The New Record Album

Ten years after the music industry went on the ultimate Atkins Diet it has lost about half of its girth -- if you adjust sales for inflation since 1999.

And as The New York Times Op-Ed page contributor Charles M. Blow observed recently, "At that rate the industry could be decimated before Madonna's 60th birthday".

Tell that to Live Nation who signed Madonna to a lucrative ten-year contract.

But this isn't about Madonna but may be news to the general public -- not to the industry.

The music industry died from self-inflicted wounds a long time ago.

Failing to take Napster out when it reared its pirate's head.

Failing to embrace online commerce because the labels were -- well, greedy. They didn't want to give up the album.

You remember the album, don't you?

Once vinyl, then plastic and about 99% of the time it gave you more of what you didn't want than what you wanted. Even when extra-cuts could be added to CDs. Who really cared?

But the album has been romanticized by devotees and most music industry execs as well as many artists as an artistic presentation. Funny about that, but 99% of the albums I've collected over a lifetime (and taking into account that I was a top 40 program director) barely had one good cut on them.

Forget me. Ask the music buying public.

The dew is off the lily for the album with them.

We can blame iTunes for that, but even before the iTunes store dug in and dominated digital music sales, consumers were bristling at having to pay inflated prices for a CD. Old timers might add -- and you didn't get those nice big liner notes that you got with vinyl LPs.

Well, this is not about liner notes, vinyl or anything other than a sociological change.

Once technology allowed consumers to steal music (or as some would say "discover" music that radio failed to play) then the concept of record albums was fast to fall apart. That's why over the past few years the "best of" compilation albums have been the best selling product on the market.

It was fitting that the mot popular albums were a conglomeration of singles that consumers previously cherry-picked.

And put aside that High School Musical still sells albums -- most big name artists do not sell a lot of albums -- and I say that with all due respect to Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

There are exceptions -- and there are reasons for these exceptions.

I saw Jay-Z on Bill Maher's HBO show the other night and was reminded that even Jay-Z has never had a number one single. Jay-Z believes that his music is appreciated together and apparently his fans agree. That is, there is a reason for Jay-Z fans to buy the whole of his work instead of the parts.

Jay-Z seemed to lament that he never had a number one single but hell, with his ability to sell albums, who needs to sell singles?

However, most artists sell singles more so than albums and in both cases a lot fewer of them than they would have sold ten years ago.

The value of music has declined each year as filesharing has proliferated.

Isn't that what always happens in a free marketplace?

If you ever owned an early Motorola analog cell phone -- you know, the ones that are so large you get a hernia lifting them to your ear, and that have so much radiation in them they light up your eyeballs?

Well, they weren't cheap. Paying the monthly bill wasn't cheap, either.

But the more the cell phone industry grew, the more the price of phones came down. Today, at least one carrier offers a free Blackberry Pearl without a rebate as long as you sign a contract.

Same thing happen to computers. The prices came down the more competition there was, the more open the marketplace.

Somehow record execs thought they were immune to this time tested concept. Perhaps they thought there will always be an album and we'll always be able to control the price.

As the author pointed out in his piece,

"The problem is that if people can get the music they want for free, why would they ever buy it, or even steal it? They won’t. According to a March study by the NPD Group, a market research group for the entertainment industry, 13- to 17-year-olds 'acquired 19 percent less music in 2008 than they did in 2007.' CD sales among these teenagers were down 26 percent and digital purchases were down 13 percent".

Teens are listening to more music in more formats but buying less. Here's a link to the report findings.

Okay, as we say in Philly, "who don't know that?"

But what does it mean?

It's complicated.

Single downloads are not the future. It just helps to explain part of the decimation of record sales.

We use the term "record' -- many still do even at music schools -- but the record was a piece of manufacturing. It is fitting that we seem to cling onto the name when there is really no longer a physical "record" just as there will soon no longer be a record industry.

The record business existed to sell product. They promoted product and always screamed bloody murder about how much money it took to promote the music when in reality their best friends -- radio stations -- gave them free airplay.

Hell, about all they paid for was payola and that wasn't much.

Back to the consumer.

I say this a lot and want to say it again. The next generation has increasingly shorter attention spans. Watch a young person listen to their iPod and see how often they reach to shuffle. Many of my music students freely admitted they don't listen to the songs all the way through because they know it ends.

And you want to sell these consumers albums?

My old friend, the late Michael Spears (a fellow Drake top 40 program director) told me he was working on a way to in effect mash up tunes using the best parts to shorten them. He did this before mash ups became popular. Michael was always ahead of his time.

Follow my old friend here for a second.

So, Spears was going to "sample" the best parts of each song (sound familiar?) and play that on the radio. Instead of playing one tune and then another, shuffling them to distraction, he mixed it all together and made each sweep different and appealing to short attention spans.

If my good friend John Slogan Hogan over at Clear Channel called me tomorrow and said, "Jerry, my buddy, help me develop something new in radio". I'd say -- "John, play the same hits over and over again and voice track them".

Okay, I'm lying.

What I'd really say is mash up the music and add in variety from the past and even from formerly "alien" musical genres thus creating something "new". Since the labels are going to be charging radio for the pleasure of promoting their music, might as well sell the mash ups online and on the mobile phone and really get their lawyers pissed off.

Some hip-hop PDs are moving in this area, but I'm saying make the 20-minute music sweep -- well, an album. Miss it and you can't hear it again.

You see, sociology tells us that attention spans are now an issue.

That radio offers nothing that young people can't already access. In fact, record labels don't have anything special to sell young people so they steal music.

The new album is not going to be any one thing.

Not a physical product.

Not a digital reincarnation of that physical product.


When an artist buys paint, she doesn't slap red on first and then a streak of yellow next and then a band of blue third ... that would be so -- boring. Yet artists mix the colors as they interpret the canvass and every one seems to come out different. It's been happening that way for ages.

The album of the future will provide consumers with the red, yellow and blues and let them play with them on the "canvass" or "canvasses" of the future whether online or mobile.

The person who provides the musical paint gets to make a little bit of money-- sorry, record labels.

But the artists add the creativity and get to eventually sell the masterpiece.

That's opposite of the way the music industry works today where:

1. Record label meets artist.

2. Record label signs artist.

3. Record labels screws over artists' creativity and image.

4. Record label makes most of the money and then screws the artists again all the while screaming to Congress that the artists would be the ones to benefit from more radio royalty taxes.

But not to worry -- Apple is suckering the record labels once again.

Apple is working with the Big Four Labels to come up with ways to convince young consumers to buy more digital albums.

Of course, you know what will happen even if they don't.

There is no way to fool the consumer into buying more albums online when they clearly prefer to cherry-pick music and, oh yes -- Apple will make a ton of money selling the "red, yellow and blue" musical paint to consumers who will be buying their products and using their service.

The album of the future doesn't get put together by the label.

Nor most of the artists unless they have ten songs that must be presented together as Jay-Z believes he does.

The new record album is now in the hands of the consumer and no record label can control or own that.

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