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Downturn in the Music Industry

Posted by on Dec 27, 2008 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Downturn in the Music Industry

Welcome to my weekly column! I hope to provide insight as well as promote discussion.

There is a lot of talk these days about how the record industry is losing money because of pirating and illegal file sharing. I am a songwriter who has spent thousands of dollars of my own money, to recoup very little, and I have downloaded plenty of music illegally. I don’t think it is hurting the artists; it is hurting the labels. That is from the industries inability to adapt.

The value of music is a complicated issue. Different music has a different personal value to people, and even then, different values at different points in a persons life. The personal value of a song varies. To a songwriter, a song’s value is not exclusively a paycheck. To perform in front of an audience, to have your song felt and understood, is often something less tangible than money. Yet there are those who say that dropping the price of music, or moving away from the fixed price model, is going to devalue music. The truth is that music has been undergoing a devaluing by major record labels for many years.
The monetary value of a song should be derived from its personal value.

Ultimately, there has got to be a standardized price for music. I don’t feel the tip jar mentality is entirely practical. The drawback to fixed pricing is that it creates the concept of average personal value. For years, the labels have been diminishing the average personal value by releasing disposable songs, formulaic music, and laughable attempts at songwriting. The labels have convinced themselves that the monetary value of music is static and have neglected the personal value from which the monetary value is derived.

Not only has the value of music dropped, but so has the value of recordings.

The first reason has to do with manufacturing, distribution, and product quality. Anyone with a little knowledge of the record industry knows that the record labels have made music worse with their endless quest to reach the lowest common denominator. The idea that labels are pocketing the money they don’t have to spend on manufacturing and distribution is generally considered to be detestable. The new method of distribution represents a significant step backwards in terms of the quality and flexibility of the product. Are we supposed to pay just as much for music that you don’t have to manufacture or distribute, that is significantly lower quality, and is crippled in terms of usability? I can only hypothesize that songs are being sold in such unnecessarily low quality so that the labels can upgrade later and charge us for the music all over again in the form of collectible box sets, or enhanced mixes.

Secondly, another reason the value of recordings has dropped is storage space has transformed the way we access music.

To own a recording no longer necessarily involves listening to the song regularly but to have it available.

iPods and MP3 players have created a world of 24/7 music. People listen to different music more often. Pirating is rampant, because the price of the song is too high. Mp3 players have expanded the market tremendously but the industry won’t take advantage of that because they’re still overvaluing music.

The dropping of the value of music and the value of recordings are closely related.

When music has little or no personal value it takes more to find satisfaction. But as stated, because of easier accessibilty and storage, people will strive to have the largest collection possible. It is different from the days of vinyl, tapes and compact discs.

This is why people illegally download music. It’s not worth 1 dollar per song.

The labels think that the alternative to illegal downloading is purchasing it for $1 per song.

The alternative to illegally downloading music is to ignore music all together.

Until the price reflects the new value of the music, the music will continue to be stolen illegally online. Lawsuits are not going to change this. The labels are simply spending money that they’re never going to make back. The only way to change the current state is to match the price to the correct value; whether it’s 50 cents a song, a quarter a song, or a nickel a song. We will never know until the price starts dropping.

The bottom line is that the price of music is contingent upon personal value, NOT the other way around. A drop in price does not make music less valuable just as a price spike would not make it any more valuable. However, when the value of music drops, the price has to drop.The saddest part is that the labels have missed out on the biggest opportunity in the history of music. Had they been early adapters, they could have made a a fortune filling up these mp3 players for even a nickel per song and illegal file sharing would not even be a problem.