Thursday, August 7, 2014

How The Music Industry Created Its Own Worst Nightmares

Music Business image
Once a sector committed to the bleeding edge, the recorded music business has gone from an industry adept at incorporating the latest technology into its products to one that’s become its own worst enemy by its refusal to adopt and adapt until its too late. Over the last 30 years, not only has the industry made a series of grim mistakes that has emboldened its competition, in some cases it has even created it.

For the better part of a hundred years the recorded music business had an impressive track record of staying on top of the freshest technology. From adopting the vinyl record to replace the fragile shellac discs that were its original core business, to welcoming the cassette and its new-found portability, to the random access and digital sound of the CD, the industry managed to rise to greater and greater sales heights with each successive tech breakthrough that it incorporated. 

But a series of short-sighted mistakes starting in 1981 have turned the industry from the master of its own domain to one that’s now primarily reactionary, with each latest response putting it deeper and deeper in a hole as it loses control of its own destiny. Where once the industry controlled every aspect of its business, now it has ceded control of virtually all of it, but especially the distribution of its products.

This has occurred due to many factors, but historians will look back at three major turning points that altered the industry’s fate. 

The Rise Of MTV
Up until 1980, recorded music was an ecosystem totally run by the major record labels. They were responsible for creating the product by finding and recording the artists, to manufacturing the product in its own manufacturing plants, to distributing the product to a series of retail stores, to promoting the product via print media and especially radio. The record label was at the center of each of these activities, none of which could progress without its approval. The money flowed and life was good.

But by 1980 the industry was in a major doldrum thanks to a backlash against the disco era and a general spending malaise. Luckily it was soon bailed out by new musical trends (punk and new wave), and an upstart cable television network called MTV.

Suddenly there was a new way to promote music and every label jumped in feet first as viewers and record buyers couldn’t get enough of watching videos by the artists they loved. Soon, a new stable of MTV-ready stars was created, the CD was introduced, and music consumers were buying more product than ever before, with MTV at the center of it all. Read more on Forbes.

1 comment:

Rand said...

Excellent and very insightful article Bobby, thanks.

Like anything in life, change occurs whether one is ready or not and there's an accompanying positive and negative side.

Being stubbornly traditionally-minded, in some ways I miss the old-fashioned music business, warts and all, and yet there's still some cause for optimism as well.

I suppose the positive side of digitizing music (recording, production, distribution, marketing, etc.) is allowing savvy musicians and recording artists to capitalize on their newly found (like it or not) independence of the traditional stranglehold 'tough love' record companies used to have on someone's career.

Artists can now become their own record companies and with intelligent use of the latest trends like those you've already mentioned, who knows how drastically the 'music business' will eventually change?

The glass is either half full or half empty depending upon one's frame of mind.


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