According to the New York Times, the image above spells the end of the music industry. It visualizes the value of units shipped for various mediums since 1973 in billions of dollars. Based on their calculations, they give the industry ten more years before it completely falls apart.
But Andrew Dubber see’s it differently.
I don’t know about you, but I was around in 1973. I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to be aware of music. It had been around long before I had. And even though the graph would have been tiny – at least in comparison to the uncharacteristically massive spike in CD sales around 1999 – there was no crisis in the music business then.
My guess, in fact, was that there was opportunity. In 1973, the small numbers meant that people who sought to do new and interesting things were able to do those new and interesting things. Less was at stake (at least, in aggregate) and so people took risks.
New and innovative kinds of music flourished in the margins. Funk, disco, punk, psychedelic, metal, and reggae all started to emerge as significant forces from that decade. Lots of tiny labels did amazing and sometimes incredibly profitable things. Risk-takers were sometimes massively rewarded. Those who kicked at the edges often flourished.
Skip forward to 1999 – ten years ago now – and you witness the height of corporatism in the recorded music business. A world of a few stars selling millions of copies of safe and frequently dull music. But most importantly, the business people who were teens in 1973 were able to take the music they loved from their youth and turn it into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Since Hip-Hop was one of the innovative kinds of music to flourish in the margins of the late ’70s, I prefer Andrew’s line of thinking for two reasons. First of all, music existed before the boom of record sales and it will continue to be here well after the current model fades away. Also, back catalog sales helped to inflate these sale numbers as numerous people bought Dark Side Of The Moon on Vinyl, Casette, CD, SACD & etc. At some point people are going to say enough is enough & that point is now.
Secondly, we’re seeing the effects of a new distribution model level the playing field. Newcomers like U-N-I & The Kid Daytona feel comfortable enough to put their music out for free & let the music speak for itself. Hell, even Yung Joc released his latest album for free after not liking the support he was receiving from his label. Sure it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but that line of thinking led to the same 10-15 songs being played in a continuous loop on the radio. It led to commercial viability being placed ahead of artistic credibility.
As someone who has a general love of music, I’m ready for things to shook up a bit. Lord knows Hip-Hop (& music in general) needs a breath of fresh air and if this brings it, I welcome it with open arms. Because in reality, the music industry isn’t going anywhere. Roles are being redefined & power shifts will occur. It’s just the fact that the people who’ve held the reins for the last 30-40 years have no clue what’s around the bend.
And it scares the shit out them.