Friday, August 15, 2008

How F’d up is the music business?

A good question, that many people who have absolutely no clue are trying to answer. If I have to read one more idiotic analysis by some snotty journalist who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground I’m going to puke.The music industry is a mess, there is no doubt about that, but this is about way more than the apparent brilliance of one Mr. Jobs. It seems as though the only handle anybody can put on what is happening is “technology is changing.” This is most certainly true, technology is indeed changing, and it is turning away from the physical in all forms. However, nobody seems to get that with the change in technology there is also a change in culture. It is not as simple as the delivery system, for there are numerous societal implications as well. The biggest being the complete and total loss of a collective attention span. It seems as though our minds can no longer stay focused on a WHOLE book, an ENTIRE movie or a sixty minute set of songs any longer. The fact that there are fewer and fewer books, movies or albums worth a damn obviously plays into it, but there are still plenty of worthy artistic and intellectual opportunities for the inquisitive mind. 
What interests me here is specifically the music business and how it has taken it’s collective eye off the ball. Ponder for a minute the abundance of natural resources  this industry has been blessed with; a youth-oriented form of entertainment that is, by it’s very nature, equal parts art and marketing, a built in market demand and schedule of release, a product that every other product on earth is desperate to ally itself with and built in fun and sexiness. How could they possibly take such a winner and turn it to a complete loser? Sales of physical product continue to tank, and overall, interest in music has diminished on our cultural horizon. 40 years ago, 30 years ago, even 5 years ago the love and collecting of music was one of the most important things in people’s lives. Now, it is an afterthought. It is an accessory to a commercial, or a TV show, or a product. It isn’t the window into the artist’s soul (and thus the soul of a generation) instead it is merely the window dressing.  So, how could this happen? How could an industry with the Goose that laid the platinum egg let it go? I wish it wasn’t so simple, but it is two things-stupidity and greed, or more precisely the greed that only stupidity could breed. In one of the historically great ideological blunders, the captains of this industry stripped the inherent value of an art form away in a crass attempt to turn it strictly into a money making machine. Profitability has always been the obvious endgame of any business, but in the past, there has also been an unspoken understanding that in addition to the profit motive there was an implied stewardship as well. Perhaps I am being the ultimate Pollyanna by even suggesting this, but isn’t there any of that obligation left? I have come to believe that the music industry is actually out to hasten its own obsolescence. Unable to see further than this quarter’s profit and loss statement the industry rushes toward more and more aesthetically unpleasing methods of delivery and a less and less profitable business model. In the past, certain industries have been plowed under by the wheels of progress, but rarely has an industry so willingly, no-gleefully- participated in its own destruction. Every week, some piece of info comes down the pike about what the music industry is now doing to shoot itself in the foot. It has been breathtaking to watch. Similar to watching a once controlled person slip away to alcoholism and ruin, one can only shake his head in wonder.  
I still believe that music is one of the few great things mankind has created (Pizza and cashmere being two others). The intrinsic value of the arts must transcend cultural whim or the prognosis for our species is grim indeed. Every day I see people in the store who are still yearning for the comfort that only the arts can provide. I know there is still a desire to share a meaningful moment with others through the portal of creativity. As always, it remains interesting to watch.

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