The Death of Music?

by Craig Anderton

To hear the record industry’s side of things, sales in general are down, catalog sales (sales of older CDs, such as reissues) are *way* down, and some of the bigger gambles (zillions of dollars for Michael Jackson and Aerosmith) don’t look like they’re going to pay off. According to industry gospel, the reason for these problems is that people are spending their money on other leisure time activities, such as cruising the Internet, playing video games, cocooning in their home theaters, and generally, not sitting down and listening to CDs.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, if they’re playing video games, odds are they’re also listening to a cleverly-crafted soundtrack. If they’re sitting in front of their VCR watching a movie, they’re also hearing music. And the Internet? Well, think of all the people rushing to figure out a way to publish music on the ‘net. In short, all these leisure time activities that are cited as reasons why people don’t listen to music require – you guessed it – sound and/or music.

What’s really happening is that the traditional means of distributing music are becoming obsolete. Maybe people just don’t have the time any more to sit down and listen to a CD, especially when so many CDs top the hour mark in total timing (back in the days of singles and vinyl, music was measured in 3 minute and 20 minute increments – a much more “activity-friendly” time period). Or, perhaps consumers don’t really have a way to hear new releases and get excited about them. Radio hardly ever does back-announcing; I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear some fabulous song, and have no idea who did it, or for what label.

If you’re a musician, all this talk of gloom and doom should actually be encouraging, because let’s face it – the traditional music industry structure has not exactly served artists well. It’s hard to make a living doing music under the existing “rules”; a few superstars clean up millions of dollars, while the rest wait patiently in hopes of recouping their advances and getting into a royalty position.

As new methods of music distribution open up, perhaps it will become easier for good musicians to make a decent living doing what they love. Okay, maybe you won’t have the groupies, the limo, and the Mediterranean villa on the Amalfi drive, but you will be able to eat, cover your mortgage payments, and maybe even raise a child or two. Several bands are publishing music on the web, and actually selling enough CDs to make it more than worthwhile. Game soundtrack work is becoming a lucrative sideline for many studios, and when the Downloadable Samples standard hits (this supplements General MIDI by allowing sound cards to include custom sounds not part of the GM spec), there’s going to be a need for exciting, well-crafted samples. And of course, there will be a need for people to compose music using these samples.

At least for now, it seems that music is becoming more of a soundtrack to our lives than a leisure-time activity. Like many others, I hardly ever have time any more to sit down and just listen to music (any spare time I have is going to be devoted to making more music, not listening to it), although music plays constantly in the background while I maintain this site, do artwork for my articles, wash the dishes, or whip up breakfast. When something really strikes my fancy, sometimes I’ll just stop and listen, which also gives me a good excuse for a break.

The dust from the microprocessor revolution (the next stage after the industrial revolution) hasn’t settled yet, and there are going to be many changes in the way all information – technical, literary, or artistic – is distributed in the years ahead. Some types of book publishing might be doomed as well, since anything that requires frequent updating is a candidate for on-line publishing, not pulp and paper.

Granted, all these changes will cause some real hardship for those who expect to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. But for those willing to seek out new worlds and ways to work within an entirely new system, there will be more opportunities than ever before. I, for one, expect to grab some of those – and I hope you do too.

* * * * *

Before signing off, I’d like to extend my warmest greetings to all of you this holiday season, and thank you for your support of SSS (has it really been 2 years?!?). Your knowledge, humor, willingness to help, and desire to better yourselves and the other participants in this experiment have more than offset the long hours, low pay, and occasional modem burps. Thanks again, and I hope you and your loved ones have an excellent year ahead.


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