Welcome to For Your Consideration, I am Nicholas La Torre and I am here to present relevant issues in music that are on my mind. I will present multiple sides of the issue for you to consider and ultimately we will try to gauge your thoughts on the issue. Check out today's issue below!
Today’s record industry is vastly different from what it was even 10 years ago. While many have learned to accept this, we constantly find ourselves wondering whether the “adapt or die” mentality of it all has brought on more harm or good. The industry that so many love so dearly has been affected more by technology than most other performing arts industries like it. We now have open access to a multitude of works unlike ever before. This allows bands to have unprecedented control over their product and image. Often, I wonder if this has inadvertently eliminated the bit of quality control that was always built into the process of becoming a professional. The considerations have many fans of music asking the question: Have we killed the record industry?
I’m not going to sit on my high horse and pretend I wasn’t enamored by the intoxicating ability to find and keep pretty much any musical product I so desired. This is also not a generational diss track where I blame today’s youth for all of it. I was in college in the early 2000s, an era during which we saw piracy at an all-time high. In fact, many of my peers faced lawsuits from the Recording Industry Association of America, so any complaining would be a bit of a pot and kettle situation. At that time, we thought we were rebels. We were anti-establishment and tired of being told how we were supposed to consume music. It was no secret that even then, most of the money for an album never made it back to the bands. We didn’t see ourselves as shortcutting the artists, we were shortcutting the “man!” In fact, most of the complaints during this time were not from the bands themselves and the bands who did only did so because they had more clout and resources invested in their record labels.
As we witnessed the shift from pirate downloads to the more modern approach of digital streaming, the recording industry seems to finally have found a way to regain control against the complete anarchy the music business had turned into. As a result, everything we knew about bands, from the recruitment, development, and distribution, has completely changed. A 12-year-old kid can mix some beats on GarageBand, upload to SoundCloud and YouTube, and find their way toward burgeoning success. This can only be a good thing, right? Before, we relied on labels to find talent and bring them to us, perhaps after polishing them up a bit. Today, the labels have no incentive to do that. They rely on clicks and views, where talent takes a back seat to exposure and followers. Don’t take my word for it. Read what Dada drummer and 7horse singer/drummer, Phil Leavitt, had to say:
“You still need publicity, you need marketing, you need all those things that record companies used to do. But record companies aren't willing to do it anymore,” Leavitt said. “They only want to work on things that are sure things because they've got a very limited budget. They're struggling to see themselves as nobody is buying their product line. Your product has basically been given away for free now.”
Of course, the industry still found a way to sink its claws back into the bands. The shifting industry hurt the record companies, make no mistake about that, but as usual, they found a way to leverage that suffering back to the creators themselves. Now bands must rely on their live performances, merchandise sales, and social media presence in order to reach people.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still bands out there that are keeping some semblance of the record industry we grew up with alive, especially in the alternative genre. Some have even suggested a resurgence.
“I mean, nobody ever talks about bringing the record industry back. Our business that we grew up looking to try to be a part of, the whole model of what rock and roll was back in the 60s and 70s doesn't really exist like that.” Leavitt said. “So now, you you're out here, trying to figure out ways to do everything yourself…but you do have to adapt if you're going to survive, right?”
Since the way we do things now are so different, shouldn’t we just change the industry name altogether. What’s a record at this point? We speak about them as relics or souvenirs of our childhoods. In fact, the terms record and album have been used so interchangeably that we are not even sure of their real meanings anymore. Bands need not follow the traditional strategy of creating a full-fledged “record” anymore, but for those that do, we love them even more.
So, not to cop out of the thesis, but I cannot see the record industry ever dying completely. It will exist in some form or another as long as folks crave sophistication, emotion, and melody from what they choose to put in their ears, there will be an industry to capture it and profit from it. But anyone who has experienced the industry before piracy, streaming, and social media will always remember how great it was. And while the ability to access listeners in a way like never before is pretty great too, nothing will ever beat cracking open an album for the first time with only our expectations to guide us.