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This Is Happening: Bizarre Love Triangle

Written by Anthony Hess on December 2, 2011

The inaugural blog poses quite a conundrum for a virgin blogger as what you first “pen” will set the tone for the rest of your posts. So I lay here, thinking an afternoon scotch might help me gain some clarity in my thoughts by killing off the weaker ones, a practical employment of Buffalo Theory. However, it is the voice of James Murphy, the man who I so aptly “borrowed” from in naming this blog that has once again kick started the wheels beneath this blog.

At a gig in New York in April 2010, Murphy fell to his knees and begged for those in the crowd who had obtained a leaked copy of the album before the release date, not to share it…yet. He pleaded for them to not share their copy of the album until the chosen release date but after that, it didn’t matter.

When I first read this, it struck quite a chord with me. Murphy openly declared that he did not care about money but only the integrity of his music, having it released on his own terms, in his own time. It is this ideal that you hope all artists could have when it came to their work but when it comes to it, the music industry doesn’t run on good ideals and monetary indifference.

Once upon a time, record labels were needed to help a band monetize their music and turn their dream of flying across the globe to play for a few thousand screaming fans, into a reality. They were the means of globalising a local sound. Enter Shawn Fanning. We’ve all heard the story too many times so I’m just going to leave that bit out and jump straight to the end.

There has been a severe paradigm shift in who holds the power over music. It has turned into a three-way struggle for the throne. The “consumer” has tasted free music and understands it to be a free commodity but still feels the right to make demands. The artist wants people to hear their music for what it is, but they also feel their hard work deserves some return. The label is still trying to make money out of a product that less and less people are willing to pay for and think that increasing the price of the records that already are decreasing in sales is going to do that.

So here we are, stuck in this bizarre love triangle/Mexican stand-off where each point feels they have the power over those they are dependent on. At the recent Billboard FutureSound Conference in San Francisco, a variety of music moguls and voices came to discuss the shape of things to come and the struggles faced by labels under the iGeneration. MOG CEO David Hyman points out that all the companies are trying to gouge too much. “Everybody would be better off if we take a smaller piece of bigger pie than a bigger piece of a smaller pie.”

The problem is costs have to be made up but where from? People aren’t buying music like they used to. Scott Ian of Anthrax has recently jumped on board with the anti- downloading campaign when the latest Anthrax album sold a mere 30,000 copies, a significantly lesser amount than the people that attend their shows. While the shift to focus on digital album sales is a start, it isn’t quite enough.

I’m not looking to point out some brand new idea that we haven’t all known for the past 50 years. What I’m trying to say is that the game has changed and if changes aren’t made to how we play, we’re all going to lose. The time has come for new ideas to take over. The industry model from 1976 is no longer working. In the words of Smule CEO Jeff Smith, “The demographics have changed, deal with it, now let’s innovate.”

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