The end of music business history?


I wonder what took the major labels so long to realize nothing is big enough to prevent a human or technological evolution from taking place. More so, looking at the evolution of the music industry over the years, this development was long past due. Structural breaks have happened before and can’t be prevented.

Diversity may count for a independent label, but the majors are still tied up in that old habit of treating music like a product. Money counts more than the artist. And when it comes to the artist, press personality counts more than creativity and skill.

But this has not always been that way. Our tour starts in the early 1920’s at the beginning of the jazz revolution.

At that time radio broadcasting was introduced to the public. Before that, there were phonographs and shellac records which were costly and fragile. Radios were much more affordable than anything else at that time, even though the needed electricity wasn’t as available.

In the early days radio broadcasts were all live performances. Business-wise the radio stations needed the musicians rather than licenses to the music they played. This was legally possible because the laws applied to broadcasting were different than those for record production. Therefore this was the first time the labels lost some of their control over the musicians and their art.

This is the reason why it’s called a revolution. Even though it wasn’t induced by suffering, but technological progress. Musicians got a first little taste of independence.

Unfortunately, the major labels were unable to or refused to grasp this new development. Based on their ignorance, they didn’t cooperate with the radio stations.

The real extent and success of this new technology showed itself when more households were provided with electricity. During the so called roaring ’20s power transmission and distribution was improved immensely. Therefore the broad group of low income households could finally profit from the use of electricity.

The second big time of changes in the music industry took place in the 1950’s, as the so called rock ‘n’ roll revolution.

This time the change was induced by taste and policy.

First thing to mention would be the foundation of Broadcasting Music, Inc. (BMI). This new performing rights organization served the by far broader market of Rhythm & Blues and Country Music. It was founded by the National Association of Broadcasters. Before that, ASCAP had the radio stations in a license headlock, but BMI offered more reasonably priced licenses. Of course that wasn’t a radio exclusive business-model, so music users in all kinds of areas were able to benefit from that. What they had in common with the ASCAP model was that the licenses they gave out were blankets, meaning it made no difference which music the licensee used to which extent. That changed in 1941 where the option of more precise licensing was included in the business model of both ASCAP and BMI.

But not only seemed BMI to cooperate more reasonably with music users, but with the artists as well. A fairer fee for songwriters, singers, publishers convinced a lot of them to sign with them or even to switch from ASCAP.

Beside this legal renewal, BMI was the first PRO that specialized in misrepresented genres as gospel, blues, jazz, country, Latin and R’n’B. ASCAP seemed to refuse to work with artists from minority genres, even though there was obviously a broad market for this music styles.

The second moment was a change in policy by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), again concerning radio station licenses. This resulted in an immensely increasing number of small radio stations at the end of the 1940’s, since licenses were more affordable.

Culturally, that meant a change in public perception. All the styles and genres could and would now be represented. What was once called the public music market, that consisted mainly of classic and swing music, became the people’s market, where their stations would provide them with what their taste desired. In addition to the increasing number of independent radio stations, smaller and more specialized labels were on a rise as well these days.

The major labels lost even more. Due to the invention of the vinyl record, which was much more sturdy than the shellac records of former times. Those vinyls could be send by mail. The independent labels were not longer forced to use the majors’ distribution network.

The refusal of the major labels to cooperate with independent radio stations and labels had led to immense losses in momentum and finances.

Not only increasing competition, a broader market and the break up of the majors’ power structures in production and distribution have led to a basic change in the music business. It was the refusal to accept and incorporate the new that brought the major labels down to their knees. They were being ousted from power and financially pressurized.

The change we’re in right now (and for a few years) is called the Digital Music Revolution.

According to the time span between the jazz and the rock ‘n roll revolution was ten years late.

It started in the early 1990’s, when mp3 technology became available on the public market. The use of this technology with invention of the the CD prior to the availability of mp3s could just slow down the speed of change a little bit.

Yet again, the majority of the companies that could have made a great use of this new technology, refused to accept and implement the new.

They took the legal route and are filing law suits that destroy existences of legal or real persons, claiming copyright infringements.

Don’t get me wrong, as it is now, they do so rightfully. But does it make sense? Especially when a lot of those fans couldn’t afford to by the album, leave alone a license to make a youtube video about and with it? Regarding this, shouldn’t those law suits be more reasonable in terms of conduction, judgment and reparations?

But I too believe, that the laws have to change.

Not to make unauthorized use of copyrighted material a legal thing, but because we can’t stop or rewind the development. Letting people use that material for private purposes can result in more positive outcome for the original artist. How much money would cost all of that advertisement on youtube, with all that Me Singing videos or people tutoring how to play the song on an instrument?

Since music is available digitally its use and perception have changed drastically. On the one hand it has become more of a product than a piece of art. The moral attitude toward it and its artists has changed to the worst. The massive amounts of copyrighted material online and the extent to which it’s being shared has brought the music industry to its knees. And we don’t even care.

One explanation lies in the way we connect and interact with something we like or even love.

Emotional attachment is often expressed and intensified by physical contact. Remember how good it felt to rummage through your vinyl and or CD collection trying to find something that suits our mood? We had the album with its original cover in front of us, bringing back memories and emotions.

We didn’t need to know upfront what we wanted to listen to. For people who never saw music as a commodity it geld good going out to get an album and adding it to your collection on the shelf. It was pretty nice reading the song lyrics and Thank yous in the booklet.

Digital music can’t offer this kind of experience. More so, our hard drives are often so crammed with music, it’s hard to decide and the search becomes tiring by staring at a monitor the whole time. Unfortunately, we like fast access to everything in life so much, we slowly became accustomed to the availability and speed of access of digital music. Now we almost forgot how much fun buying and listening to a physical album was. No I am not a senior citizen.

Even all those law suits in the past and future and legal actions like SOPA or ACTA won’t be able to stop this development. This train is on full throttle and the major labels are seemingly realizing they only have a chance to stay in the game if they accept new rules. New developments beget new moral standards. These can lead to new legal standards. It would be unreasonable to expect these new legal standards only in favor of the consumers or only against them.

In the long run the artists and labels have to adjust to that new situation. See the advantages of it. Some artists and labels are already applying all the new technologies and new marketing techniques.

But this could go much farther. Why not implement your fans on a more creative level?

People should, under certain circumstances, be allowed to use copyrighted material without bureaucracy. In my opinion the creative commons licenses are the future and the solution to this problem.

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