Recently I watched the documentary about Tower Records and it’s rise and fall called “All Things Must Pass” by filmmaker Colin Hanks. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_Records#Documentary
While the documentary itself doesn’t tackle the idea of where to go from here for the music industry it did raise a few interesting points. Of course the lack of demand for physical copies of music is the real cause of the demise of the music industry. There are a few other key factors, some of which are discussed in the documentary. For one the idea of forcing people to buy an entire album to get one song was a key factor. Another issue was the price of physical music had just got to the point where people could no longer afford it. Going to Napster was the obvious choice for young people in the early 2000s. Music retailers and industry people forgot who buys most of the music. The young people with low incomes.
Of course all of this has been said before. One of the most interesting things I took from the documentary was the idea that hits make albums sell better for everyone. When Michael Jackson’s thriller came out, album sales in general spiked for everyone. I grew up in the 90s and I remember how Nirvana’s Nevermind ushered in record sales for artists that had previously not sold as well in the past. This is a true statement. Great artists and great albums create a great market for everyone.
This is a key point. If the music is great people are willing to pay for it.
I’m not trying to say that there aren’t great artists today or great music. Clearly, there is. Is it on the level of Thriller and Nevermind? Maybe, not. There are a lot of artists that copy each other and that copy the past. Maybe too many. Maybe the artists should partially blame themselves for not pushing more boundaries and being more original with their sound. Stop copying the 80s, the 60s, whatever it is and do something completely original. Stop worrying about offending people and just SAY SOMETHING NEW.
I’ve got a little off point. People always used to say to me growing up everything comes back around again. Clearly this is true. CDs destroyed Vinyl in the 90s and now Vinyl is destroying CDs. The 80s are all over the current musical trends. Synth is in, Flock of Seagulls would be proud. I’m not sure if there was a time period in the past where singers beat on tom drums on stage but if there was I sure wish no one had ever thought of it.
Back to my point. I’ve given this a lot of thought as I am sure most industry people and artists have. How do you make music valuable again? How do you get back to the billion dollar a year album sales that Tower Records had at one point? The simple answer is, you don’t. Mobile devices are the future. Period. Streaming is cheap and convenient, I really don’t see physical copies ever coming back like they were in the late 90s.
The only thing you could do is put music in a completely encrypted format that will only play on specific physical devices or through apps that can decrypt it. While that might last for a while someone will crack it eventually and everyone will just download it for free again. Streaming could pay artists better this is true. But to get to the profit level music was at before you would have to charge too much for streaming which would put people right back to downloading.
I have one idea to share. Keep the streaming as it is, with the exception of a better pay scale for artists. More pennies per play for the artist, and soon. I think the best hope for right now is to use a combination of crowdfunding and pre ordering. Let the artist release the single on the streaming sites. Then set a pre order limit for the release of the rest of the album. Once the album reaches x pre orders then release it. Or if it falls short set a time deadline as well. At least this way the album can achieve maximum success before it’s released into the wild to be consumed for free by downloaders.
The genie is not going back in the bottle. Physical copies aren’t coming back. What music really needs now is a great strategy and some REALLY GREAT NEW ARTISTS. All things must come back in time, including the value of music.