By maximizing profits, the industry killed the album.



If analog -- or even all physical media -- becomes luxury, then obviously digital becomes pedestrian. Wired writes about the radio in the clouds -- Celestial Radio (link).

What's interesting to me in technological evolution is that when one wants to hang on to outdated technology (which gets more expensive to maintain the older it gets because more and more cheap, powerful, disposable technology is being built every day) you then become the snob.

The bourgeoisie antique collector paying a premium to hold onto a technology that the consumer world has abandoned. Romantically this makes sense -- some things, like the pop of vinyl, are worth paying for to some people. But does it make sense politically? As a person trying to be as anti-consumerist as I can be, I wonder. Ironically, it seems, the luxury of being able to afford (in time, energy, or currency) to maintain outdated technology may very well become a way to resist consumerism.


(Portfolio) The Future of Music: Record Labels Get Real. After years of blaming the internet for their woes, the major labels are starting to face the music— and see the problem as one they made themselves.

To be sure, the death of the album does not mean that the music industry itself is over. Parts of it are actually thriving. “The financing of artists with the intent of making money off their music?" predicts Dave Goldberg, a former Capital Records executive and founder of the company that became Yahoo Music. "That’s going to do quite well.” Goldberg is now a VC at Benchmark Capital in Menlo Park, California. Steven Masur, the managing director of Masur Law, a law firm that specializes in new media issues, notes that “there’s not a problem with the live industry. Live is doing great.” Publishers are also getting rich, monetizing music by placing it in television commercials, on mobile phones, and in movies. The money is there, it’s just not coming from the individual consumer.

Nor will the record companies themselves die. "They have massive catalogs of valuable copyrights," observes Pete Rojas, a new-generation music entrepreneur and the CEO of RCRD LBL, a network of online record labels and blogs. But eventually it all comes down to those individual listeners, and the pricing structure for music has fundamentally changed, says Rojas. Individual listeners, in the age of the free internet download, are less and less willing to buy music. So there's a mismatch, says Rojas, between “what the market values music at and what the major labels need to get paid” in order to stay "major."

Traditionally, the majors blame the internet for devaluing music, but the most forward-thinking in the business are starting to reverse this equation. “In a way, the CD is what destroyed the music business,” says Joe Mardin, a musician, producer, arranger, and engineer. Mardin grew up in the music business; his father was Ardiff Mardin, the legendary producer of Hall & Oats, Norah Jones, Aretha Franklin, and others. “People were buying millions of CDs to replace their catalog," says Mardin, explaining how industry greed ended up killing the Golden Goose. “There was this imperative that started to emerge: 'You must fill up a CD with as much music as possible,’” Mardin says. “The rest was filler. You ended up with albums that were one or two hits and a bunch of wanna-be hits.” The record industry itself killed the album, trying to maximize profits.

"The very concept of the album itself, a consecutive body of work designed by the artist to be experienced in its entirety, has been lost," explains Caraeff. And as a result, the traditional labels are contracting radically, morphing into a much humbler business. "The labels will survive," Mardin predicts, "but with much smaller margins and sales." And that might not be such a bad thing for music—or musicians.

After the current contraction, a few artists, like Lil' Wayne, will still be able to rake in large sums. But the top-heavy shape of the industry as a whole will change. There will never be another 100-million-selling album, there may not ever be another 20-million-selling album. “The profits were just gloriously obscene,” says Bob Sherwood, who was head of marketing for Columbia when Faith was released, and has had top positions at Mercury Records, CBS Records, and Sony. “You can’t do that today.”

Yet there will always be fans, always be musicians, and—of course—there will always be money. “If you find 100,000 fans who are willing to contribute $15 a year for your music, that’s one and a half million dollars," says Goldberg, doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation. "If you can find a way to get your music to them efficiently and for them to get that money to you efficiently, you can make a very nice living.” It's the internet, not the labels, that connects musicians to their audience. What's gone is the major-label hit-making machinery. “The top is going to come down," says Goldberg, "but the middle class is going to grow." (source)