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Ailing Music Industry?

The music industry is at a very interesting crossroads. The traditional unit of sales, the album, is not selling. Perhaps a by-product of decades of pushing singles and filling albums with one or two “good” songs and ten or twelve “filler” songs, music purchasers are now preferring single songs, picking and choosing the singles they hear on the radio and largely ignoring the other songs put on the album. And it’s not like the industry didn’t have any signs that the market was shifting to this model. With the advent of Peer-2-Peer sharing sites like Napster and Limewire in the early part of the decade, people weren’t downloading whole albums. The large majority of users of these sites used them for single songs. Ten years on, the industry is still fighting this model.

They still see the album as their cash cow. Basic research indicates that an album can run into the tens of thousands of dollars to produce. Let alone the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, that a label may spend on promoting an album, it’s no wonder that the industry feels it has to stick with this method. I have been unable to find reliable costs of distribution for traditional CD albums, however the average cost for bandwidth is about 50 cents per gigabyte. Assuming the average song is about three megabytes, the average song costs 0.15 cents to distribute electronically. I can’t imagine that shipping a CD is cheaper than that; a 10 song CD would cost about 1.5 cents to compete.

Of course this shift would not be without casualties. Record stores across the country are closing. Margins for these stores are being pinched as the price of CD’s falls. The record store will have to adapt and accept the fact that it will be a niche player in the industry. Certainly there will be people who choose to purchase physical media. Record stores will be around to cater to this market. The shift to non-physical media is one that is occurring across platforms. Movies and TV shows are now available streaming through services like Netflix and Hulu. Steam offers computer games over the internet. As computing power and storage continually improves and moves into the cloud, physical media is disappearing.

If the music industry accepts online and non-physical distribution as the method of the future, they will follow the rest of the world in accepting that the internet and other such new forms of distribution can help to cut costs and connect more closely with consumers. By removing a layer of distribution, and by moving to electronic distribution, the music industry will be better able to track and adjust to changes in musical tastes and preferences. Networks like iTunes, the newest iteration of Napster, Rhapsody, and the Zune store are already in place, making any shift to digital distribution much easier to do. Hopefully the industry as a whole accepts the challenge and chooses to strengthen their industry and the music they produce.

Below are three links to columns from USA Today, MSNBC, and the NY Times that show music sales over different media.

Ken Barnes, USA Today, 1/4/2009

AP via MSNBC, 1/1/2009

Ben Sisario, New York Times, 12/31/2008

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Posted by on July 1, 2009 in Opinion

 

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Greatest Pop Stars of the 20th Century

Frank Sinatra* Elvis Presley** Michael Jackson* Madonna
#1 Singles 4 31 13 12
#1 Albums 5 4 5 7
Top 10 Singles 11 38 23 37
Top 10 Albums 32 7 7 17
Grammy Awards 13 3 13 7
Albums Sold 150,000,000 > 1,000,000,000 750,000,000 400,000,000

* Only solo performances are counted in top albums and singles.

** Soundtracks are not included in album counts.

I understand that pop as a genre did not really mature until the 1980’s and as such artists like Sinatra and Preseley are not truly competing on the same field as MJ and Madonna. However, in their respective times, I think they held similar positions in the realm of musical entertainment as Madonna and Michael Jackson. Certianly both were parfoemers as well as musicians; both Sinatra and Presley went on to have great performance careers in Las Vegas. It could be argued that Elvis and Ole’ Blue Eyes are really the two main reasons that Vegas is what it is today.

In the modern world of pop music, certainly Madonna and Michael Jackson have been two large, if not the largest stars. Each began their solo careers early on in the emergence of true pop music. It is a musical genre that grew out of the carefree beats of disco. Certianly MJ was all too familiar with through his work with his brothers and sisters in the Jackson 5.

Now the numbers are a bit skewed as the music nad entertainment markets changed dramaitcally over the course of 60 years. And to be fair, the only person listed to win all of their Grammys for actually singing was Evlis; and his came for Gospel music, not for his rock and roll. Sintra won one for album art and Madonna and MJ both won multiple Grammys for music videos.

Of course none of the four only did music. But while Sinatra, Elivs, and Madonna all expanded their entertainment empires through movies, Jackson chose to explain his music through music videos. If you put “Thriller” into YouTube, something like 115,000 results come up, and most of them are people doing their best impression. Music vidoes became an artform because of Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson’s love of peformance, his innovative and inspiring dance moves, his overt desire to please his fans, and his sheer stage presence I believe do put him on par with Elvis Presley. Elvis may have sold more albums and may continue to out-earn Michael, but I believe they are the two greatest musical icons of the 20th century. Sinatra and Madonna have certainly been extremely sucessful an popular, but both Elvis and MJ continued to push the bounds of entertainment and bridged musical genres.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2009 in Opinion

 

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Swing and a Miss for Selig and MLB

Bud Selig’s arrogance may have cost him his legacy. He may be remembered at the man who guided the league through a very difficult players’ strike and oversaw the greatest expansion of the sport’s popularity. He may also be remembered as the commissioner who allowed the greatest deception in the history of our national past-time. In an era when the NFL became the prominent league in the United States and as NASCAR grew to unimaginable proportions; Bud Selig faced the looming prospect of falling out of national prominence. Unthinkable now, but in the seasons following the strike-shortened 1994 season, fans were slow to come back to a sport that, at the time, many viewed at passe and quaint. The NFL and NASCAR were the sports of the future, full of action, they were the antithesis of baseball. Bud Selig needed heroes and he needed them fast. The one thing his sport had over NASCAR and the NFL, the MLB is a league a faces. There are no helmets to obscure the players’ faces, no body suits to make every competitor just another cog in the machinery of sports. Baseball had always been a league of characters and Selig knew he needed a few to shine.

At that time, there was no one bigger than Ken Griffey Jr. he was ‘The Kid”. His numbers were eye popping; he was on pace to break nearly every major career hitting record. He also had 5 straight gold gloves following the 1994 season (he would go on to win 10 straight). A Seattle teammate of Griffey’s, however, would go on to be hailed as the savior of the sport. Cocky, pretty, and young; Alex Rodriguez would overcome a lackluster rookie season in 1994 to hit 19 home runs in 1995. He would then hit no fewer than 20 in any other season (he has hit more than 40 home runs in 8 seasons so far). This would play right into Selig’s seemingly single-minded mission to push for the long ball. Griffey’s season was cut in half by a broken wrist in 1995. As his career started to falter ever so slightly due to injuries, A-Rod was hyped as the future of the sport as Griffey was, for all intents and purposes, thrown under the bus. Selig underestimated the fans. Yes home runs are exciting, but what the commissioner failed to realize is that baseball fans appreciate exciting games, no matter if they are slugfests or small ball bonanzas. Selig had made his bed and it was with cahracters like Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Selig didn’t want authenticity, he wanted revenue.

MLB is a business. But baseball is more than just the bottom line. As the saying goes, “As American as baseball and apple pie.” Baseball is woven into the fabric of the nation. Bud Selig forgot that. He chose profit over integrity. The theatrics of 1998 did help revive the sport, but at what cost? Instead of hyping the growing internationalism of the game (as America herself has diversified over the past two decades) the MLB leadership, led by Bud Selig went with what was easy to obtain. Just as every player in the Mitchell Report did what was easy, not what was necessary. Now I understand that it is unfair to lay the blame only at the feet of the commissioner. The owners, the players’ union, and indeed the fans all share the blame. The owners were looking to profit just like Selig. The players’ union was looking to protect it’s members. The fans were looking for entertainment. But ultimately, it was Selig who failed to act, he failed to stop steroids when he had the chance.

In the grand scheme of things, baseball statistics are not all that important. Asterisk or no, the numbers are just that, numbers. They are not a secret code to eternal life, just as baseball is not a cure-all for everything that ails us as a society. But our national past-time can serve as a model for the rest of us. It is a team sport, requireing cooperation, dedication, and hard work. Everything we claim to hold dear as a society. The growing diversity mirrors the growing diversity of America’s population. New strategies and methods will be needed to win games as the game itself evolves; just as new tactics and strategies will be needed to steer the country out of the financial crisis. Baseball isn’t just a game and it certainly isn’t just another business. We do hold it to a higher standard because, consciously or not, we wish to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2009 in Opinion

 

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Warfare, culture and human evolution: Blood and treasure | The Economist

Warfare, culture and human evolution: Blood and treasure | The Economist.

A fascinating study on the social and evolutionary consequences of altruism. In the long run, it makes sense that those societies which consist of altruistic members, those willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of society, would survive since there would be less inherent competition for resources. Certainly societies with strong militaries have tended to prevail throughout history.  Sufficient numbers of soldiers are required to maintain a strong military; meaning a society must have sufficient numbers of people willing to sacrifice themselves for that society. Catholic priests sacrifice their genetic lineage for the sake of the members (and, perhapd more specifically, the souls of the members) in their societies, and certainly the Catholic church has become an extremely successful society within our modern world. Maybe there’s something to being altruistic after all.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2009 in News, Opinion

 

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