Music is my Aeroplane

From Peter Stemmet (via Martin Myers)

Warm greetings once more.

So last week was all about my disgust at the new version of We Are The World and only Barry thought I was out of tune. This cannot be blamed on his being Cape-Spanish but perhaps he was influenced by the city’s orographic conditions. Yes Rob that is a legitimate geographical term.

I am keeping with the music theme this week and before I continue I would like you to go check out my mate Martin’s music conference website – www.musicexchange.co.za – feel free to pass on to your friends in the recording business if it is not applicable to you. It’s the first and only of its kind in South Africa.

Martin has sent a few articles to me recently which has reignited thoughts that I have been having for many years regarding the music industry. That is the thorny issue surrounding album sales and illegal downloads. If morality was taken out of the equation would you go to your local mall to find a music store and purchase an album (typically around R150) containing 12 songs on average only to be disappointed because you only like the one hit that was playing on the radio at the time? Or would you opt for purchasing the album at the traffic lights for considerably less and feel content that you only wasted R60 on the one or maybe two tracks you like versus the ten you did not enjoy? Or Option Three: Just download the song that you like for free.

Let us be honest with one another. The final choice seems the most logic of the three when, as aforementioned, morality is ignored. Some websites that offer free downloads are in fact legal but to the average internet user it is almost impossible to tell the legitimate sites from those run by pirates. How will the 21st century muso combat this?

In 2002 Red Hot Chilli Peppers bass guitarist Flea claimed he and his band mates were “heartbroken” that a bootleg copy of their album By The Way had been released on the internet. Flea urged Chilli Peppers fans to purchase the original as it was of better quality. The problem for Flea, Anthony Kiedis and just about every other recording artist the world over is that the average music listener cannot tell the difference between sound quality that is perfect versus something that is around 80%. So once again, why buy the cow if I can get the milk for free? Plus I can then delete the songs I do not like and free up hard drive space for more tunes.

The reality is that some artists are beginning to make their work available for free downloading already although these are still the exception at this stage. Selling advertising space on their websites is an income avenue that would not have existed as recently as a decade ago even. How much this will combat declining album sales is debatable. Artists will in all likelihood need to tour more often or at least perform live more often which basically implies the former.

In this instantaneous microwave society in which we live consumers no longer have the time to listen to a whole album. It is also true that most music stores will allow you to listen to the entire album before you make your purchase thereby potentially limiting the disappointment factor. However if people cannot manufacture half-an-hour to meet a friend for coffee, how on earth can they be expected to free up around two hours to listen to something that they might not even like? Their solution is to download the tracks they like, create a playlist on their iPod or mp3 player and off they go.

Custom playlists are the albums of the 21st century. Artists and their genres will become more and more of a niche and the days of a Michael Jackson releasing Thriller and selling an estimated 110 million copies worldwide are extinct. The soon-to-be equivalent will be achieving 110 million downloads worldwide.

The people who suffer the most are the artists themselves it would appear. What kind of a private or family life can someone have who is a travelling road show? Of course this also opens up a glorious marketing opportunity for anyone with original and innovative concepts.

My final thought is to say that just as the Compact Disc, and even the Digital Verstatile Disc is a dying technology so too the album is fast suffering the fate of the dodo. I am of the opinion that we are not too far away from an era where artists no longer even bother releasing albums but just their best work as downloadable tracks.

Heal the world.


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