Monday, February 18, 2013

Buggy-Whip Manufacturers Hardest Hit

Markets change and adjust to the times.  Sometimes, they do so because of revolutionary ideas, revolutionary leaders, and paradigm shifts catalyzed by the up-and-comers and movers-and-shakers of the day.  Sometimes, they do so in spite of the best efforts of the current providers.  Such is the case in the music industry, and there is a reason for this – the new technologies that are cheaply and widely available today have made record labels superfluous.  They have done everthing that they could do in order to resist the changes that are at hand, because these changes have literally made them as obsolete as a buggy-whip manufacturer after Henry Ford had his way with the transportation industry.  However, despite their best efforts and all the thrashing about that they can muster, the invisible hand of the market forces it’s hand, and they are absolutely despondent about it. 

You see, there was a time when widespread, mass-produced music simply could not have existed without them.  The up-front costs to developing, recording, manufacturing, distributing, and marketing a new album were astronomical. The cost of pressing records/recording tapes/burning the cds alone was in the millions and millions of dollars.  Then, throw in marketing, mixing, and so forth, and you’ve got a real huge bill on your hands – a bill of a magnitude that the struggling new musicians of the world could not possibly afford. 

The record companies stepped in to fill this niche, and they did so well, however focused on their own best interest they often were.  For the better part of a century, they sat atop the recording industry and parried every thrust that the market threw at them.  When artists became rich after their debut albums became hits, they no longer needed record companies to afford the up-front costs of their next album, so the record companies countered this by making the artists sign up for multi-album contracts (or even worse, lifetime contracts) when they were at their most vulnerable: before the first album was made.  That ensured that no matter how successful and rich the artist became later on, the record company would continue to get a piece of the action. 

The unending ebb of the technological tides has caught up with them, however, and my opinion is that their days are numbered, if only we could move beyond the paradigm in which we are currently mired.  The reason for this is because the costs of creating an album in the most popular media of the day have dropped from millions to thousands of dollars.  You see, you only need to rent the recording studio, record one cut on MP3, and then make as many copies as you want with virtually zero cost to do so.  Then, you distribute them using the internet, which is the forum under which most folks buytheir music, anyway.  Artists can go directly to music brokers like and Itunes and have them post their songs in MP3 format, give the distribution site a cut, and keep the rest for themselves. 

The only thing, then, that the record companies provide at this point is marketing.  But even that isn’t as difficult as it used to be.  Take the example of the band Ra-On.  They are Korean-American students at the University of California that did an acoustic version of Psy’s “Gangnam Style.”  It is totally awesome.  They got some recognition on a few internet forums after they posted their music video to YouTube.  Then, they got a mention in a Cracked article.  They’ve now sold a metric shit-ton of copies of their song on Amazon alone.  I don’t know how much money they’ve made, but my guess is that it is a startling amount for three college kids who only just created an acoustic song on September 28th of 2012.  The total cost to them for doing this?  Next to nothing.  Close enough to nothing that it is negligible.  They had to buy the equipment, I guess, which looks to me like a webcam and an acoustic guitar. 

Justin Beiber was not discovered by the record labels, either.  He was “made” on YouTube and then signed to a label after he was discovered and already had a huge following.  He could be just as famous today without the label that he signed to. 

Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame created a side project called Puscifer.  They are not signed to any label, sell their music from their website, and distribute it all without help from the record labels.  Granted, Maynard has the money to do whatever he wants at this point, but the success of Puscifer is a testament to the fact that artists simply don’t need record companies anymore. 

The record companies are in their death knell, and you can tell by the vitriolic, angry ways that they’ve been protecting their perch atop the industry.  It won’t be much longer until you don’t have to deal with them anymore at all.  You will pay maybe a little less for your music, the artist that created it will get a much larger cut, and the recording industry will be frantically trying to find ways to re-insinuate themselves into the process, but they will fail.  We simply don’t need them anymore. 

The only way that they can be saved now is for them to lobby the government to pass laws to prop them up against the will of the market.  Guess what they’re doing?  

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