What would happen if the record industry went ka-put?

I can’t believe I’m posting in GD

So let’s say the RIAA is right about home taping killing the music industry. Did I say home taping? I meant P2P networks.(1)

I think it would be a good thing for music. Sure, Britney Spears might be out of a job. However, no matter what, there will be people who love to play music, and will continue to do so despite not being able to score the Big Contract. These people would still be able to make money by playing live gigs, and selling homemade tapes or CDs. If one of these bands turn out to be really good, the local radio stations would probably start spinning their tracks to entice people to start listening to their station and therefore hear their ads.

Word spreads pretty quickly these days, so it’s likely that this hypothetical band could get enough gigs and sell enough homemade CD’s to have a run of real, nice-looking CDs made at one of the pressing plants left over from the Great Music Industry Crash. The remaining music stores have by now heard of this band, and are willing to snap up some copies of the CD.

End results?

  1. We don’t get what some suit thinks is “good music” flooding our music stores.
  2. Less music from people whose primary talent is being good-looking.

(1)I was shopping for music at a rescue mission once, and I came across a record with an inner sleeve that said “HOME TAPING IS KILLING THE MUSIC BUSINESS”.

This also would mean that all bands would need their own management to structure their deals, work with distributors, set prices at stores, book shows, organize events, handle booking, etc etc etc… eventually two or more bands would join together in a distribution/touring deal (much like “indie” titles like Kill Rock Stars or even Matador do)… and you end up back near square one. The sad fact about anarchy is that it rarely lasts long before people re-organize their forces.

I don’t think most bands have what it takes to make it on their own. I mean, sure, you would have some ultra-dedicated bands squeaking by on their sales and gigs, and it would certainly be a better scene for the indie/punk folk, but it would be a disaster for 98% of bands. Most of them barely survive until they get picked up by a label, anyway.

Then you have to consider other genres, and things such as musicals, soundtracks, etc. I’m afraid that we are quite stuck with them.

And after a few hundred copies are sold, they will be taken home, copied on people’s home cd-burners and passed around to their friends, then shared on the internet, until millions of people have the CD for free, and the band doesn’t make a thin dime. Yes, that sounds wonderful.:rolleyes:

I don’t like the no-talents like Madonna, Brittney, or whatever flavor-of-the-month comes along any better than you do, but the simple fact is that these people wouldn’t be famous if people didn’t like their music. So the only ones to blame are an unsophisticated public.

You don’t think Brittney deserves to make money? OK, maybe she doesn’t. But what you’re forgetting is that the bands that you think are good deserve a chance, and in your dog-eat-dog, “let them do live gigs or starve” world, the underdog ain’t gonna have a snowball’s chance in hell of EVER making it. So the most likely thing that’s gonna happen is that the band will fold.

I am a musician for a living, and let me tell you that it’s a shitty business to be in. It really doesn’t need to be shittier. I just don’t get the whole mentality that musicians don’t deserve to eat.

I don’t buy that one. Spears didn’t get to be a star by having people like her music. She got to be a star by having breast implants at 16 and playing to latent pedophilia in her music videos. And the only reason that even worked is that the record industry decided that’s what we’d like, so they put her all over TV and radio. This advertising, in turn, drove sales. It’s the exact opposite effect.

So, while people like you are sensible and buy music because they like the songs, people who like sorts of music that you don’t are idiots who have a Pavlovian response to advertising? I’m not a Britney fan, but you’ve got a major chip on your shoulder. How hard is it to accept that people might like teen pop? It’s catchy, fun and you can dance to it. Yeah, the advertising and clever videos mean that Britney sells more than say Jessica Simpson (pre Newlyweds Jessica Simpson, anyway) or Mandy Moore, but are you honestly telling me that if the Liars or Aphex Twin had the advertising budget Britney had, all those Britney fans would start buying “good” music? Or hey, even explain to me why the unwashed masses are morons and only you can see through the hype?

As for the OP - how’s this for a business model: growth of internet services like iTunes etc mean artists don’t need record co.s to distribute for them. Say I’m a musician, and I arrange for my music to be sold through iTunes, Napster, etc.

Then, what I’d do is look for a company that would act as a cross between a mangement agency and a record company. They’d give you an advance, promote you, book your shows, etc.

This sort of arrangement could see artists having a lot more control, and would force the record companies to adapt or drop out of the picture. But would it work?

Yes, but not my point. Videos and “fame” came first, album sales afterwards.

Let’s take another hideous example, the Spice Girls. They didn’t rise up by having people go out and buy their albums, leading to the record industry taking notice. A producer held auditions to form a band, selected them based on their bust size and ability to lip synch, and then slathered them all over the media. Then, AFTER they had become “famous,” their album sales began. The fame was entirely artificial, it was a big sham to move product. The causitive process is the exact opposite of what was described earlier.

But you’re saying what exactly, that people won’t buy worthless schlock because of advertising? :dubious:

I’ve got news for you laigle, horny guys don’t buy Britney’s CDs. Britney is a star because she sells millions to pre-pubescent and early teen-age girls who want to grow up to be Britney. Horny guys salivating over her is just a side effect.

You’ve been listening to your favorite band’s hype for too long. The only reason to get in a vehicle and play show after show, night after night, is to MAKE MONEY.

The ones who play solely for the sake of the music are the ones who never leave their bedroom, or play their local bar for years without ever making a CD or going on tour. They are few and far between.

Once the homemade recordings are sold (provided someone at the studio didn’t leak digital copies already), someone creates an MP3 and shares it. Eventually the people in the next town already have all the songs, assuming the band is that good, and don’t bother buying the CD. The CDs are given away for free to the radio station in a desparate hope to get some airplay and attendance at the gig. The radio station, which has switche dover to a “Top 400 Classic Rock”, has plenty of beloved music to play, and doesn’t need to risk turning ears away with something unfamiliar.

MP3s are spreading pretty quickly too. It’s far MORE likely that at the end of the show, when not one single person has bought a CD, the band realizes that they just busted their humps for two hours entertaining thieves who stole recordings from them, and they will drive all night to entertain a similar group of thieves in another town tomorrow. How much incentive is there to put up money to record your really nice CD, since no radio will play them, and whatever record stores might be left know that they band’s fans all stole the music, so there’s no one to sell to. They refuse to give up shelf space that could be used for CDs of music loved by aging Baby Boomers who never learned how to download music.

End results?

Once the bootleggers get a set of high quality live MP3 recording of the band, people get that and save themselves the ticket price. The band quickly tires of playing shows for only bootleggers and hangs it up. Once the Baby Boomers die, the record store goes out of business, and the radio station switches to “All conservative talk” format to keep up ad sales.

Home taping did kill music, just by a more circuitous route. Courts ruled that the RIAA was being unnecessarily alarmist about home taping, as the lower quality and shorter life of tapes meant it did not hurt sales much. A similar argument was put forth for early, low quality MPEG formats, so that by the time the MP3 came along, the infrastructure of free music exchange was already in place and the horse was out of the barn.

The big record companies are the walking dead. All of the legal shenanigans we’re seeing today are the death throes. They may manage to litigate their survival for some time yet, but the ultimate issue facing the record labels is their own irrelevance.

Think about what record companies provide, and what they take in return. Back in the old days, record companies provided a valuable service. The average musician couldn’t afford a single hour in a recording studio. They cost millions, and had huge amounts of complex, cantankerous equipment that required numerous expensive recording engineers, technicians, and producers to operate. Recording Studio time ran in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per hour.

Producing the music that was created involved making master tapes, then taking those tapes to a multi-million dollar production facility that burned master vinyl and pumped out the pressed albums. In the meantime, professional artists were required to do the extensive album art required.

When the CD revolution started, CD pressing facilities were hideously expensive. For the first few years, there were only a handful of them in the entire world. If you needed a CD pressed, you had to have access to one of these facilities. The record companies had that access.

Then there was distribution. The only way to get the music out was to press 45’s and get them played on radio. And record companies through intermediaries (and payola) had access to radio distribution.

And albums had to be produced in large numbers to cover anticipated demand. If the demand wasn’t there, those albums would wind up in remainder bins for 99 cents, at a big loss to the company.

Then there was touring support. Sending bands on the road was very expensive, and the money for that would be fronted to the band by the record company. Advertising a tour meant mass media penetration, which was very expensive.

For all of these services, the record industry was handsomely rewarded. The artists themselves, not so much. Unlike the book industry, where artists retain the copyright to their own work, musicians often signed their rights away as works for hire. Unlike the movie industry today (and more like the old ‘contract’ system of the 40’s and 50’s), artists were signed to long-term exclusive contracts to record companies, giving the label a monopoly on that artist’s work. This made sense back in the day when the record companies saw an artist as a major, multi-album investment that would cost them millions and might take several albums before a profitable ‘breakthrough’.

Now fast forward to today.

Studio time? You can now build a home studio for $10,000 that will outperform the old multi-million-dollar studios.

Production? There are local production houses that will stamp out as many CD’s as you want for pennies per copy. Or, you can burn your own.

Distribution? You can put your music on the internet at almost zero cost, and have instant access to more fans than the record labels could ever reach.

Radio? Well, the labels have lost their monopoly there too, or are in the process of losing it. Internet radio, Satellite radio, low-power FM, and internet file sharing all threaten to take the distribution model away from the record companies.

And record labels are still holding artists to long contracts, but they are no longer willing to invest in the artist’s development. The Grateful Dead went 20 years before having a top ten hit (“A Touch of Grey”). But the record company supported them and allowed them to build a fan base. Wilco turned in one album their label didn’t like (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”), and they were dropped like a hot rock. Mariah Carey was given a 28 million dollar multi-record contract, and when one album flopped, the record company bought her out and turned her loose.

This lack of commitment has created a new model for record companies - the production of packaged singers tied to the label. Thus you get artists like Avril Levigne, Britney, etc. Talented singers who are given an ‘image’, who are listed as ‘co-writers’ on their songs but are really just sat in a room with professional studio songwriters who do most of the creating, etc. This is a throwback to the old studio days when artists like Fabian were created to suppress the threat from black musicians and ‘dangerous’ artists like Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.

But packaged artists and songwriting-by-committee do not create lasting art. Just as no one listens to Fabian any more, no one will listen to Britney Spears in 30 years. The record companies are mortgaging their future. Maybe they realize they don’t have one.

Record labels still offer some benefit. They can still get songs on the radio (if the song happens to fit the increasingly narrow niches radio serves), they can still do better production than most artists in a home studio, and they can still fund tours. It’s just that the size of the cut they take for these increasingly irrelevant services is getting way out of whack.

ScottAndRsn said:


Once the homemade recordings are sold (provided someone at the studio didn’t leak digital copies already), someone creates an MP3 and shares it. Eventually the people in the next town already have all the songs, assuming the band is that good, and don’t bother buying the CD.


This isn’t true. Real fans (the type that go to concerts) want to own the CDs. And they want the T-shirts, the bootlegs, etc. The availability of MP3’s doesn’t make much of a tent in CD sales to hard code fans.

My favorite example: Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. The band, after having their CD turned down by their record label, put the entire thing on their web site for free. It was there for about 9 months. In the meantime, the buzz around it built. Everyone knew about it, and I think it’s safe to say that every fan of theirs who had internet access had the entire CD downloaded. The record company told Wilco that putting the CD on their web site would ensure that it was totally unmarketable and no one would buy the real thing.

Well, after buzz kept building and the band got glowing reviews in the music press for an album that had never been released, the record companies came sniffing around again. Wilco wound up selling the album back to another division of the same company that refused to print it the first time, only they sold it back to them for twice the money. And when the CD was finally released, it shot up the billboard charts to something like #13, when the best CD the group had previously released was down around #80 or something.

But bands don’t make money from CD sales, unless their CD goes gold or platinum. The vast majority of CD’s produced sell in the tens of thousands, or maybe a couple of hundred thousand at most. This level of sales means almost all the money goes back to the record company to pay for their expenses. Courtney Love of all people had an excellent essay on this, showing how even a million selling album would only result in an income for band members of maybe $50,000 each or so.

Bands make their money on tour. The songwriters make money from album sales but the band members make very little. So they tour. They sell T-shirts and other memorabilia.

Take Wilco, again. I downloaded their album. As a result, I became a fan. When they came to town, My wife and I went to see them, at a cost of $28 per ticket. And the typical deal with small venues is that the band gets the gate receipts minus some fees for ticket printing and distribution, and the venue gets the alcohol sales. So Wilco got maybe $50 from me straight into their pockets due to putting their album on the net for free. How many CD sales would Wilco have needed to make $50? A hundred?

Artists are waking up. They are realizing that the value of their associations with record labels is fading, and they are responding accordingly. One of the members of Motley Crue was on TV the other night, and he told his fans to go ahead and download the music. George Michael has announced that all his music from now on will be available for free on his web site. Janis Ian has been writing very eloquently about how music sharing benefits artists.

The real opponents of change are those who are making out like bandits under the current system, which means a handful of mega-acts and the labels themselves.

I’m not sure that would necessarily be the case.

All the people i know that have mp3 collections also have fairly big CD collections too, and only use mp3 from the net for 2 reasons;

1)Exploring new stuff that they would never buy normally.

2)The PRICE of cds is way to much. This ties into the first reason too obviously.

I’ve had this conversation with loads of people before, and it always comes down to this; if cd albums were £5, mp3 copies at a paltry 192kbs would start looking pretty poor in comparison.

Sales would go through the roof if that were the price for your average album, gauranteed.

Hopefully therefore, after this hypothetical death of the salesmen, reasonable prices would be set; they would have to be, because everybody would have learned already that if you charge too much, your gonna get screwed by mp3 rippers.

Capitalism taken back in the peoples hands you could say.

And to address those that haev said that fans and the like would not bother to buy albums, it is obvious rot!
Just because there would be no massive record companies does not mean copying would increase!
Last i heard, cd sales were still pretty high, and that says a great deal about the dedcation of music buyers.

Record labels will never go away because musicians will always need someone to market their music. Sure you can record and produce your own music. You can even burn a bunch of CDs and put in on the Internet. You won’t make any money doing that though. Why? Because who the hell has ever heard of you? Most people do not actively search the web for music they might like. They hear a song on the radio while driving or on MTV and then go out and see the band or buy/download their music. Yeah it costs almost nothing to put music on the Internet. That means everyone can do it. How do you get heard over the background noise of garbage out there?

Sure, the record labels still have some uses. But their fees for that music are out of whack with the service they provide. Typical agent fees in other industries are more like 10% of the artist’s revenue. The record labels are taking damned near all of it.

There are two pieces of the puzzle missing before the record labels are completely irrelevant. One is the availability of unaffiliated professional production - this is happening now with the rise of alternative labels and independent studios. The second is advertising, and this one has yet to be solved. iTunes and other online sales places are a good first start. Sources like MP3.com, allmusic.com, and rollingstone.com are becoming excellent resources for finding music. Internet radio promised to be a good new advertising source, but the record labels have managed to almost kill that so far.

But something will come along. The market is clearly demanding it. When it does, the real death spiral of the old labels will begin.

If the record industry went ka-put another one would be in its place within 3 years.

You may like to think that this replacement would be free of the ‘suits’ and the fatcats, but you’d be dreaming. It would be exactly the same as what we already have. The record industry is like any other capitalistic industry. It works by profit-motivation. The fact its selling music doesn’t make it any different.

And that means exactly the same music. I hate to burst your bubble, but Britney Spears is rich because a lot of people like her music. The record industry doesn’t care what sells, they would be just as happy to sell 50 minutes of static, but it knows what sells. And that means Britney. You can moan about it all you want and fret about the lack of taste of the public. You can point out how it’s maufactured, marketed, hyped and rubbish. But that’s how it is. That’s how most people want their music; hand-fed to them, not too demanding or unusual. That’s what sells.

But why should you worry? No one’s forcing Britney on you. Those people you refer to, who “love to play music” are already out there and they’re already making those CDs you seek. The destruction of the record industry isn’t going to either help or hinder them.

If it was the same as the last one, it either wouldn’t come into existance in the first place, or would try to, but fail.

The very fact that it is the people themselves that would have caused the previous one to collapse through their competitive use of mp3 would mean that the new replacement record industry would need to adapt in order to be competitive itself.

There simply would be no market support for another industry “exactly the same”.

I first heard The Flaming Lips on radio, then downloaded some of their songs and then after listening to more of their music i decided i liked them and went and bought the album. The exact same thing with The Red Hot Chili Peppers. So would it really dent CDsales?

So what if they sell things a different way? The end product would not be any different, which is what the OP was suggesting.

Record industry bashing is very poular just now. Some people like to imagine that it’s ‘keeping good music down’ and if it was removed suddenly all music would be ‘good’ and all music would be cheap, because this is what it morally should be. They don’t seem to realise that it’s an industry like any other. It sells what people will buy, because that’s where the profit is. It doesn’t, ultimately, care if this is done through CDs or MP3s, and couldn’t give two figs how ‘good’ the music is, just as long as people keep buying it at the top of their costs/price graph.

In this regard any replacement record industry would be exactly the same. It’s called free-market capitalism.

I don’t care to get into the morals or sales tactics of business’ such as these, because in that sense it is all the same.
That is not what i was meaning though, as i thought was clear enough.

What i said was that the industry could not afford to be “exactly the same”, because it would be condeming itself to the same death the last one suffered.

That seems fairly obvious to me.

I do agree that all the greedy profit attitude would still be there, but it could not be as greedy as its predesessor and hope to be viable.

Therefore they would HAVE to lower their commisions in order to lower prices and be competitive.

That would not be “exactly the same”.

Even taking for granted that the death of recording companies would kill album sales (I’m not so sure it would, but let’s run with it), I don’t buy this for a second. No recording, however well made, can ever really replace the feeling of a concert–if it were possible, people would already have stopped attending, because it’s not like there aren’t plenty of the things out there already. In fact, if you want to believe this then the same argument should work for sanctioned live recordings as well. And yet companies are more than happy to put out DVDs and CDs of entire performances at a much lower price than that of a ticket (example that springs to my mind: REM’s recently released Wiesbaden DVD, which retailed for under $20 while tickets for shows cost between $50 and $70, at least in the US, and I’m assuming prices were roughly equivalent in Europe). I seriously doubt that most serious music fans would be kept from attending a good show. I myself have many legally and not-so-legally obtained live recordings of my favorite bands, and it hasn’t kept me from paying to go see them, nor will it in the future–and this is true of most people I’ve talked to about it. So while trouble may be brewing, I don’t think this is a major concern.

If it were just free-market capitalism at work here, I’d have no problem with the record industry. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The entertainment industry as a whole is the biggest contributor to federal political campaigns, and its money has been well spent. They are the beneficiary of numerous laws and regulatory changes that have protected them for a long time. They engage in monopolistic practices with impugnity. Copyrights have been extended far beyond anything the original writers of those laws intended. Free market alternatives to public radio have been routinely shot down by the government.

The modern music industry is anything but a free market. That is slowly changing with the rise of low-power radio, satellite radio, internet radio, and file sharing. But the record industry is fighting these changes tooth and nail.

In the meantime,

Independent record stores say sales are fine, and they even credit file sharing for it: