Category: Music



Music sales are down again this year, and sooner or later the industry has to start looking at the product its putting out.

There will always be interesting new works, but overall, music has gone to hell over the last decade. I’ve been complaining about the lack of a new music genre for nearly a decade, but the creativity level in music overall is really looking grim.

One thing that has kept the industry afloat is hip-hop. Every year, there always seems to be a few hip-hop tracks that become huge hits. I’m not a big fan, but I certainly have an appreciation for a wide spectrum of music. Over the past year, I kept remarking that there are no memorable or lasting hip-hop songs.

This New York Times article confirms my suspicion, 2007 has been a very difficult year for hip-hop.

You know the music industry is going down the tubes, when they can’t even produce a few hit rap songs.

Looks like someone has finally released a decent online music store. Amazon MP3 is superior to iTunes.

  • No DRM
  • Web Based
  • Works with any MP3 Player
  • Integrated with iTunes
  • Reasonable Pricing
  • Incorporates Amazon Recommendations
  • Music encoded at a reasonable quality level

I’ve avoided online music stores for years because of DRM, poor quality, and device lock in, but Amazon MP3 gets rid of most of my concerns. Its not perfect though, here is what I would like to see:

  • Lossless FLAC downloads for a premium price.
  • Linux Support

If Amazon MP3 provided lossless and Linux support, I would buy all my music via digital download. Until then, I will stick to CD’s and use downloads for only casual purchases.

People should avoid iTunes like the plague. Apple’s consolidation of media distribution and media players has made a bad situation worse.

Its crazy to think about it, but there hasn’t been truly new genre of music in over a decade. Think of all the genres in popular music from 1910-1995. In the past 10+ years? Nothing!

In Rainbows

Many years ago on, I proposed that artists should take charge of their own electronic distribution and promotion, instead of depending on record companies. Bands like Phish started doing this years ago, and now Radiohead has made a big splash with its pay “whatever you want system.”

I reluctantly paid $12 for “In Rainbows.” I was reluctant because there were no details on what format the music would be distributed in, then yesterday I get a notification from Radiohead that the tracks were available as 160k MP3’s!

This is a revolution? Your giving me digital music at a sound quality that is not even close to reaching the level of a CD, a format that came out 20 years ago. Nice try Radiohead, but 160k MP3’s are not going to cut it. Give me lossless, or at least offer an affordable CD option.

This is why I continue to buy CD’s. Commercial digital music quality is simply horrible.

One positive note, the album is actually very good.

Remember the music video? Twenty years ago, music videos were actually creative, even mainstream productions were interesting. Budgets could reach in the 5-10 million range for the big artists, like Madonna or U2 back in the early 90’s.

Today, the only time I ever come across music videos is at the gym, because record companies pay the gym to show them.. MTV (Music Television) stopped showing videos over a decade ago for the most part.

Even with the creative drought in the music industry today, I can usually find 5-10 new bands a year worth listening to. “The Hold Steady,” are not only worth listening, but their videos are entertaining as well.

I’m the type of person the music industry loves. I buy at least thirty new CD’s a year. I attend at least 10 concerts per year as well. So why am I, along with millions of other music consumers, completely fed up with the music industry?

Lets do a quick review of current state of the industry. CD sales are way down. The music industry is trying to kill Internet radio. The industry has sued over 18,000 customers for downloading.

So last week, I wanted to get tickets to see a concert at the electric factory in Philadelphia. Pete Yorn was playing on Saturday. At $20 a ticket, it seemed like a steal.

Ticketmaster Charges

What the hell are these charges? What convenience am I paying for? The convenience of being screwed by a ticket monopoly in the comfort of my own home? I have to pay $12.40 in convenience fees for $40 worth of tickets? To add insult to injury, there is a $4.85 processing fee. Who the hell did the calculus on the $4.85? It certainly is not the cost of my transaction, its simply another way for Ticketmaster to screw consumers.

So I take one in the backside from Ticketmaster to attend the concert, and this week I get an e-mail from favorite band, Wilco. Now in the past, Wilco has been fairly critical of the music industry establishment. You will often see Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer/guitarist, talking about copyright issues with Larry Lessig, etc in various events. So Wilco has a new CD coming out, and I can preorder it directly from their store, which is run by an outfit called Musictoday.

The music industry has moved towards the bundling concept. Since people feel they are getting screwed with $20 CD’s, the popular trend is to include a t-shirt and price it at $30. Wilco has the CD alone for $18 or the CD+shirt combo at $30. I picked the combo because Wilco always has great high quality shirts. I try to buy from the artist directly when I can, to give them the largest cut of my purchase.

The checkout process moves along, and then the shipping screen comes up.

Wilco Preorder Shipping

The whole point of a preorder is to get the item when its released. The standard shipping rate is an obscene $8.30. I know bulk shipping, an outfit like Musictoday is probably paying $1 – $2 to ship a cd/shirt combo via ground. So I can pay a ripoff shipping fee and receive my CD two weeks after it was released. Thanks Wilco!

The Wilco preorder store has an option for release date shipping. At a cost of $14.35, I can receive my pre-ordered CD on the day of its release! What a novel concept! So if I just decided to buy the CD, it would cost me over $30 to receive it on the release date.

Is it hard to see why the music industry is dying, when any transaction involving the music industry leads to the customer being ripped off?

Pricing is only one aspect of the problems facing the music industry. The last emerging new major genre of music, Grunge, took place 20 years ago. There has never been a time in the musical history of the United States where 20 years went by without a significant new genre of music.

I’m very impressed with Steve’s Job’s “Thoughts on Music.’ Its the same viewpoint I’ve been pushing for years. The numbers prove that DRM is useless.

Today’s most popular iPod holds 1000 songs, and research tells us that the average iPod is nearly full. This means that only 22 out of 1000 songs, or under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM. The remaining 97% of the music is unprotected and playable on any player that can play the open formats.

So if the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none. If anything, the technical expertise and overhead required to create, operate and update a DRM system has limited the number of participants selling DRM protected music.