The downs and ups and downs of the music industry

Music CDs are dead.

That’s not big news, I know. But it sets up this great story from a friend-of-a-friend source: the aunt of one of our babysitters was running a music industry focus group for teenagers. After answering some questions about their musical habits and tastes, the focus group participants were free to leave. As part of their compensation, they got to walk past a table filled with CDs. These were hit recordings by big name artists. “Take some,” said the researchers. Always in the past these would be quickly scooped up. But now the teenagers looked at them blankly and departed. Left unsaid: “Why on earth would I want one of those things?” The research in question was on how to get teenagers to buy more CDs. It was not an upbeat report.

So money continues to drain from the industry. Alan has written about that from the inside. Is any money coming back in? One way to get money back in is through subscription services.

This Christmas we got a Sonos music system and a subscription to Rhapsody. Sonos is a streaming wireless solution that lets you play your music in any room. You can orchestrate the whole thing from your iPhone. Rhapsody brings the music down from the cloud. It’s not very expensive, and as far as I’m concerned, they have all the music in the world. Now I look at my collection of CDs and ask myself “Why am I carrying all this ridiculous inventory?” Anything I can name, I can quickly play in any room. It’s excellent.

So my music setup makes me happy, and I feel good about supporting musicians by actually paying a monthly fee for my music. Are Rhapsody and other services like it helping much? Now I turn to Exhibit B: The REAL Death Of The Music Industry. This is a Business Insider analysis that strips away any illusions. The music industry is still in a death spiral. Growth in digital products is a tiny compensation for massive losses in other areas, and subscription fees are a small, flat part of digital products. Oh well. I suspect the last guy they lay off will be a lawyer.

4 thoughts on “The downs and ups and downs of the music industry”

  1. Looking at the graph, 1989 to 2009 was clearly the “era of the music industry,” especially since the industry is still making more now than they were before 1989. Since my formative years, in terms of musical tastes, were pre-’89, I can’t say as I’m all that sad to see the industry go away. As a note to the younger readers looking at the graphs, it is true that all music sales before 1973 were in album format.

  2. I find it fascinating that such a large and significant industry can be so thoroughly gutted and nobody really notices, except of course for those who worked in it.

  3. I’m with Alan: there have been producers and agents and labels since, well, much further back than the graphs show, so there has been, and I would suspect will always be, a music industry; but, the ’90s saw a massive expansion of the industry that looked to all involved to be the next big thing.

    What’s the current tally on things-that-in-the-’90s-we-thought-would-be-the-next-big-thing-but-turned-out-to-be-overinflated-bubbles?

    I wonder if this happened in the 1890s?

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