gt HouseWHY? subhead

Music executives blame all their woes on "illegal" copying. Let's look at the facts. CD sales are down. Okay, those are the facts.

Now the accusations. The popularity of compact discs was a windfall for the music giants, who could sell re-issued albums at minimal cost for more than their original price. Maybe you should have received a rebate for trading up from a record (or cassette tape) of the same title, as you do with a used car. The bottom line is that sales increased without new "product." And as gt house have noted, they eliminated the longboxes and passed the savings on to themselves.

The replacement market fizzled after consumers replaced all their favourite records with CDs, at least all that were available. From the music monopoly's viewpoint, another incompatible format with a new round of reselling would be ideal. So far, mini-discs and other formats have failed. Stuck with compact discs for now, how can they sell more units? Simple. Prevent CDs from being dubbed, so CD owners will have to buy more than one copy of an album.

Prix Fix

People who buy music feel entitled to copy it, probably because US courts have upheld their copy right for personal use, like personal mixes, a copy for the car, one for the cat's box, and so on. Technology has caught up, as it will, so consumers now digitally copy on their computers or devices, like CD burners.

Music executives know that trying to end copying would be like flogging a dead composer, so they claim that better quality duplication differentiates the activity from analog copying. Most listeners are not that finicky; they just like the convenience of discs, especially when new autos and computers have CD players. It's a question of what the music companies think they can get away with.

Their constant whining about alleged illegal copies and downloads is influencing the media, who rarely observe that there may be other reasons for the drop in CD sales. [Surely, ownership of news outlets and CD companies by the same conglomerates wouldn't influence their reporting.] Even the Wall Street Journal cites "unrestrained costs, Internet piracy, and its own talent recession" as problems. Reuters attributes the drop to "piracy and the economic downturn." Still, the official accusations are not resonating with the public. When one executive equated downloading music to terrorism, he was verbally pummeled and, I believe, forced to listen to some of his own releases.

It's NOT the size?

Most industries recognise the importance of image. If you are a software monopoly and customers loathe you, that's bad for business. Ultimately, customers will seek alternatives. Unlike cell phones, music is not a necessity for most individuals, difficult as it is for me to accept. Some people sedate their minds with Talk Radio all day. To sell more CDs, aside from offering fine music at a fair price, companies need customers who like them. Or at least tolerate them.

Consider overpricing. What CD is really worth close to twenty dollars, over $20 including the learning tax? Consumers may get over the shock, but will still buy fewer units. Price-fixing – as Sony, BMG, Warners, EMI and Universal were caught doing – is harder to forgive. And unlike copying a CD, it is illegal, violating state and federal anti-trust laws. Without admiting their wrongdoing, they agreed to pay a $67.4 million settlement. [Click on CD price-fixing settlement to apply for as much as $20, if you purchased a CD, record or cassette at a retailer between 1995 and 2000.]

Industries often respond to sales dips with lower prices. Compact disc prices have soared with little or no increase in technical quality and no increase in musicianship. Yes, CDs seem longer, but usually because they are boring. Buy a CD version of an album from thirty years ago and it costs nearly as much as (or more than) new music, even though the sound quality cannot match today's state-of the-art recordings. In other countries, two classic albums come on one disc, saving cost and valuable shelf space, assuming you have more than a miniscule 300-disc collection. In the US, two thirty-minute albums are sold separately, if at all.

Knowing how popular the CEOs are, recording companies claim that the artists will suffer. Since when is that the consumers' fault? These companies are legendary for screwing artists out of even the pittance offered in their contracts. InfoWorld observes the "delicious irony here in that the recording industry – like the movie industry – has a long, established history of making billions of dollars by cheating performers, writers, and others out of what is rightly theirs." These companies have used their political clout to get copyright protections extended for more than the previous seventy years. No one feigned concern about elderly musicians, just stagnating corporations.

It is not the artists, it's the executives who will lose the most, since they receive the most. Paul Myers, founder of the download site, says "the politics of the major labels hasn't changed." He explains, "The guy who puts his neck out on the line could get fired. Whereas the guy who keeps his head down is safe, and he gets to keep his BMW for another year." There is no proof that the new technologies hurt sales. An excellent case could be advanced that open copying exposes people to more music, encouraging more CD purchases.

By creating a witch hunt atmosphere, picking on individuals who download music, they anger everyone. I bought a CD burner recently, primarily to create my own mixes, as I did for years on reel-to-reel tape. Without splicing, I can burn phemonenal programmes, limited only by the limits of available catalog. What's wrong with that? It's not like the music industry offers custom discs, as they could. Anyone who knows me will confirm that I buy a whole lot of CDs. Andrew Lack, Sony Music's new CEO, boasts of over a 300 compact disc collection. How impressive! I own nearly that many Yazz discs.

If too much print makes you nutty, stare at Fern and pull yourself together, dammit!

My CD burner, which I also own, includes circuitry, foisted on the manufacturer by the recording companies, preventing certain CDs from being copied. In other words, a CD that I own cannot be copied by me for me on my own CD burner. Guess how that strikes me.

I'm not perfect. Occasionally, I have acquired or copied out-of-print CDs and records because THEY'RE OUT OF PRINT. I would buy them gladly if they were on CD, even pay a premium price. Yet the companies lock this great music in their vaults. If I can pick the lock, who am I cheating? The original artist? She probably wouldn't get much, if anything, from a reissue.

The entertainment conglomerates aim for big hits and synergy. They want their movies to set box-office records; they want multi-platinum albums. They do not nurture artists or give a rat's ass about music. Just as viewers turn to HBO and other cable alternatives when they don't get what they want from the big television networks, displeased listeners seek alternatives. I won't rehash the litany of American recordng company missteps, which are well-documented throughout this site, particularly on the Import-Only review page. In the past decade, I've been forced to order CDs from all over Europe, the UK (or is that now part of Europe?), Japan and Australia. Often, CDs by American artists unavailable in the States. Many great musicians sell their own music on the Net because they can't or won't deal with the labels. Joni Mitchell recently ranted about the music business, which she says she's "ashamed" to be part of. If the US CD manufacturers want my business, they have to satisfy far more of my musical needs.

Musical Irony

For example, A&M Records were bought by Universal Music Group*, presumably for their great catalogue of music. Yet, try finding a Joan Armatrading album other than the two or three readily available. And forget Brenda Russell. The manufacturers coast on greatest hits albums. I want the original albums, not some other person's choices. And I sure as hell don't need three "greatest" albums by the same artist with the same old songs.

Years ago, Billboard magazine ran an article about how the sale of forty-fives (those little records with the big holes) were dwindling. Recording executives said that was how they marketed their products and they would continue to make 45s, regardless of customer preference. Today's executives are as pig-headed as ever, trying to market 65-minute discs with one or two "hits." They still offer "singles" with a fraction of the music at nearly the price of an album. Before blaming their reduced sales on everyone else, isn't it time the industry executives looked in the mirror?

If these companies continue promoting non-music peppered with invective and insults, they really can't take the moral high ground when we sing, "Fuck the record companies!"

    ©2003 gt slade

  Notes: Although they market records hardly at all, they refer to themselves
  as "record companies," illustrating the regressive stance of the music biz.

  *I had to research which company bought A&M because all my
   A&M CDs are non-Universal.

   When I complete an essay like this, I always wonder if I'm being too harsh.
   Maybe I've worked myself into a frenzy. Maybe no one else cares that much.
   For perspective, I did some surfing and discovered many folks who were,
   shall I say, "far more disillusioned" than I am. Click on the right arrow.
gt, that's me. See?

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