Editorials

The State of the Music Industry, October 2014

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VinylA doom-and-gloom prophesying Billboard article made the rounds last week. Seems like a good time to take stock of what’s going on in the music industry at large.

While we’re still in a time of transition, the most tumultuous period seems to have passed and things are beginning to stabilize. I talked in a bit more depth about some of these issues on this week’s edition of The MetalSucks Podcast.

This much is certain:

1. The days of the mega-star are over.

No artist-album released in 2014 has gone platinum (although the Frozen soundtrack has surpassed the 3 million mark) vs. five albums at this time last year. Radio isn’t dead, but it represents an increasingly niche corner of the market. Why bother with radio when it’s much easier to find what you really want on the Internet? With less shared experience comes fewer universal artists. For that reason there will never be another Metallica and the bands that can headline arenas will be few and far between.

2. Indie labels are becoming more viable.

No one benefits more from streaming and, the wide reach of the Internet and increasingly splintered genres than indie labels. Indie share of the overall market is up to 13.7% from 12.3%. If larger indies like Razor and Tie and Epitaph that are distributed by major-owned companies are included, that figure jumps to 35%.

3. Digital downloads were a stop-gap.

They bridged the era of physical albums to the era of streaming. Why would anyone pay a dollar to store an abstract “file” on their hard drive when they can access it with just as much ease through a streaming service by paying a fraction of the cost? The user experience is the exact same either way. The proof is in the pudding: digital track sales are down 12.9% and digital album sales are down 11.5%.

4. Streaming is finally gaining a foothold en masse.

People are finally realizing there really isn’t a need to keep all that physical stuff around. Why bother? Face it: you never touch that stuff anyway. I know, it’s tough to admit… I’m still holding on to my old CDs that I never, ever play either.

5. YouTube is the new Spotify.

You wanna know where all the action is, go to YouTube — it’s littered with streams of individual tracks, both official and illegal. The YouTube interface has its drawbacks as far as a music streaming platform, but as far as searching for and listening to a single track it can’t be beat. It’s free for the user and the rights holders can easily and effectively monetize their content. Look for labels to making all their albums available on YouTube in the near future.

6. Pop is a niche market.

Sure, your average household is more likely to recognize Beyonce than Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God or Five Finger Death Punch, but when Beyonce is only selling 776,000 copies of her new album (with a shitload of mainstream media hype!) and the aforementioned three bands are hitting 200,000 or 300,000+, it really makes you think.

7. Vinyl is not the answer.

Vinyl sales have risen an astounding 47.5% over 2013’s numbers year-to-date, which is fantastic. But don’t be fooled: vinyl still represents a small portion of overall sales (6 million out of 227 million), and it only appeals to a certain type of niche market. Further, today’s vinyl consumers treat it as a souvenir, an item to sit on a shelf looking pretty next to the bobblehead collection, taken off and passed around once in a blue moon. The majority of listening is still happening digitally. And don’t even get me started on the current cassette tape trend.

8. Touring is more important than ever.

For decades an artist could take extensive time off and be able to get by on royalties. No longer. Musicians now need to work for most of the year to earn money, just like the rest of us.

9. No one is making money.

Nor should they feel entitled to. The ability to create music — and, in turn, to manage it, market it, promote its shows, etc — is a privilege, not a right. Those of us who are still able to do so and make some kind of a living from it should consider ourselves very lucky. Nowhere is it written that rock stars should be well-off — the only reason it worked for the 50-year period between 1950 and 2000 is because of a market inefficiency whereby distribution was completely monopolized by the rights holders. Your local record store had you by the short and curlies.

10. The art will be just fine.

More good music is being created now than ever before. With cheap recording technology and the ability to reach the world at everyone’s fingertips (literally), the good stuff will always find a way to rise to the top. Re: technology making everyone sound like a pro, they still haven’t figured out a way to get a computer to write a great song.

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