An Industry in Crisis

The music industry is either in a stunning boom, or a staggering recession, depending on how you look at it. On one hand, artists are getting more exposure than ever before; it’s never been easier to fill a 30 gigabyte iPod thanks to networks like LimeWire and BitTorrent. More artists are being listened to by more people than ever before. The internet offers a paradigm which allows users to download music without so much as driving to a store or even retrieving a wallet.

But on the other hand, the music industry’s sales momentum is falling dramatically. In 2000 the tenth-best selling album, Writing’s on the Wall by Destiny’s Child, sold more than 2006’s best seller, the soundtrack to High School Musical*. So what has happened?

For one thing, smaller record stores are losing out to “big-box” stores like Best Buy and Wal Mart. And smaller stores that sell music like FYE and Barnes and Noble have to raise prices to stay open. Just today I was browsing Barnes and Noble, where albums are priced at around $19, about $6 more than Best Buy’s average.

So what can the industry do? Users aren’t afraid of the RIAA – music downloads are up even in the face of numerous lawsuits filed against individual users. And with album sales in the decline they are, the problem seems almost hopeless.

One problem I see with music today is the dilution of the art of songwriting and composition. Yes, there are artists out there making beautiful music, but the majority of pop music, it seems, sells the same image. And who can blame those artists? They’re only taking advantage of an opportunity. People want what’s trendy, and their image is what’s trendy by today’s standards. So we party like rockstars, and buy each other dranks, and pop, lock and drop it.

Is the industry talking down to us?  Are we sold simple, digital loops and repetitive themes in pop music because some executives think that we can only handle those simple, repetitive themes?  If you write at a higher level – in prose, poetry, or song – your readers will be stimulated.  They will be forced to think and process, rather than consume and digest.  People are oftentimes much smarter than they are given credit for.

So, record companies, even though you’re probably not reading this, I challenge you to challenge us!  Push deep, thoughtful songs about tough subjects like poverty and war.  I still believe music is a profoundly beautiful and complex art form that can excite social and political change – just as in the past.

Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

∞ ∞

*Writing’s on the Wall, the tenth-most selling album of 2000, sold 3,802,165 copies while the soundtrack to High School Musical, the number one seller in 2006, sold 3,719,071 copies (Rolling Stone).


  • Rolling Stone issue 1029 (June 28, 2007)
  • Top 100 SinglesChart

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