Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If I were making music 30 years ago:
A breif history of the rise and fall of record companies.

The year would be 1979...


Cocaine, the end of disco, the release of Pink Floyd's masterpiece "the wall", the beginning of prince's career and the start of the horrifying 80's fashion movement. If you were a half way talented band who wrote original songs, there was a big chance a record label would pick you up, throw you in a recording studio, pump out a record, book a tour, and if you didn't make them enough money they would drop you like an aborted fetus.

If I were making music back then, I know I would get a deal. Well on second thought... I don't know if I would get signed, seeing how I wasn't alive until 1987, or confident in my talents as musician until 2005; but I know the chances would have been dramatically higher.

Stevie Wonder - Songs_in_the_key_of_life

The reason being is, back then if you wanted to hear a song, such as the brilliant "As" by Stevie Wonder, you would have to go to the record store and buy the album, "Songs in the Key of Life". On top of that, the radio was like a constant advertisement for the record companies, because they knew the only way people could hear music, is if they bought the record or hoped they played it on the radio. Most people just bought the record. Since the record companies were making so much money off of all of these sales they could afford to take chances on all kinds of horrifying bands and get away with it.

Then time passed, the glorious day of 7/7/87 occurred and I was born. When I was conscious enough to remember things in the early 90's, the state of music was in a gradual change. Now these old "record things" were replaced by tapes, and if you could afford a player, CD's were the highest quality thing out there. The record companies were still sitting high on their solid gold horses, because yet again, killer songs on the radio could only be heard if you bought the tape or CD.

If the record companies were a golden horse, than there was one thing was right underneath them - slowly melting their horse into soft malleable gold. That boiling hot surface was the internet. Software like audio grabber could save ".wav" or ".mp3" files of a whole Cd on your computers hard drive. When it was on your hard drive, sharing programs like Napster, Morpheus, Kazza, or Bear Share were distributing all these music files for....... free.

Free wasn't a word the record companies had ever heard. Then celebrities began to notice that they were not making as much money as they used to; so logically they tried to stop it. They got their fancy lawyers, and made commercials to scare everyone, but the people weren't going to stop. After a while the record companies began to realize this so, they created the itunes store, and similar music purchasing sites. This way people could buy music as .mp3's and put the new "Shakira" or "Britney Spears" song on their ipod.


Just like anyone who has power, they will resort to anything to maintain their power. When sales dip they highly publicize some poor house wife or college kid getting sued for 6 Billion dollars to scare people into buying mp3's again. Currently the best way to steal music is the use of torrents or doing some google searching. The record companies are withering away... they really are on their death beds.


There is only one market remaining that is like an IV in the dying arm of record execs... and that is the "tween" market. This market exists because kids are too young to have to money to buy a CD, so they ask their parental units to do so... the parents being old enough to remember, "if I want to listen to music I need to buy the CD!" So they go out and buy their child the new Hannah Montana or Boys Like Girls CD and pick up an Elton John's greatest hits for them selves, so they can have nostalgic experiences on their drive to and from work.

Now here I am. Its 2009, there is basically no such thing a record label that picks up bands anymore. No one buys music, everyone steals it. So how are musicians supposed to make a living if they cannot sell records anymore? Even Cd's are becoming obsolete. People just want mp3s and a maybe a vinyl to play in their modern record player so they can seem more "indie".


The bleak reality for musicians today is that, the only way to make money creating music is to tour... but the kicker is that touring costs money, so it is very hard to make a profit from it... especially if your starting out fresh. Bands today have to be amazing performers because that is the only way they will be able to sell merchandise. If you can convince people that they are having a great time at your show, then you have secured a few sales so you can have enough gas to get to the next city.

This cycle repeats until the artist gets sick of it or they die due to suicide or exhaustion.


So I wish I was 22 in 1979. At least then it would be possible to make money from album sales. Currently the only way to make money in music is to A) Sell to Tweens or B) Do jingles, or C) Compose for video games or movies. For all of us who are artists and want to stick to our passions of creating original music, we have to tour and hope people like us.

That's just the way the cookie crumbles. So give up those dreams of some British CEO knocking on your door proclaiming that "your music is bloody brilliant!" Than proceeding to flying you in his private corporate jet to a recording studio. Those days are over - you now need to do it your self. Go on tour. Go now... hurry up before that doesn't work either!!



Shawn Massak said...

In short, I think this history isn't so much an accurate as it is imaginative. This is how you imagined the record industry functioned throughout the past 3 decades without actually doing any research.

First, the notion that it was much easier to get a record deal in the 1970's is an invention on your behalf. Music history is dotted with overnight successes and there are just as many of them if not more now. In most situations, those that are not anomalies, people had to be profitable (aka talented, marketable, recognizable) before they would sign an artist and pump money into their records.

Bootlegging has always been an issue even before the advent of the internet. The notion that record companies have never heard the word free before is forgetting the impact of tapes. Metallica, for example, built their initial fanbase on bootleg tapes, one kid would record a tape for another kid and so on and so fourth. This was especially ironic when they decided to challenge napster.
If you heard a song on the radio and wanted to hear that song again you could tape that song, or you could buy just the single and not buy the entire record.

Furthermore, the notion that no one buys music anymore is based solely on the fact that much of our demographic downloads music illegally. Are the record companies making as much as they used to solely on CD sales? No, however they continue to produce CDs because people still buy them. People also buy music online. Consider for instance Radiohead's In Rainbows, which made an estimated 10 million dollars. People were giving the opportunity to download this album for free, completely legally, and yet chose to pay for it. It is not solely the tween markets that are thriving.

Musicians have always made most of their money through touring (licensing is important don't get me wrong). Record companies have always taken most of the profits from record sales and offered very little to the artist who produced it.

I have to go to class now. However, when you post some kind of comprehensive history please do more background research. Avoid generalizations like "Now here I am. Its 2009, there is basically no such thing a record label that picks up bands anymore. No one buys music, everyone steals it." This is not only a generalization, it is flagrantly untrue.

Andrew Mello said...

Well said my friend! You are absolutely correct; I did not research any of this. The knowledge came mostly from watching every single episode of behind the music. I do agree with you for the most part. Unless you sold 10 million records, even back in the 70's you wouldn’t have made too much money from record sales. The same is true today as it was in yesteryears... touring is the primary way musicians make money. We both know this very well. : ).

Also this article was impart, purposefully negative to try to reveal to artists that there is no such thing as an easy answer when it comes to making money from music. It takes a lot of hard work. In future articles, I will be describing how to actually make money from music. I just wanted to make some articles that were slightly humorous and slightly dream crushing. Thus the blog title, “no one cares about your art.”
Although I did enjoy a lot of your points and I may integrate them in future articles.

everyone said...

wow u r stupid

Barack Obama said...

Seriously, is this kid for real?

The Music Industry said...

Yep, you pretty much nailed it on the head kid.

steve said...

lol @ the music industry

God said...

Don't eat lead paint

Andrew Mello said...

I feel like the last five posts were by the same person.

Steven said...

I think the fact that you can run a record company from your bedroom says it all. Its saturated the market, and thats that. Lame.

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