Music Industry Conspiracy Theories

by Craig Anderton
Well it’s summer time, and during these slow news days, conspiracy theories have become a booming business. (These usually involve various combinations of government plots and/or extraterrestrial intervention that turn out to be responsible for basically everything, from the pyramids to global climate change.) What makes these theories even remotely believable, of course, are the revelations we’ve learned about government conspiracies that the government now admits actually happened. And why aren’t commercial pilots grounded if they’ve seen a UFO? After all, you can’t have hallucinating pilots at the helm of a 747. And NASA is surely hiding crucial data on alien contact…

Hate to burst any bubbles, but NASA would give anything to be able to make a case for aliens. They get a pretty small piece of the budget — the entire Pathfinder project costs about the same as two bad Summer blockbuster movies — and if NASA could find faces on Mars or evidence of buildings, you can bet their budget would go up astronomically. Yet people ignore logic and figure that if there’s no proof of little green men, then by golly, somebody’s hiding it.

Well, the music biz isn’t free of conspiracy theories either. One of my favorites, and I am *not* making this up, is when a representative of a major organization opined that the Japanese were pushing DAT because they couldn’t make music, only copy it. Yessiree, I can just see a bunch of Japanese engineers getting together and saying “Gee, we Japanese can’t make music, let’s make something that will produce better copies of Bruce Springsteen.” I think the reality is more that a bunch of people thought they could make money by producing a higher-quality version of the cassette.

But one of the most persistent and pervasive conspiracy theories is that companies withhold technology so they can come out with an update later on and sell a slightly improved version of something they’ve already sold you. Maybe that could happen in a world without competition, but I can assure you that whenever a company comes up with a killer feature, they can’t wait to get it into the marketplace because of what they hope will be a competitive advantage that will allow them all to buy yachts (or at least get new tires for the car).

The fact is that companies, like people, learn. Updates are usually course corrections, not planned events. The odds of a company coming up with a perfect product right out of the chute are about as remote as, well, writing a hit song the first time you pick up a guitar. Over time, our music improves, and similarly, a company’s ability to make hipper products improves too…so they introduce new products.

Conspiracy theories may be entertaining, but the truth is usually a lot more prosaic than the speculation. The same goes for music industry conspiracy theories. Sure, there are always exceptions; the whole JFK assassination just won’t go away, and companies sometimes *do* hold off on introducing new products if a lot of old ones remain to be sold. But even in the latter case, if the competition is too intense, companies will introduce something even if it makes their dealers unhappy because they have to blow out earlier models at bargain prices. There’s no conspiracy, folks. Just companies that want to stay in business, and believe that introducing more features periodically is a way to promote that.

In any event, all this conspiracy talk has showed me one thing for sure: I want the Roswell Chamber of Commerce to handle the PR for my next CD. They really know what they’re doing!

Have a great summer.


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