Sunday, August 2, 2009

No Thanks, I'm Just Listening...

According to The Duff Guide to Ska's unscientific and probably poorly-worded poll, the vast majority of our respondents prefer to buy their ska music on CD or vinyl versus a digital download. But, unlike almost everyone else out there, at least they are still cracking open their wallets.

While the music industry death march over the past decade has been agonizing to watch and experience, I never thought it would come to this. According to an article titled "Swan Song" by Charles Blow in the New York Times, between piracy (illegal file sharing) and the rise in music streaming (Pandora), hardly anyone is buying music anymore in any format:
The speed at which this industry is coming undone is utterly breathtaking.

First, piracy punched a big hole in it. Now music streaming — music available on demand over the Internet, free and legal — is poised to seal the deal.

The problem is that if people can get the music they want for free, why would they ever buy it, or even steal it? They won’t. According to a March study by the NPD Group, a market research group for the entertainment industry, 13- to 17-year-olds “acquired 19 percent less music in 2008 than they did in 2007.” CD sales among these teenagers were down 26 percent and digital purchases were down 13 percent.

And a survey of British music fans, conducted by the Leading Question/Music Ally and released last month, found that the percentage of 14- to 18-year-olds who regularly share files dropped by nearly a third from December 2007 to January 2009. On the other hand, two-thirds of those teens now listen to streaming music “regularly” and nearly a third listen to it every day.

This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model.

Even if they choose to buy the music, the industry has handicapped its ability to capitalize on that purchase by allowing all songs to be bought individually, apart from their albums. This once seemed like a blessing. Now it looks more like a curse.

In previous forms, you had to take the bad with the good. You may have only wanted two or three songs, but you had to buy the whole 8-track, cassette or CD to get them. So in a sense, these bad songs help finance the good ones. The resulting revenue provided a cushion for the artists and record companies to take chances and make mistakes. Single song downloads helped to kill that.
Some of you may remember a time when people would listen to the radio for new music (in the early to mid-80s, WLIR was the best!), hear something they really like, and then track down that song at their local record store. Listening led to buying. No more.

(I guess I'm part of the problem...I listen to Pandora at work...but I'm still conditioned to follow the old model: in the last week or so, I heard about 5-6 new songs from CDs that I'm going to find and buy.)

Here is the real kicker...
A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.
Jeez...I guess those of us who are still purchasing music need to be buying a whole lot more, so those ska or reggae albums you were thinking about buying at some point down the line...get 'em now! Save recorded music!

(Can't we get some sort of stimulus package going here to rescue the music industry and change people's music purchasing habits? Shouldn't the government send out $10 vouchers to everyone in the US that could be used toward the purchase of a CD, LP, or digital download of a whole album? They've bailed out the banks and Wall Street, as well as "Cash for Clunkers" to help Detroit...and god knows they've wasted taxpayer money on all kinds of crazy crap over the years...trillions in Iraq, anyone?)


David T said...


I prefer to buy albums as well, but one of the problems is discretionary income is down!

I'm one of the lucky ones who didn't lose their job, but I didn't get a raise last year. I also probably won't get a raise this year. All the while the world around us is getting more expensive.

What people rarely say in these columns as well is that most popular music sucks right now.

I enjoy some of the new ska stuff coming out, but the quality of the songs on the radio is poor.


Kames Jelly said...

i firmly believe in buying music. the only albums ive ever downloaded were out of print or unavailable in the U.S.(i downloaded the sonic boom six albums not available in the U.S. yet, but even then i waited for them to say they didnt mind if i downloaded them haha).

I was lucky enough to grow up close to a local, indie music store called the Sound Station here in Westfield NJ, i also happened to work there all throughout highschool, and still moonlight there whenever they need me. When i have a steady job, i buy at least 2 CD's a week. Ive never even considered downloading, because I want the entire package. I want to read the liner notes, appreciate the artwork and packaging (lots of labels have gotten very creative with their packaging to lure people to buy the actual CD, just check out the new Clutch CD). Because of this (unhealthy) habit, im very quickly running out of room because piles i have lots of drawers full, and lots of plastic tubs filled with CD's, plus the 3 ft high stacks all over my room that didnt fit anywhere else. but i love it.

i also agree with david, radio sucks, with VERY few exceptions. i usually scan 89.9, 91.1, and 88.3 before turning on a CD. And even satelite radio sucks. They play the same old shit over and over again too, the only difference is the stations are more specialized and most dont have commercials.

in conclusion, I'll continue to buy CD's over downloading and vinyl(even though im a vinyl junkie, my vinyl purchases are restricted to old, out of print titles like NYC Ska Live etc, jamaican vinyl, and my friends records. You wont find me buying the new Black Keys album on vinyl), and I just hope that other people do to.

Steve from Moon said...

David and KJ:

Thanks for your comments!

The lack of discretionary income is a bummer--sadly, it keeps my CD and LP purchases in check (as does my wife!).

Can someone put me on the radio for an hour or two each week? I have loads of good songs to play, as well as interesting things to say!

The only downside to CDs and LPs is where to keep it all. I live in a fairly small NYC apartment and have been forced to put a portion of my CD collection in storage--the rest are in big CD albums (I discard the jewel cases, but save the cover and tray card). I also had some bookshelves made that were strong and tall enough to hold a whole mess of LPs.

To help counter file sharing, etc., the labels have to ensure that the CD/LP artwork and packaging is really extraordinary and worth buying. And I think that labels more and more should make new releases come out on LP, but then include a free CD of the same album in the sleeve (see the Foxboro Hottubs and Pretenders "Break Up the Concrete" LP releases).