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Music Industry Blues - Tkil [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Music Industry Blues [Aug. 11th, 2003|11:40 pm]
[mood |drunkdrunk]
[music |This Mortal Coil - It'll End In Tears - Dreams Made Flesh]

(Some stuff I originally posted in flemco's journal comments)

The important thing to remember is that record companies are only businesses. Large businesses. Huge corporations, in fact. They exist to do one thing: make money.

Corporations have no soul, pretty much by definition. In this particular case, they could care less about whether the music sounds good, or how talented the musicians are, how deep the lyrics are, or any of that. What they care about is whether they can move product, and how much profit they can make off that product.

I like music quite a bit and have a few CDs. Recently, I started working for a pretty good company whose products lived at the intersection of music and computers, and I was looking forward to being able to work with two of my main fascinations at the same time.

And it's been a pretty good ride. But I was forced to recognize a few painful truths, many of which are flip sides of flemco's complaints.

Whether it's due to lack of interest, other fields vying for attention, or a fear of being different from others, it seems that the vast majority of people have no musical taste. They're buying into the image, the peer pressure, the "lifestyle" -- they're not buying the music. The buying patterns are much more about being cool, fitting in.

Labels take advantage of this tendancy (heck, they instill it!) by projecting the image that goes with the music. A lot of this is "product placement", or, as VH1 so aptly put it: "the soundtrack of our lives". They want to associate music with certain feelings, so that people will buy it in order to relive those times

The latest wrinkle in this battle is expressed by labels and management refusing to offer their content on a track-by-track basis. Because "it destroys the cohesive work of art that is an album". The real reason is obvious: the big five record labels are used to spending all their money to promote one track, then try to recover that money by selling that single on an album full of filler tracks. Nevermind the fact that radio stations can still play just one track at a time; like the proverbial Smith & Wesson, one ClearChannel or Viacom beats Five Big Labels.

More optimistically, what can you do to change it? My suggestions:

  • Support local artists. Yeah, most of them suck, but there are occasional gems.
  • Support independent labels. The added bonus here is that, once you're past the big five and first rank of independents, the smaller labels are typically focussed on a few styles of music; if your tastes agree with those of the label, they can introduce you to new music you might enjoy. Some labels that work for me: upbeat, perky music from Projekt; the already-mentioned Metropolis Records; visit the land of the midnight sun on NorthSide Records; and the rest of the planet on Six Degrees Records; and enjoy the "you press it, we'll sell it" ethos of Cleopatra Records. Some others to consider might be Sub Pop Records, and 4AD.
  • Support good local music stores. Yes, these are hard to find; in the large cities I've lived in recently (Denver and San Diego), there haven't been more than one or two stores that I really enjoyed. When you find them, you should do your best to support them: in return for paying a bit more than off EBay or Amazon, you can get recommendations, listen before you buy, and find things you never would look at otherwise.
  • Support alternative radio. Assuming you can find it, of course; college radio stations are a good start, and even the "mainstream alternative" stations sometimes play stuff worth listening to. (For me, it's something like 94.9-FM-San Diego's Big Sonic Chill; it might still be cliched and commercial, but it's something I like, so I try to support it. Not to mention that hearing This Mortal Coil on a commercial radio freaked me out in the best way possible...)
  • Support touring artists. If they're coming anywhere near your home town, consider going to see them. Buy merchandise from them there, if you can -- bands often see more income off items sold at shows than through most other outlets (although, true to form, the record companies are trying to get in on that side of things, too).
  • Listen to your collection again. I spent 500+ USD on an iPod, and it's been a great investment: I load it up with whole albums, or even everything I have from certain artists, and put it on random play. There are occasional nasty segues, but I've found a new appreciation for the nooks and crannies of my collection that I'd either forgotten, or never known.
  • Explore Connections. Someone already mentioned Sarah McLachlan's turn as a vocalist for Delerium; this is a classic place for a Sarah fan to explore Delerium, and a Dererium fan to look at what Sarah's done. Go further, and find out that the guys behind Delerium were also responsible for Front Line Assembly, Noise Unit, Intermix, Synaesthesia, Pro-Tech, Conjure-One, the Cryogenic Studios series, and Equinox. Listen to more Derelium, and hear guest vocalists from Six Pence None The Richer, Single Gun Theory, Sarah's backup singers, Matthew Sweet, Rose Chronicles. Explore their earlier, more ambient work.
  • Revisit old friends. Did you like Bauhaus during the 1980s? Have you heard Peter Murphy's solo stuff? Likewise with Siouxsie and her banshees, and the latter-day Creatures.