The End of the Music Industry

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Charles M. Blow not only writes for the paper, he produces stunning infographics. This time, he gives us visual proof of the decline of the music industry in the infographic below. Read the article here. The statistics he cites are fascinating, particularly the suggestion that the Long Tail is actually quite short:

A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.

Again, a chapter of Networked Publics, this time the chapter on culture is worth taking a look at. Here, we surveyed the changes in consumption and production of cultural artifacts in the last decade. The trends in the book that we identified are all still in play, albeit even more so. 

The other day a student was fined $750,000 for downloading music. In theory, this financial death sentence should deter other downloaders, but its too late, as meaningless a gesture as the East German government's assassination of Chris Gueffroy, shot to death crossing the Berlin Wall in January 1989. Blow finishes his piece by mentioning Apple's efforts to bring back the album and concludes "It’s too little too late."

I know that my thesis that network culture is distinct from postmodernism is controversial, but the change in the music industry is an example of how different things are: where under postmodernism, capital colonized culture, and in turn culture colonized capital, today we watch a massive collapse of the culture industry. Instead of culture and its products (which were still physical), capital sought to trade in the next horizon, information and its delivery. In doing so, however, capital ran across the difficulties of capitalizing on that condition and is now faced with a crisis.    

My sense is that there's also more to this than rampant piracy and a shift to legal music downloading. I'd be curious to find out if our consumption of music has shifted to other fields.

One possibility is that our attention has shifted elsewhere. If teenagers spend their time in online forums, on YouTube or surfing for pr0n, that's less time devoted to music.   

Another, more prosaic possibility is that it is far easier to preview music than ever before. Since my tastes are far more esoteric than FM radio, I used to blindly buy albums based on recommendations from stores or previous work by the artists, but now I can decide if I like the music before I buy it. Much of the time I don't. 

Moreover, there's always the dark possibility that given the global continuum that the Internet has brought us, the production of the new has been inhibited. On a personal note, I find very little from the last decade worth listening to. Maybe that's a broader problem? The fact that there are no major new movements to compare with New Wave, Hip-Hop, or Electronica in this decade (surely not Emo?) points in this direction as well. 

Likely, its a combination of these changes. But its clear to me that Network Culture is not the same thing as postmodernism.  

Ernie Kovacs's Musical Office

Thinking of ourselves as original and critical and the 1950s as uncritical and uninventive, an era of pure mass culture, is naïve at best and certainly bad history.

Above is one of many videos available on YouTube by Ernie Kovacs, an American comedian who did fabulous work on prime-time TV in the 1950s and early 1960s until his death (the video above is from 1961, so not technically in the 1950s, but it's consistent with the earlier work). This work was outrightly experimental, often engaging with television, the new media of its day. 

Will our own experiments with new media be as little known one day? 

goodbye 20th century

Woke up this morning to read a post by Enrique at a:456 and was amazed just how precisely he had nailed what's been on my mind for the last two weeks.

Twenty years ago I was moving to the city to study architectural design (yes, at Columbia. Over that summer I came to realize that the music I was listening to (and, at the time, making) was giving me so much more than the formalist architecture of the day ever could. Unlike Enrique, I was a disappointed by Daydream Nation: my album was Sister. But Sonic Youth was still so important to reading the city as were other noise bands like Live Skull (and reading books like Gravity's Rainbow…a whole summer of Gravity's Rainbow). And at Sonic Youth's CBGBs concert that summer I was right up against the stage the entire time. I remember thinking that the song Schizophernia in particular was much less about an individual and much more about a city and a world…this was, after all, still very much the postmodern moment. 

As Enrique points out, New York was as dirty a city as could be that summer, gripped in a crack epidemic, and heading for riot that would end all that. Soon, like Ulysses, I'd be back to Ithaca where I'd do a Ph.D. and somehow try to understand what all that meant. And no matter how great the city is now and no matter how nostalgic it is to say this, I really wish the city was dirty again. There was a potential then that has been exhausted by architecture.   





i'm a big sister, and i'm a girl, and i'm a princess, and this is my horse

On evenings like this one I feel like I'm the most uninformed person on the planet. Well, maybe not quite the last one...

I was wondering what one of my favorite bands, Underworld, was up to. It had been an awfully long time since they'd produced an album, which isn't necessarily something unusual for the group, which has a lot of side interests, such as the graphic design group Tomato, but still it seemed like a long time had passed. Soon enough, I discovered the Riverrun project of which the title of this post is only one track. Underworld, it turns out, have released three album length tracks on their site Underworldlive. Accompanying each piece is an image gallery and, even, in some cases, a video for your video iPod. Classic Underworld, darker, moodier and less danceable.

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