Over the past 10 years I've been mindlessly wandering through the music industry, buying releases from bands that i liked without paying attention to anything other than the music itself. Now that I'm getting more familiar with the inner workings of a release, it's got me thinking about the actual format in which we buy (or steal!) and listen our music. Everyone knows that CD sales are down. Digital album sales are up in 2009 compared to 2008, but that still doesn't hide the likelihood that 95% of music downloads are illegal
One worrying thought is that once you've had something for free, you're less likely to want to go back to paying for it. Spotify is great, but for most emerging bands the royalties they'd receive probably wouldn't even cover the cost of paying an online aggregator to actually get their cherished songs on Spotify in the first place! That's like paying a prostitute to watch you wank (or something). I'm very much in the mindset that Spotify can be good for smaller band purely for the exposure (I think the prostitute similie falls flat here).
My music listening habits probably aren't representative of the average music fan, but if I listen to something on Spotify, it's almost too convenient. It reminds me of when I had cable TV for the first time. Channel hopping. There's an element of Spotify which I find almost too accessible. It allows me to press a few keys and listen to maybe a few songs an album. Or even the first 30 seconds of each song (I know people who do this)! Which in my eyes makes it instantly disposable. Which in turn HAS to devalue it. In terms of publishing, the album has gone from literary masterpiece, to free leaflet handed out by those crazy people with megaphones. At least with myspace, it almost feels as though you have to work for the songs. I don't know about you, but my computer hates myspace with a passion, and likes to have a shit fit every time I go on there. When I actually do get to listen to a song, it feels like i've endured terrible hardship to get there. Really worked hard for it. Although I would still liken myspace to toilet paper, which probably makes spotify a bidet.
It's too easy to chip in with 'it's all about the music', the song itself, but I don't think that holds up here. Right now, it seems as though it's all about how clever you can be with marketing. This is probably something that has existed from the start, but right now it feels like it's at the forefront. Vinyl vs CD vs download vs streaming. What a horrible match up. Can't they all get along?! Erased Tapes
seem to have mp3 downloads included with every physical release. This, is brilliant. I also really like the idea of a subscription service - it feels like you're getting something for free, but you're just paying for it in different ways. That said, most subscription services I've seen (which I think are a step in the right direction) are offering mp3 downloads, not physical copies. At least it makes the songs feel more special. BSM's
'10 collection is excellent. 1 mp3 a week for a year. Although something with a physical release would hold more value, but probably wouldn't be as affordable for a small label.
I still firmly believe that CDs still have a place in the music industry. The fact that it is a physical format gives it an instant advantage over streaming and downloading. You can hold it. It's shiny, it's matte, it smells new, it smells like old. You can throw it people, you can get coffee stains on it. You can get the band to sign it on their album launch night. It can be experienced by more than just one of our senses, which immediately enables sentimentality! (please don't eat your cds.) I look at my cd collection and remember so many different things. I remember that time that I waited for what seemed like hours outside a cold venue to see The Bouncing Souls, only to be told the promoter didn't show up. I remember that time I saw Brand New for the first time and swooned like a gimpy little fan boy when chatting to the guitarist. I remember finding that first run of Bleed American in Musiquarium that actually said 'Bleed American'.
I look at my boring list of mp3s, in grey itunes, on my grey computer, and I think '...I wish I bought the cd for that instead'.
mp3s probably smell like bleach. And a computer room in a school. All 'computery'. The digital format has a long way to go before it can replace my cd collection.
I'm not 50, miserable with an aching back, I promise! I'm 24, only miserable 4/7 days with an aching back. I also enjoy mp3s. I've painted quite a bleak picture, and this whole post probably stinks of "moaning luddite", but it's really not all that bad. Independent labels should hopefully be able to adapt and find a new model, so that new bands can continue to come through and be heard. Whether that's via mp3/cd/streaming, it doesn't matter, as long as it's sustainable for the band.
To summarise, I think Barely Regal
are going to have to come up with some interesting ways in making music valued. Our first release, out at the end of April, will be available for download and have a limited edition run of physical copies. Jewel cases can do one, though. That's a whole other blog post.