and now they’re all grown-up and they don’t want to buy it.
3) It’s an education problem. We gave so many kids the opportunity to learn instruments that the only way to pick the best ones was with ridiculous technical tests. Now all our top performers are soulless technicians with no stage presence, and nobody wants to hear them play because they all sound the same.
4) It’s a globalization problem. Cheap communication and transportation have made touring and recording so easy that a small number of top performers are getting all the action, and everybody else is left out in the cold.
5) It’s an A&R problem. Corporate drones aren’t willing to take risks on anything interesting, so all we get is concepts that worked in the past. In truth, almost all the most successful records were based on new, unproven concepts, and it’s only in hindsight that they look like winners. If record companies stop pretending they know what they’re doing, they might make something worth hearing.
6) It’s a funding problem. Great art doesn’t happen because somebody is motivated to make a profit. We need somebody to subsidize the artists – then lots of people – record companies included – can make a good living providing them with services.
7) It’s a technology problem. Little boxes create the illusion that music is accessible everywhere, whilst presenting it almost exclusively in environments in which it can’t be properly appreciated. If people are listening to MP3s of Mahler on the bus or snippets of Wagner on YouTube, it’s hardly surprising they don’t like it.
8) It’s a cyclical problem. CDs are done. The next great format just hasn’t come a long yet – SACD is too expensive and downloads don’t sound good enough. When the technology is ready, the sales will follow. We just need to keep our heads down until somebody invents a Deus Ex Machina.
9) It’s a commercial problem. The desire to make money has squeezed the art of music. If we just stopped trying so hard and focussed on making good, new interesting things, people would buy them.
10) It’s a marketing problem. The products are great, but we’re using dated tools to promote them, and that’s why we’re only attracting the attention of an increasingly elderly audience.
Feel free to add your own excuses in the comments.
1 Never mind that this story uses a single data point as evidence for a trend.
2 Most (possibly all) of them aren’t even true.