Quality vs piracy
There have been three major impacts in the late 1990s that are important to our analysis:
- In the 1990s music quality had dropped to about 10%, when compared to the original quality peak in the 1960s.
- By the end of the 1990s, most people had replaced their vinyl collections by CDs, which ended the CD boom.
- In the mid 1990s, the internet came up.
It would be just normal to blame points 1 and 2 for the problems of the industry, while seeing an enormous potential in point 3. Point 1 is even the most important problem, as people are usually not willing to spend a lot of money on a bad product. But the music industry thinks differently.
The music industry is the only industry on this entire planet that considers both
- product quality and innovation to be completely irrelevant, and
- the internet being some purely evil product out of hell.
The fact that the industry is in denial and refuses to face reality leaves them with no valid strategy, leading to a complete sell-out which is now culminating in low budget music rental models, aka “streaming”.
People won’t spend money on today’s bad music anymore, but instead of increasing the quality of their product, the music industry is just lowering the prices. That’s a downward spiral of course, and it will ultimately lead to the death of music as we knew and loved it.
Of course the major record companies will probably make a lot of money with streaming in future, but artists will only get a very small percentage of that money. At the same time this new stream of income will allow record companies to get rid of the very few remaining great artists. As said before, we’ll analyze those problems in detail in the second half of this manual.
What Spotify pays me is not even enough to pay the musicians playing with me or the people working on the discs. It’s not working. Something is going to have to give.
Recent studies tell us that people listen a lot to music nowadays, probably more than ever before. Music is just everywhere, so this can’t be the problem – everyone wants music, and this already tells us that the music industry must probably be one of the luckiest industries on the planet. Everyone basically needs this industry’s product. This is an incredible fact if you think about it. This should be the most successful industry of all – but it isn’t. So that’s wrong with it?
Problem #1: Music quality
The first big mistake was to allow the quality of music to constantly drop over a longer period of time. You can’t just produce huge piles of shit and then whine about the fact that one day people start refusing to buy your low end product.
In the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, the music industry produced insanely great hits almost on a weekly basis. And there was at least one insanely great album coming out every month.
Those were hit songs that even today everyone still knows, and people will probably still remember them 50 years from now. People still buy those records nowadays by the way. Those decades were extremely productive and creative. Check out the database on jamplifier.com and make sure to read chapter 3, as the number of great records produced back in the Golden Age is just completely insane. The 1980s may have produced less classics, but it was a very productive and experimental decade nevertheless. Music started to diversify (new genres like punk or heavy metal and their subcultures became highly popular), lots of new technologies were used (synthesizers and SSL consoles for example), everything became a lot more colorful and videos became popular. Even nowadays the music industry is still making a huge amount of money with artists who rose to fame in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, as well as with their entire back catalog. In the 1990s, mainstream music quality started dropping considerably, while quality in some younger niches (like heavy metal or hip hop for example) still improved. I’ll further analyze the causes of the decline of music quality later on, and you’ll get a lot of tips on how to create better stuff. The only thing you really need to understand right now is that you should consider the positive side effects:
With today’s crap, it will be much easier for you to stand out of the masses and to create something innovative and revolutionary that people might actually appreciate.
You probably wouldn’t have had a chance in the 1960s or 70s to become successful on your own, as you would have had to compete with artists such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Queen, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, or James Brown for example. Keeping up with those artists would have been impossible. But if you take a look at today’s entertainers, then it should almost be easy to make much better music than all of the stuff that you can find in current charts. I could write an entire book about the mistakes the music industry is making of course, but for now it will be enough to focus on the major mistakes here that will explain the decline of music quality:
- The major labels don’t invest in lasting artist careers anymore. They’re looking for quick success, and the days when real artists were allowed so slowly improve are definitely over. Talent shows are part of the problem, offering quick money that can be made with some puppets the industry will be able to dump soon after.
- Music is now completely focused on vocals and looks. Today’s music lacks focus on sound and groove. It’s the music business, not the modeling business after all. Talent shows are part of the problem again.
- The industry is focusing on kids and retards. For about 40 years (from the mid 1950s to the mid 1990s), the music industry had been focusing on teenagers and young adults (we’re talking of 15 to 24 year olds, plus maybe the older ones that are still young in their minds). For some obscure reason, the industry decided to shift their primary focus towards kids (10-15 years) in the late 90s, and this became worse ever since.
- People buy singles instead of albums. They buy singles because nowadays most albums either only consist of one hit plus tons of fillers, or they are collections of songs that are all meant to top the charts – I’m talking about David-Guetta-style albums for example, containing mostly songs that are being played on the radio every day so that it just doesn’t make sense to buy the album anyway.
When it comes to the video channels and the programs, the radio stations, the music is geared towards kids, and it’s made by kids.
Of course there are exceptions, but the problems mentioned above reflect the overall trouble of the industry. And you’ll also notice that these four problems are somewhat connected, you could even say that they’re just four different views on one big underlying problem after all.
If the music industry wants to survive, then my advice would be to start offering better music again. Sell something people could actually buy.
Something that will be okay for those who are more than 13 years old. Something that would also appeal to intelligent and educated people who are more than 18 years old. I won’t give more details at this point now, as you’ll learn more about all of this very soon. I’ll just offer one big important advice now: Even if today’s music is really bad and even if you think the charts are just full of crap, then it doesn’t make sense to whine about it. It’s simply a fact, and complaining won’t help.
It’s all up to you – you’re the artist, make it better!
Problem #2: Blaming piracy
Everyone has learned how to monetize music except the music industry.
–Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy)
The second major mistake the big record companies made was to ignore the internet. People wanted to download music because it’s a fast and easy way to get music, but the industry refused to offer viable online business models.
It was the music industry what forced people into online piracy.
They were not capable of solving the problem, and they finally had to be saved by a computer company, namely Apple. If an industry refuses to innovate, then other industries will take over the business. That’s nothing special, and this happens in other industries all of the time. Piracy became a bad habit for a while (and maybe even some kind of a problem for the industry), but as soon as legal ways to purchase downloadable music appeared (think of iTunes in the 2000s), people started using them.
People have no problem with spending money on music, as long as the music quality is okay and if purchasing it is easy and straightforward.
And people would like to honor the music and the artists they like. The music industry keeps telling us that we’re all thieves and criminals, but that’s just not true.
You also shouldn’t ignore that piracy existed since the recordable music cassette became a popular in the late 1960s.
Even in the 1980s, many kids and even adults owned more copied tapes than legally purchased LPs or MCs. They copied music from LPs and other MCs, and they recorded songs from the radio and sometimes even from TV. Remember those dual MC decks and their high speed copy modes? Why do you think those decks were so popular at the time? Most of the kids I knew owned more copied MCs than legally purchased LPs, and so did I. In the 1980s, the British Phonographic Industry even launched the Home Taping Is Killing Music campaign, as the BPI feared that the ability of private people to record music from the radio onto cassettes would cause a decline in record sales. It’s the same bullshit than today’s whining about internet piracy. Piracy has always been there, it has never been a problem, and it may even have helped the industry in a certain way, as copying music may also help musicians to become known and thus to become more popular.
Piracy only became a problem when the music industry left it as the only choice to get music in a fashionable way.