Sunday, February 16, 2014

Is iTunes really that bad? (From February 19 2009)

As I was driving over the Mohawk Trail to North Adams, Mass to spend a weekend with my girlfriend looking at contemporary art at MASS MoCA, we were having a brief discussion about wedding music. As usual my thoughts normally tend to de-rail and take forks in the road that would make Robert Frost jealous. I started to think about how all the music we were picking out had been purchased on iTunes, which lead me to this question: is iTunes really as bad as music industry pundits say it is?

I think, in pop music, iTunes has created a consumer market where mediocrity and “filler” is no longer tolerated. We don’t have to buy an entire album to listen to our favorite songs; now you can just download the single off of i-tunes, Rhapsody, etc. Consumers are no longer buying albums like they were. Why pay for an album with one or two good songs when you can just buy them individually?

It seems to me that record companies are still operating under the model of, “we must release 10-12 songs on this album or the market will not spend the money on it and sales will go down.” I say this: the idea of the album might be running all the red lights on the way to the graveyard. As a record company, why spend all the money doing 10-12 songs when you already identified the singles and plan to release those anyway? 

It’s a tough concept to think about, not releasing an album but just releasing downloadable singles. Not only will it change the structure of the recording industry’s sales figures and business model, but also it would most likely put record stores out of business permanently. Mastering houses and recording studios will have to change their business model because they will no longer be working with 10-12 songs but maybe just 1-3 at a time. Distribution would be crushed because there would not be anything to distribute; everything will be downloaded at hi-res or at least CD quality. 

If anything this should force a better quality of music released. Artists won’t write the “filler” music on the albums and maybe concentrate on making better quality releases. If a record company said that you have three months to record an album, the artist might say that they have 3 probable hits and they will work up the rest of the album in the studio. 

HOW PRODUCTIVE IS THAT?!? Not only do you waste money in studio time, but you waste the engineer’s time, the producers time and the studio’s time practicing and writing your new album in a very expensive practice space. 

What if the record company said, “you have 3 months to release your music.” Maybe a song takes 1½ months to finish the instrumentation on. Maybe it takes another month to finish the mix. Maybe releasing new music becomes special again. Maybe, just maybe, the music is really good and thoughtful. Maybe the producers and engineers actually contribute to meaningful work again and become relevant for their musical and technical knowledge instead of being able to market and sing along with their talent (Jay Z, Timberland, etc). Maybe this is already happening… ( )

It’s a difficult concept to think about putting all of those operations out of business but as of this moment, we are in a deep recession, if not a depression. It’s happening already, record stores are folding. The market is changing. It only makes sense that the music industry also feels, and must adapt to, the effects of a bad economy.

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