Author: Geoff Husband - TNT France
I've just spent (wasted) five minutes listening to yet another industry spokesman winging about illegal downloading of music from the web. Well I for one think it's a thoroughly good thing and as today is hot, I've a headache and I'm feeling grumpy I'm doing a rant to make me feel better - and if it's incoherent blame it on tonsillitis...
First the 'Charts' of so-called single sales. This is now totally irrelevant to today's music. Sales are so pathetically low (a number 1 wouldn't have into the top 40 in the 60's/70's because so few are bought) that they have no link with the buying public's tastes. If a handfull of DJ's decide a disc is good enough for a few stoned partygoers to leap about to, it'll get into the charts. The idea that the charts now show any coherent 'direction' is lost. And let's face it, if it was all downloaded off the net so what?
We've now got the record industry whining about copying, well big surprise, it's nothing new and these guys have made big profits for a long time parasitising talented young people hungry for fame. I've got LP's from the early '70's with "Home Taping is Killing Music" printed on them complete with skull and crossbones, do you think that stopped one single person from hooking up a casette recorder? - so let's not kid ourselves that this 'weapon of mass destruction' is new. What is different now is that thanks to the record companies marketing departments, the investment in a major artist in terms of studio time and video etc is so huge that the sums are starting to cease to add up unless sales are massive. It's a classic case of an evolutionary dead end. i.e. to make money an album needs huge publicity, to pay for that publicity it needs to sell huge numbers of records, to sell huge numbers of records it needs huge publicity etc etc etc, somewhere the music gets forgotten. The music industry is committing suicide, it's not murder.
The record companies also shot themselves in the foot by making a CD such an unattractive product physically compared with a gatefold sleeved LP, that you might as well burn your own and photocopy the scrap of paper enclosed - and remember record companies = equipment manufacturers, Sony, Phillips et al. Now of course it's too late. Discs are dead - the CD will be the last universal recording medium, from now on it'll be CD or direct to chip and don't let anyone tell you different.
So what now? Led Zep 1 was made in 30 hours, changed the world, sounded excellent and not one video or single was sold. They just got on the road and played for the people and made a shed load of money doing it. And that is, IMHO the future. 'Records' will be produced as a way of advertising concerts where the money will be made - it'll mean people will actually have to be able to play, and that locking yourself in a studio for 2 years to examine your own musical navel will be out. Overall I think we'll get a lot better sounding music (and incidentally recordings) because of it. In fact I'm waiting for the first clever manager to find a really good live group, record a cracking album then offer it free over the internet, give away CD's on demand. They cost nothing after all - free with every concert ticket/T-shirt etc for example. Then book every venue in the land, sting the media for every interview, (and with a story like that they'll want to interview...) merchandising etc etc, sit back and count the dosh...
OK perhaps we'd loose the next Mike Oldfield, but I very much doubt it and I'd bet a penny to a pound he'd have made 'Tubular Bells' for nothing so long as it got listened to. Yea, and The Beatles' would have had to come off drugs long enough to continue touring but would that have been such a bad thing? Hell's teeth if Yes could make 'Relayer' in a few weeks and play it live (even now) why did George Michael get stroppy with Sony because he thought a 5 album contract would take him 10 years to fullfill, pretention knows no bounds, even Beethoven worked faster than that - by an order of magnitude... His other beef was that his last record wasn't publicised enough - well lets hope he now supports the move to free web download because then if his album was any good everyone would listen to it and have a copy?
So is 'home copying killing music'? - absolutely 100% wrong. It means more people are listening to more music. They have access to a wide range of music and can decide what they like, then go out and watch it live, rather than having to choose between a half dozen 'mega acts', chosen first and foremost for their looks and dancing ability, miming to a load of session musicians on MTV. Because CD's and net download are now easy and cheap these live groups can distribute music without having to sell their souls to a recording company with a monopoly on the manufacturing process (one GOOD thing about CD) and THAT is the revolution, the death of the middlemen, not music.
Those that make the music (here I mean musicians) are once again going to have to go out on the road, and those that can't play, or at least entertain, will fall by the wayside. Perhaps they'll be fewer musical millionaires, but so what? Which group out there plays for the money? These people need us to watch them, to adore what they do, to worship them (or go to bed with them) - the money, once it's a living wage, is utterly incidental and any artist who says different is either lying or should find other employment. Personally I've gone out and listened to quite a few small, semi-professional bands this year, both Jazz and Rock, and my one overriding impression is how wonderfully talented they are, especially compared to the vast majority of 'big names'.
No, I'm really excited about the near future, I think that we're poised for a real revolution in popular music that will bring more, and more varied music to a wider audience than anything since the invention of the gramophone. That this may kill off the dinosaurs of the recording industry is something I for one will shed no tears over.
© Copyright 2003 Geoff Husband - www.tnt-audio.com