Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Great Music Industry Debate

I was listening to a report on Marketplace regarding the music industry and it's absolute freefall in sales that it's experiencing right now. The segment was humoring the idea of bringing back the vinyl record in order to boost sales (kind of like blindly wishing for a time machine). The heart of this discussion is that vinyl records had one thing that MP3's can't seem to exploit. Packaging and artwork. The second part of that being more important being that LP's didnt just come in paper bags. The artwork was vital to the projection of the music, and in these days when visuals account for much more of our experience, all the more essential.

The artwork told the story. It was half if not more of what was being sold on the racks than the music itself. Most small record label owners I know understand this, but some just can't seem to get their head around it. Some see the CD/web page/LP artwork as being a nesseccary evil that should be expedited in order for the music to be released to the public. Although it's easy for me to note this issue being that I'm in the business of creating and preparing said artwork.

Put it this way. 500 years ago, most people (albeit the wealthy) would experience music in the form of an Opera house. The promoters of those operas understood that they couldn't just hire the best singers. They needed the BEST costumes and the BEST sets built. That's because music was only half of the experience. The visuals were just as important, and still are.

One suggestion I would have for the major record companies is to cut all salaries of remaining staff across the board. Take those savings and pump them into R & D for new platforms/formats/methods of selling music for dollars and cents. iTunes had a great model, but even they understood that it was temporary.

Some ideas that myself and some friends of mine who are involved in software development (and ex-record industry folks), would be to create a digital box set. Based on the AIR platform, these digital sets would be downloaded, and, not just include music, but also artwork, videos, live simulcast, ringtones and other items that wouldn't be as easy to copy. Sure, you might be able to email and self distribute the separate items, but, it would defeat the purpose. The point being, to harness the experience and ownership of the music, rather than just selling a folder of MP3 files.

Anyways, I think this is probably the direction the music and entertainment industries are likely to head in. Calling it 'added value' kind of oversimplifies it, but it'll be way in which music 'selling' can get back on it's feet again.

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