Grave New World

The arrival of Apple’s new streaming/social network/radio station/dating service—don't be surprised if the latter is already in the development stages—has brought about yet another wave of discussions over the commercial viability of streaming, the public’s desire to physically own music, and the future of music itself.

As we see it, the desire to physically own music began to dwindle with widespread piracy, which more than anything, has separated true music consumers from the casual ones. Yes, a large chunk of people no longer spend money on pre-recorded music, but we’d venture that the vast majority of them are the marketplace descendants of those who in the ‘90s liked music well enough but owned 10 CDs or less and mostly listened to whatever was on the radio. Of course, you factor in a 21st century culture of not purchasing physical music and the number grows significantly, but those are, arguably, not true music fans; not as we would define them in the past, anyway. The consumers the biz has lost are the casual consumers, not the folks who own the catalog and the bootlegs, have seen the artist live half a dozen times, and own three different tour t-shirts.

So, who’s left? Those who are gladly willing to pay for music. But the marketplace has made it difficult for them with the number of shops dropping like flies. And shopping at Amazon just ain't the same thing. (By the way, this is why if you open a brick and mortar record store that sells vinyl, and jazz, classical and “heritage” artists in any format, you’ll probably do well if your rent is reasonable, ‘cause those consumers tend not to be attracted to illegal downloading. We could be wrong, tho.)

The record labels are reacting to streaming with business model paranoia—‘If we don’t get on this one, we’ll really miss out and really be screwed!’—and not some Machiavellian master plan. Again, they're not that smart. Evil, sure. But visionaries? Um, no. Regardless, the future looks grim for artists and/or songwriters to rise above the fray. We’re already seeing it with the glut of music available online and no one to separate the wheat from the chaff; or at least what you might like from what might not interest you as a consumer. As a matter of fact, we recommend upcoming artists treat their career as they would if they were opening a new business: find investors, record your own music, hire PR, and buy ads. Grave new world, indeed.