By my calculations, the music business should have completely ended at least 10 years ago.
Or, at least, it should have if all the predictions were right about the sky falling.
Every since the first MP3 files were traded by college boys on their .edu networks, the hysterics have been flying. Artistry was going to be completely destroyed. Recordings would stop being made entirely. Nobody would ever make any money at music, ever again. The Earth would fall into the Sun.
I was part of the hysterical crowd, by the way. I couldn’t see the opportunities for what they were. I was used to a world (actually, a fictional one) where the whole point of everything was to get picked. Some record exec would hear a great demo tape, sign you, and your troubles would be over. If the record companies went away, HOW WOULD THAT HAPPEN?
Well, first of all, it didn’t really happen anyway. Any really sizable record company is afflicted by “big corporation” disease, which makes them highly allergic to anything other than a reasonably sure bet. They either grab ahold of someone who already seems to be building something great without their help, or they manufacture something that fits the style of the month.
But the thing is this: The artistry of music. The beauty. The sublime charge of emotion and movement and mathematical relationships…
…it has basically nothing to do with capturing a signal representing sonic events, and then selling that capture to people.
“Phonorecords,” as we’re used to in a conceptual sense, have existed since about 1890 or so. Humans have been making musical noises, on the other hand, for millennia. MILLENNIA, FOLKS.
That is to say, if you reference good ol’ Wikipedia, you’ll find that humans apparently were making flutes 40,000 years ago. So, do the math. The business of recorded music, with all of its arcane wizardry, chicanery of accounting and contracts, dashed hopes and dreams realized beyond all anticipation, is about 0.3% of the history of music.
From the statistical shorthand that “it’s got to be 5% before it’s relevant,” recorded music is completely insignificant when compared to the human experience of music on the whole. I’m not saying that it’s a passing fad; I don’t believe that recording will pass away into the aether – but I am saying that, as a matter of comparison, phonorecords and the selling of them is yet a tiny spark of nothing in the great sea of sounds.
So, why do I point this out?
I point this out because the “sturm and drang” related to people supposedly not buying/ not valuing/ stealing/ recorded music is, in my mind, a distraction. We fail to see the whole picture of the musical experience, and we pin everything on demanding money for captured sonic events. Before anyone could even begin to think of selling something as antiquated as a physical record, there were centuries upon centuries of successful and unsuccessful musicians.
Piracy is not killing music. Streaming is not killing music. The music business is not killing music. Music is very much alive and well, because the emotional experience of it is what people can not help but crave. Artists who have made the most powerful of those emotional experiences are selling out venues of all sizes, all over the world. If music was actually dying – if the public no longer cared about it – that would most certainly not be the case.
Recorded music is no longer scarce. Our computers have seen to that. That lack of scarcity means that the demandable value of phonorecords is dropping. But that’s okay! Recordings can still be sold for something, and they’re still a valuable tool for you to get your art across to an audience. It’s just that they’re not the only thing, and maybe not the biggest thing.
That’s really fine, because, in my mind, no one has ever, EVER purchased music. What they have always purchased is an emotional experience that was packaged up in some way. For a few years, the king of those packages was the artificially-scarce phonorecord. Just because it WAS king does not mean it will always be, nor should it always be.
And let’s be honest – when you look at the numbers, that king was just a Johnny Come Lately anyway. Let’s all take a few deep breaths.