The Music Went Thataway

21 06 2010

If the global economy is in a recession, then the music industry is in a depression the likes of which the 1930s could not begin to compare. Aside from travel agents, I can think of no other industry so completely altered, even obliterated, by the internet than music. Here is the sobering reality: People just aren’t buying music liked they used to.

Between music piracy (thank you very much, Napster) and now legal music downloads (over 8 billions cha-chings for iTunes), the industry is in a very altered state. CD sales are down over 50% since 2000. And although everyone (especially Apple) is happy about the fact people are actually buying music again, it does not begin to compensate for the lost album sales. When you can cherry-pick the songs you buy, economizing is easy. Rather than spend $15 on an album with two good songs, you can get both for $1.29 each. And then go raid the next album.

The industry has consolidated since the 1990s, when there were six major labels. Now there are four. Well, actually, maybe only three. Because EMI has smelled the coffee and repositioned itself as a rights management company. As in digital rights.

In this industry it’s evolve or die. And EMI has chosen to evolve. Of course, there’s no guarantee that shedding a vestigial tail in favor of opposable thumbs will deliver a bright tomorrow. But it sure beats rolling over and dying.

The future may truly be in licensing, because we are less and less likely to purchase music in the years ahead. When Apple bought LaLa.com last December (and then shut it down this last May), the big buzz was that iTunes would move into subscription listening services. It is highly likely this is the model of the future. Think streaming music via your desktop or smartphone. Playlists will no longer be based on ownership but rather listening rights.

And it makes sense. While it took me a long time to give up buying tangible CDs (I amassed a collection of over 1500 from 1985 through 2008), it has taken me very little time to embrace the idea of simply renting my music. I’m evolving quickly. As long as I can summon a particular song at my beck and call, I’m good with that. I don’t need to own it. After all, what I really want to do is tap my feet and sing along.

While the other three labels continue to cry in their musical beer, I’m singing the praises of EMI for catching a glimpse of tomorrow. There’s no way I am going back to the old model of music consumption. I didn’t shed that tail for nothing.

Dr “Fit of the Survivalist” Gerlich


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