Proper Memorial for the Music Business: A Trilogy

Eric Garland Culture Trends, Greatest Hits 20 Comments

Recently, I read the last sad story about the demise of the music business I care to read. This latest covered how once proud metal guitarists have been reduced to singing 80s pop to make ends meet, tragically left to decompose in ignominy at the bar mitzvahs of the greater Jersey metroplex. Not a week before, I read about this guy trying to Kickstarter yet another movie project about how the music industry is broken and the music will all die and everything will be sad forever, waah.

I have had enough of all the doom and gloom about the music industry in the past fifteen years. There is something indeed very wrong, but the current analysis misses what is really going on in music, culture, America, and the world. I am fed up with the same entitled whinging and would like to get onto a more productive discussion about where music is heading.

What, you ask, are my credentials to prognosticate on the future of the music industry? For one thing I am a life-long, committed, sick-in-the-head musician, a veteran of 1500 gigs, several records, too many basses and guitars, thousands of dollars in string purchases alone. I am also a strategic analyst for corporations and governments, and occasionally I manage to predict things like the financial crisis of 2008 and that Iraq will suck and that solar energy will come around. Also, I’m that guy who kicked the Guitar Center in the nuts a few months back, so there’s that. But nothing is especially authoritative about my platform on the music industry, so take it with a grain of salt.

I recently managed to get my kids into Star Wars, another successful 20th century thing that began to suck in the new millennium, so my thoughts on this matter shall be organized into a trilogy.

Episode IV: The music industry has a technology problem – but not the one you’re thinking

I have been writing about the effects of technology on the record business ever since music industry executives began suing terminal cancer patients and pre-teens over illegal downloads of MP3s. This ultra-interesting marketing technique was important to me on two levels: first, as a semi-professional musician who made income from live shows and recorded music, and second, as a strategic analyst who helped executives deal with the impact of disruptive changes in society, technology and the economy. I believed, as millions did, that the evolution of compression-and-decompression software was the worst thing ever to happen to the stability of the music industry. I was correct – but not for the right reason.

Two months ago I purchased a device that made me realize the real damage that computer technology wrought – and that it wasn’t just from the decimation of royalties and record shops.

imageThis is what I bought: an Origin Effects “Cali76” limiting amplifier. Only serious guitar nerds and record producers will know quite what this is: an effect for electric guitar and bass that is a clone of a very famous and expensive piece of rackmount studio electronics, the Urei 1176. A studio-quality limiting amp like the 1176 takes your sound, smoothes out the peaks, brings up the valleys, and makes everything that goes through it more punchy, warm, and vibrant for the low, low price of $2800.00. Its clone, the Cali’76, is $479 and fits on your pedalboard.

As soon as I plugged it in, I lost my mind. It reminded me instantly of playing in a proper studio through proper gear into a huge recording console and out mindblowingly-expensive monitors, and how fat your instrument can sound. And then it made me sad, because I realized how much the computer has dulled my sonic expectations over the years. This, I believe, is the root of our problem, and I suspect almost nobody even knows what I’m talking about.

If you are the average person, you probably do not know just how unfuckingbelievable music can sound. Forget your uncle’s “Hi-Fi” system – I mean the real stuff. I produced a record back in the late 1990s where we had a decent budget, and I had the honor of using real gear. Never mind ADAT or hard-disk – we were recording to two-inch tape, a medium so heavy you can practically see the drum beats sitting on it if you squint. We rented some vintage, professional-grade equipment from Nashville – compressors, mic preamps, and equalizers – the raw material for the music of the Gods. Hearing my very own instruments through this gear for the first time, I had a holy revelation, a moment of divine epiphany. I finally understood: When you acquired a CD, a cassette, or even a vinyl record, you were actually receiving a paltry copy of what the engineers were forging out of pure sonic bliss. The best sounding record you ever heard, even through somebody’s absurd $9,000 audiophile home stereo, was no better than disposable airplane headphones compared to what the mix engineers meant you to experience.

Giant Hi-Watt amp stacks recorded with a Royer R121 ribbon mic through an Avalon microphone preamp make an electric guitar sound like a gospel choir of chainsaws. A Fender P-bass with flatwound strings through a Teletronix LA-2A compressor produces a rhythmic low-end thud that becomes a beneficial part of your gastrointestinal tract; I believe it actually helps your digestion. A full drum kit recorded to that fat, two-inch tape sounds like Zeus and Thor punching each other out to see who gets to go home with Aphrodite. And on top of it all, the silk of a Neumann vocal microphone lets the melody sit luxuriously on the track with a sensuousness that makes you imagine what a cashmere bathrobe would feel like on naked skin.

The reason that synesthetic language is required to describe musical equipment of such quality is that these sounds carry much more than the notes themselves. When you listen to real gear, you feel how music can penetrate you and surround you; uplift you and drag you into the depths; cause you to quit your day job and do nothing but search for the muse on the business end of a Vox tube amp. A Hammond B-3 organ throbbing through rotary Leslie cabinets produces notes that simply contain more of the universe – more physics, more information, more communication, more emotion and more life – than a synthesizer version of that same thing. And when you compress all that down to the digital streams on the Internet that provide the bulk of musical experiences these days, you barely have any life left in it at all.

Why today’s music is like frozen Burmese horsemeat

For years, musicians have perseverated in the notion that all of music has been ruined by the Internet, and we have been only partially correct. There is no question, the Internet combined with the MP3 file format disrupted the distribution chain of the record business and dramatically altered the public’s perception of what music should be worth. But the compression of music from the recording console to the iPod did something more than reduce the per-unit revenue of recorded music. Now, this is a very technical term – and I don’t want to overwhelm you if you did not pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering from CalTech followed by an internship as a mix engineer with Jack Joseph Puig, Mike Pensado and Chris Lord-Alge – but the other thing this accomplished is that it made everything sound like shit.

The problem caused by making music infinitely piratable has been analyzed to death, and we seem no closer to understanding or mourning or moving past the loss of the music record industry that people claim to love and miss. So let us engage with a problem that has been only loosely discussed by sonic idealists such as Neil Young – there are implications to the majority of music consumed through media that guarantee that they sound like nothing more than a flat, uninteresting collection of notes.

Since so few people have experienced a Neve console, a Pultec equalizer or even a proper Marshall amp turned to 10, I want to compare the shift to something more accessible: food.

Imagine that one day, all at once, most of the world’s restaurants switched over to freeze-dried meat, most of it produced in factory-farm settings a continent away. And let us say that the world’s restaurants were mostly consolidated under a corporate conglomerate by rapacious private equity bankers. (It happened to guitar shops, so why not?) To save costs, RestaurantCo (a wholly-owned partnership sub-subsidiary of an LLP located, nominally but only technically, in the trunk of a car in the Cayman Islands) decides to fire all the people making sauce and outsource the production of all “restaurant fluids” to a single manufacturing plant in India where the old Union Carbide plant used to be. So now, the vast majority of restaurant food is microwaved, recently-unfrozen Burmese horse meat covered in a suspicious brown liquid of industrial origin.

People, inexplicably, stop going to restaurants as much.

Now, imagine the media response to this since, until very recently, going out to restaurants was very much a thing. Why, prominent newspapers hired reporters dedicated to nothing but restaurants. Television shows were made all about restaurateurs and fine dining and how closely linked restaurants are to luxurious travel. But all of the sudden, the public stops digging restaurants. They eat at home more often. They can order those same horsemeat sauce units directly to their homes via Amazon drone delivery, after all, and they begin doing so. The public does not riot over the matter, since nobody really needs great restaurants to survive.

The culture begins to move on. Anthony Bourdain produces his last, brilliant, embittered, beautifully-filmed episode from what he feels is the last decent restaurant in America, a hot dog cart in the parking lot of a stripmall in Passaic, New Jersey. He utters a last biting witticism, a quote from Dee Dee Ramone, and drowns himself in the dirty water at the end of the episode.

Meanwhile, in Williamsburg, the last Instagram is taken of the last plate served at the last gastropub. Tiny tears are shed in front of tablets and mobile phones. An empire is crumbling.

The public, it appears, seems not to mind the loss, suddenly more entranced by the resurgence of the game LaserTag, which is now an enjoyable way to exploit all of the empty big box retail space in the crumbling suburbs. The only things truly vibrant about the restaurant business are the articles written about the corporately-planned superstar “chefs” working for RestaurantCo, and the endless stream of lamentations for the sous-chefs and food trucks and genius single-dish establishments that we philistines have rejected in the larger culture. But the fact is, people do continue to eat at restaurants every year, and to the tune of billions of dollars. Numbers are down, still, but aren’t they everywhere? Somebody writes a piece blaming the whole thing on the Millennials.

So, to learn from this metaphor, we keep writing about Rhapsody and Spotify and YouTube and reimbursement rates, but what about the product itself? In addition to mangling the revenue stream to musicians, has the industry not also begun shipping quite a bit of Burmese horseburger ? We could veer off here into a huge analysis of why this is, starting with the conglomeration of media into a tiny number of risk averse corporations, each solely interested in supporting artists who will fit into existing marketing categories, full stop. This, no doubt, affects quality as well. After all, half the bands you loved from “the Golden Age,” would simply never reach the public’s ears in today’s regime, having long since been ditched after not producing a hit during the first nine minutes of their first recording deal.

There is no way today’s executives would put up with three mediocre records in order to a get an artist like Bob Dylan to a point where he can produce The Times They Are a Changin’. You think they would allow a modern-day Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye to fritter away time making records that are too polite, as both did, before arriving at their legendary, soulful destination? Not with the way the industry works today, pal. They would need to come to the table with two million digital fans already built up or go back to Mom’s basement. Did you spend more time learning about music than you did digital marketing schemes? That ain’t our problem.

So, if nobody minds, I shall skip over the obligatory “but bands suck today, not like back in 1968, yay I’m a Baby Boomer” argument – however accurate – and deal with with what my Cali’76 reminded me: that most music today sounds like dry garbage, so it’s little wonder that it doesn’t inspire people. Fake digital instruments are cheaply recorded and compressed to the point of of lifelessness. Drums have been reduced from that fistfight between deities to the sound of a deck of cards being shuffled. Guitars have become nothing more than a flat, brown midrange tone that slouches across your headphones. The sparkle and life of vocals, horns, and pianos have been sucked out of existence, leaving only a tinny top end; who’ll know the difference?

And the bass! As God as my witness, can you even hear the bass? Not that flatulent, ear-battering percussive mess of schlubstep or EDSM or whatever: a real upright or electric or tuba: can you hear it in the mix of an MP3? No, in the name of all that is holy, you cannot.

This is not some minor problem if we are looking to heal music in our culture.

Episode V: The 1% versus the 99%

Given Occupy Wall Street’s popularization of the above title, you might think that I intend to blame part of music’s demise on wealth and income inequality. After all, try to imagine making it as a musician in present-day New York, one of the historically-great cities for the arts. How can music survive in a place where musicians can no longer afford to live, and non-corporate venues can barely afford to keep the doors open? What chance is there that jazz or punk could germinate with today’s kind of structural economic environment? These are serious questions. Yet for this second major problem in music, I am only borrowing the proportion from OWS, not the subject matter.

Yes, I have a different observation: for every 99 musicians caterwauling about how the music industry is terrible and no good and squashed their dreams, there is only one attempting to produce, maintain and innovate professional music as a product and service anywhere near the standards set by prior generations.

What follows is a spanking aimed at the musicians out there, and it has been a long time coming. The rest of you may listen in, if you would like.

MUSICIANS: isn’t it convenient how much of the blame about “who ruined music” revolves around everybody but musicians? In narrative after narrative, those poor, deserving, expert musicians are robbed of their rightful livelihoods by those mean record executives, ignorant consumers, and inhumane, soulless tech companies – with nary a word about musicians and their performance as a supposed “profession.” It is probably no coincidence that a paucity of criticism about musicians is linked to the second major problem: a deluge of mediocre amateurs masquerading as artistes.

First, let us get some historical perspective around the very notion of being a musician as a profession. It is pretty much a freak occurrence of the 20th century. Quiz time – which of the following professions is also a last name that has existed for centuries:

  • Baker
  • Carpenter
  • Musician
  • Porter

Wow, it’s everything but musician, isn’t it? And the world still has bakers and carpenters, with nary an article written about threats to their profession. Guess what: the economy has not traditionally supported musicianship as a trade unto itself. It is actually weird that people make a living doing nothing but playing songs, much less becoming wealthy as a result. This historical reality has done little to deter musicians from pursuing a dual set of irritating behaviors: expecting that the world will always require well-paid professional musicians, and then failing to act like professionals.

To read the weeping and gnashing about the cruelty toward those poor, deserving musicians is getting unbearable in the face of what I see all over: slovenly, self-involved amateurs with none of the drive to act like the members of the profession they whine about so often.

I have seen one too many jazz snob angry that nobody is booking his dull, mediocre quartet where the musicians show up and pantomime the music of past generations while gritting their teeth through the “difficulty” of it all, making sure to dress like house painters and grimace like coal miners.

I’ve seen one too many bar band that can’t bother to play at a reasonable volume, nor make a set list, nor take requests, nor act entertaining, nor remain sober such that I really worry about their fate as supposed professionals.

And I am especially unsympathetic toward all those poor “original” acts which are supposedly being neglected. You know what I mean – those tired guitar-bass-drums-whining quartets where nobody on stage has the slightest clue how to play their instruments, and their entire repertoire of reproducible music is limited to that 42 minutes of unedited pablum. I am supposed to indict the entire structure of the industry because these youngsters will be denied their destiny as the next Led Zeppelin, despite not a single one of them being at the musical level of John Bonham, Jimmy Page or John Paul Jones, all of whom were highly-competent studio musicians for years before embarking on original material.

What is the proportion of those kinds of slouching, entitled amateurs versus those who exhibit skills of serious dedication, such as:

  • The ability to play their instruments well, with tone, pitch, precision, and for improvisers, vocabulary
  • The ability to sight read music in a variety of clefs
  • High-quality, well-maintained equipment (including transportation)
  • Knowledge of material from a variety of genres
  • Capacity to produce entertainment in a variety of settings
  • Appropriate attire for the given show
  • Showmanship and stagecraft equal to other types of arts and entertainment

Would you still say that my 99 to 1 proportion of complainers to true professionals is fair given this list?

And do you think that this list is too demanding? Let me reframe the question: what would you think of a doctor, a licensed state professional, who operated out of his living room, wore his street clothes and only really specialized in rashes, but I guess could do colds and flus – broken arms if you’re really desperate? Would you be excited to read about that guy not making ends meet?

Man, I am being harsh to all those musicians out there, right? Well, you said you wanted to be a profession, a trade, a real job. That’s what it takes to be a stonemason, a dentist, an architect or an engineer: devotion to a set of skills and a willingness to hold yourself to extremely high standards. If you’re not willing to live up to that, and many wanna-be musicians are not, then stop filling your Facebook page with self-pity and righteous indignation and go get a real career. Trades can be spiritually and economically rewarding things, and if you’re not willing to make one out of music, then move on. It’s true: the music business is getting harder, and even if you do everything right, as many are, you may have trouble making a living compared with past decades.

This could be because the world is deciding that music just isn’t that important at this very moment, and we need to deal with that.

Episode VI: Pop music is dying – and that’s OK

Most of the hang-wringing around music is based on an unexamined assumption, one that says society needs the same level of money and attention spent around music forever. You can be forgiven for falling into this intellectual trap; our entire economy is based on this mathematically-impossible and culturally-unsustainable fallacy. For heaven’s sake, we actually built the structure of retirement funds on this nonsense, so I guess you can be forgiven for thinking that it could be applied to bar bands, too. (Side note: the eventual crisis from pension funds and private equity parasites will be much worse than the bar band crisis and maybe even worse than the housing crisis. You read it here first.)

Speaking of old age and retirement, my wife is an internal medicine physician whose interests are in gerontology and palliative medicine – the science of getting old and dying well. Palliative medicine is used in something called Hospice, a phase of medical care that is more concerned with the the quality of a person’s life than its length. You would think that all medicine is concerned with quality of the patient’s life, but the reality is somewhat different. As I have learned in discussions around my dinner table, there is a huge tacit philosophical framework in the rest of Western (and particularly American) medicine that dying is the worst thing ever, and we must do whatever we can at whatever cost to stop it. A cursory glance at our medical spending patterns will correlate with this desire.

There could be an infinite number of cultural reasons for this, but the one I ascribe to it is that our mindsets are linear and not cyclical. We want growth every year, forever. Nothing should come and go, ebb and flow, despite the fact that this is the basis of every other phenomenon in nature. Thus, we modern industrial Westerners suffer mightily when the tide goes out to sea, as inevitably it must. We wail and gnash our teeth and generally think like people about to be orphaned by the universe. This behavior can be seen in a great many aspects of our culture, and I believe that it is present in our thinking about music. Because pop music as a cultural force is surely waning, and that is something better understood, in my view, than forcefully resisted.

The end of an era: signposts

I play music in public, usually at nightclubs and private parties, though also at festivals and larger venues. In the vast majority of American locales, from what I see, it looks like music is already dead. The notion of music as an important, essential, exciting part of culture appears, to my eyes, to be part of gauzy memories of the past rather than how people behave today.

I see it at my own gigs, and at friends’ – everything but arena shows. Musicians are producing live art in front of people who are either staring at the venue’s ubiquitous forty-three TV screens to mindlessly track some far-off routine sporting event, or staring at the Facebook app on their phones to keep track of their high school classmates’ carefully-manicured “life” updates. Live music – this supposedly essential cultural experience – is happening right near them and you can tell that it’s just not that big a deal. You see, music, live or not, is just one of a great number or entertainments available to the average consumer. The fact that music is live, produced by real humans, is merely a detail.

Talk with brides planning their Big Day. This is supposed to be a windfall for musicians – three or four times the rate of the average gig in exchange for nine hours of logistics and managing the touchiest, most insanely demanding clients on Earth. Yet my professional musician friends report that opting for a DJ is increasingly popular, as it affords a high degree of control over the “content” and no discernible loss in entertainment value.

Live musicians, you see, are not all that important.

And it’s not that people don’t spend billions on music; they do. It’s just that they spend the vast majority of it on spectacles produced by artists who peaked decades ago. Look at the top tours and top record sales and consider if musical exploration really is that important. The music industry, in terms of money spent, is mostly about funding a last-minute spasm of nostalgia before the whole party is over.

Let this sink in.

Go and play another bar gig, with a band of whatever quality. Watch the crowd light up when the jukebox comes back on.

Go compare the attendance at the concerts for a tribute act with the attendance at the last concert of your best local band.

It’s over.

This idea of pop music being a big deal in a cultural sense is untrue. It is dying, on the way out.

That’s OK.

The industry will take whatever size and shape that it takes, appropriate to the reality of what people really care about: social networks, “franchises” and nostalgia acts.

That, too, is OK. Mourn it if you will, go through your Kubler-Ross steps if you must, but accept it.

Pop music had an incredible run of several decades – a historic explosion of creativity in an industrial, mass media age coming to fruition. New technologies arrived constantly to enable the production of new sounds and amazing ways to record them, and artists stepped forward into that fertile environment to change music. They may still do so, but likely not with nearly the frequency and impact as in recent decades.

And that is OK.

We may have something bigger on our plates. We have been rewiring most of the institutions of society during the past couple decades. We now live between two democracies and two economies, still shackled by the last and not quite to the next. The development of technologies such as social networks have been necessary to their evolution, but the 20th century music industry is less possible as a result.

Is that the worst thing ever to happen to society?

We have work to do. Music may not be the most important part of that work.

Do not misunderstand me – I love music. I’m still going to be buying pedals and looking for tonal purity and sonic heaven, like an obsessive. I’m still pulling for local bands, and for breakout stars. You can too. And you can still be a musician, provided that you face the realities I have laid out, which will make it difficult to support yourself and a family as the player of songs.

The modern music business, which so many of us came to love, is gone. Love it for what it was. Sing a great requiem for it. Wish it well on its path of transformation. It is time for us all to move toward acceptance, and to discover what is next – for ourselves and for music.

>>>

P.S. To all commenters: I am not married to this analysis. I even hope it’s wrong. But we must move past grieving to take a leadership position in our own art. If you have a more empowering narrative than mine – let’s here it. I’ll gladly let you guest post.

  • Not to niggle here, but the names “Harper” and “Piper” have been around for quite a while. But those guys were usually blind and tied to a court, or wandering the countryside busking for coins. Either way a tough gig.

    • somyakomya

      Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the>>CLICK NEXT TAB FOR MORE INFO AND HELP

    • Harper! Dammit, you found the example! I was wondering if there was one. Haven’t met too many people named Piper, though.

  • Jmaharry

    As a drummer and audiophile I clicked through to this right away. But the unremmitting, coruscating bitterness of your piece wore me out after the first 2,000 words or so. Gave up after the Bourdain/hot dog thought experiment. Surprising, as I tend to like the substance and style of your writing.

    • Interesting that a piece on other people’s bitterness is seen as too bitter – plenty of irony there. But I love the use of the word “coruscating” in this context. I may steal it.

      And thanks for reading.

  • EarlySong

    Thank you. This is probably the most complete, assessment of the music industry I have ever read. As a metalhead i get to hear a lot of people lamenting the old days, but as a young person I really don’t know what music sounded like before the birth of autotune and the mp3 format. I especially appreciated your instructions to aspiring musicians, because I have heard many a local band with no talent or work ethic complain about not making it big. I think this decade will be remembered by music historians for new online musical platforms, technologies, and communities not the actual music.

    • I have attended two metal concerts in recent years: Judas Priest and Iron Maiden with Megadeth. With all three, the musicians were great. But something really disturbed me – there were no guitar or bass amps on stage. For better control onstage, the players worked with in-ear monitors and used digital processors, probably Axe-FX IIs, unless I’m dreaming. (They are the best in terms of fidelity, truly excellent.)

      But it all unnerved me, and fed this article. Because I wasn’t hearing an event – a roaring metal band supported by a PA system. I was hearing the computer’s representation of what the guitarists and bassists were playing, which was spread equally in all directions. Now, the sound engineers didn’t have to deal with feedback, and neither did the audience…but something was just weird about it.

      Have you ever played a guitar in front of a Marshall stack and had it blow your pantlegs around? It’s a serious physical experience. Is it that important? Hmm…I think so.

      • John Guy

        Congratulations on the great article Eric, there’s a lot to agree with in there and it’s hitting so many of the points I’ve been making to friends.

        Just to put your mind at ease about your Metal concert experience, in the case of Iron Maiden they are still playing with real Amplifiers and Cabs all Marshall heads and 4x12s from the last features I saw. The 3 guitarists have their backline speakers behind the set cloths at the back of the stage just where the stacks used to be so they can hear/feel them if needed (and Adrian Smith is extremely picky about where his sound is coming from, but then again he is one of your consumate professional musicians). The reality is that for Arena and Stadium shows the PA does all the heavy lifting so the backline only really needs one or two 4x12s depending on Sterio/Wet&Dry setups etc. the rest of the backline has usually been for show (or The Show). I’m pretty sure it will be the same story for Judas Priest, Megadeth and any number of old school metal bands.

        But like you say there is a move to the fully modeled digital units like those from AxeFX, mainly in some of the more modern Metal genres, a heck of a lot of this is due to convenience and low budget travel requirements for these bands. I hear from my guitar friends that these are almost as good as real tube amps and no-one in the audience will really ever notice or care – which echoes themes in the whole of your article.

        Anyway, thanks again for a great article. I’ll personally be sad to see the passing of quality music into history but then again I’m a dinosaur with a proper hi-fi and a love of guitar driven classic rock and metal.

  • Gord Yamazaki

    I enjoyed this thought provoking piece, but I think that the first episode is overstating the importance of fidelity. I grew up in the 1980s listening to dubbed cassette tapes through lo-fi car stereos, boom-boxes, etc, as did many. I recall older folks then lamenting about the poor quality of these cassettes, yet us X-Gens bought a LOT of music despite this reality. We forged our identities with the music we listened to. I don’t disagree that MP3s also sound poor, but so much worse as to drive a downturn in music enjoyment? I think there is more at play. Your final episode regarding culture change is probably more to the point. Many kids that I know today actually like their parents music. We hated our parents music and actively sought out new music to define our generation via heavy metal, or the college-rock scene, rap, grunge, etc. That is what I don’t see happening now and I don’t think its due to loss of fidelity or poor musicianship. The need to create distance from the previous generation(s) seems to be waning and thus new music is not necessary and loses out to other forms of entertainment as you do point out.

    What I really take from this is that I need to get my hands on a Cali76. I’ve never seen a pedal illicit such a response before.

    • Hey Gord, thanks for your thoughtful response.

      You make a good counterpoint to the fidelity argument. Were I to moderate my thesis, it would be to say that this last bit of fidelity loss may be the tipping point in the commoditization of music, the last straw. It’s hard to say.

      Check out a woman named Cookie Marenco, an audio engineer and record producer who is bucking the trend by producing master tape-quality digital downloads – for $5 a track. All analog studio. $50 for a whole album. And their sales figures are climbing for people who are dying for music that is treated as special, and sounds it.

    • P.S. Yeah dude, you need to check this compressor, it’s no joke.

  • gislebertus

    The cream always rises to the top:

    They’re making decent $$ on Patreon, I believe. And sold out a bunch of tour dates.

    • I’m glad for their success. I do not believe, however, that their anecdotal experience contradicts the larger trend of billions of dollars of losses in the industry and a vast contraction of the number of routes to such success. A cursory look at available statistics will support this thesis.

      • As a music producer for the last 30 years, I have watched this industry go through many changes but the amateur live (and studio) musicians are hurting music and making consumers wary.

        But a live musician who can touch someone is the hope. It is the Entertainment industry and in any industry, the more people you touch the greater the reward.

  • pepperbox

    Music just kept being put higher and higher up on a pedestal, thanks to the “star-maker machinery”. Even cynical oldsters like Bob Lefsetz perpetuate this mythology. There have always been people pulsing to the beat in a shared, or stellar, standout way that tweaks our humanity. It’s not some special divine right of the talented. It belongs to everyone. The sooner we get music back down to size & stop making weird celebrity freaks out of people with brains that work that way, the sooner we’ll all get back to doing it. And oddly, the profession of making music for a living will still go on.

    • This is my favorite analysis of the future thus far – hands down. And it’s this is about the music “business”: because to stop me from making music, you’ll have to kill me, and to stop humans from making music, you’d have to end humanity. It’s how we play with sacred physics, and long shall we play.

  • TCWriter

    “Hey you drummers, get offa my lawn!”

    Seriously, if you subbed “writer” into most of the second half of your article, you’d also be correct (again). There is a sense that Interweb’s ability to connect has somehow obviated the need for all the hard work and commitment.

    Or the need to leave the house.

    Though
    Still, I have to question the fidelity argument. I fell in love with Quadrophenia after playing it through the scratchy speakers of my rusting, 1964 Ford Falcon (yes, a chick magnet in any era). Years later I realized I was missing about half the show, but I still loved it.

  • rudi43

    Eric, you need to go to a Jack White concert. It’ll make you feel better. 🙂 Concerts are the best way to listen to music.

  • Charlie Reitzel

    Eric,

    Ack, what bunch of twaddle! As many have stated
    already, fidelity arguments are irrellevant. My well trained ears
    cannot discern any increase in quality after 192 kbps MP3 (higher bit
    rates only take up more space). Most CDs actually sound better than the
    LP. Occasionally, a well mastered LP really does
    sound much better. And, for crying out loud, the sound in the studio
    is better than your uncle’s $9000 stereo. But not _that_ much better.
    Besides, all of that is cork sniffing. If the tunes kick it, it just
    doesn’t matter. Yo, Quadrophenia!

    But, much worse, who ever gave a damn about the music business!?!?! If
    you want to convince yourself how little has changed since Frank
    Sinatra was young, watch the The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” again.
    This time pay special attention to George’s scene at the advertising
    agency (of course, it’s on You Tube here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QREeweMWTZk). Everyone knows the
    “business” has always been about giving the masses the dross they want.
    Be it Katy Perry, Jay Z, or Pat Boone. Once in a while real talent
    bursts through the filters. Sometimes, you just can’t keep a good
    artist down. Just curious, did you ever hear of a musical movement called Punk?

    Pepperbox has it right. Our culture is really starting to point
    in a different direction. With less pathological demand for putting
    performers on pedestals. I guess we agree on that. It shares much of the ethos of Punk Rock, but without all the screaming and yelling. And, often, a really high level of songwriting and performance.

    But I take issue with your jukebox example. I live near Cambridge, MA,
    which is home to a vibrant live music scene of some decades now. On any
    given night, I can go see any number of superbly talented musicians put the jukebox to shame. And the crowd has come to expect, even demand this high level of musicianship, songwriting and, o I dunno, character.

    Yes, there is a certain packaged sound coming out of festivals and raves
    these days. But every era has it’s sound and it’s also rans (god, how
    many bands sounded like the Byrds in 1969, how many like Zeppelin in
    1979). That doesn’t mean there isn’t a wealth of creativity going on.
    If anything, my problem is the opposite. I can’t begin to absorb it
    all. There’s too much going on. This is a good thing. After the Jack
    White show, go check out the Punch Brothers. 🙂

    Peace,

    Charlie

  • Kumbaya

    I disagree with the part about fidelity. It has NEVER mattered to most listeners in the era of recorded music. Go back to the vaunted rock era, and what were most people using to listen to music? AM car radios. Small transistor radios with one piece earphones or a single tiny speaker. Mono record players. Single speaker cassette decks. Later people used the Walkman, the godfather to the iPod and watched music videos on MTV on small TV’s. Fidelity has never mattered to the masses, so your argument there is really a non-starter.

    As for culture, pop music has always been disposable, and that fits right in with our “consumer” oriented society, where gadgets are bought this year, tossed out next year, and a new set of junk bought. Music is viewed by people in that way. This years model, this years Bieber was once Fabien, Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, and on and on. Posters on the wall, forgotten in a few years.