Letters to Mix

Give Them What They Want The high-level answer is simple: give consumers what they want. Digital music is all about flexibility, so we have to deliver

Give Them What TheyWant

The high-level answer is simple: give consumers what they want.Digital music is all about flexibility, so we have to deliver servicesthat offer more value than the peer-to-peer options—not less. Wehave to think about music on the Internet as a service, not retailmusic sales.

Steve Grady
general manager, EMusic.com Inc.

The Future ofLabels
This is the most radical change I'm seen in the music industry in the33 years I've been in it. Music is losing its prominence as a form ofleisure time activity, competing with DVD, video games, 100 channels ofcable, etc. plus rampant copying and downloading. The announcement ofthe closing of almost 300 record stores happened in the first twomonths of 2003.

In five years, I expect there will still be recorded music for sale,but the number of legitimate, nationally distributed releases will behalf what it is today. This will fit with half the number of recordretailers that we have today. Probably 40% of the music sold in the USAwill be sold at “big box” retailers like Target andWal-Mart. I imagine the 'majors' will still exist, but there willprobably be less than the five we have now. They will all be multimediaconglomerates.

Either DVD-Audio (with 5.1 mixes) or SACD will survive, and therewill probably be a fair number of concert or live performance or othersorts of music+video DVDs available.

Many indie labels will cease to exist. Companies like mine (thebetter-established ones) will survive, but with a smaller number of newreleases and much more dependence on direct sales to consumers, mostlyonline. We'll probably be selling downloads, either ourselves or inconjunction with other labels. Amazon or some entity like it willprobably be our Number One retail outlet.

We will cautiously experiment with new technologies, especially ifthey involve copy protection. I'm not sure surround sound is thefuture, but there will be interest in it, so we'll probably try somesurround mixes, maybe with some video content.

One thing we can be sure of is that there will be less selection ofmusic available to the public than there is now, and the public willhave to be more proactive in seeking out what it wants to hear.

Bruce Iglauer
President, Alligator Records

Well, I wish I had a clue as to what we can do, other than make betterrecords with better songs that people will actually buy. But wouldn'tit make sense for the labels to add value to the CDs they're trying tosell for $18 apiece? Like perhaps an automatic entry into a sweepstakesto win tickets to the artist's show, swag or a car or something?Something you can't download or copy.

I believe surround versions of albums could become a substantialmarket when the hi-fi manufacturers get onboard and put a "music"button on their surround receivers that bypasses any DSP designed toenhance movie soundtracks. Until then, and until the general publicgets an explanation of what it is and what gear they need to play it,surround is sure to remain a novelty.

How about nuking Clear Channel? That's sure to help!

Bob Clearmountain
engineer, owner of Mix This!

I, for one, am glad to see the industry "die" as we know it.

Everyone's blaming MP3's and downloading music on the Internet, butthe reality is the record companies are selling the public mediocremusic with bad sound quality, with no artist development to let talentblossom. Record companies don't stand behind the records they selllonger than the first ship date. It's a glut of information the publiccan't sort through, and if we as an industry won't stand behind whatwe're selling, can we expect the public to embrace it?

The music business survived cassettes, they'll survive MP3's if it'sa business worth keeping alive.

The music business perpetuates a myth of money, sex, drugs and rock‘n’ roll. Rather than show the dedication required to learnmusicianship and engineering skills, promotion and publicitydepartments center around glamourous images of stardom and how easy itis to attain. Make a party video with lots of handsome guys and girls,become a star.

Manufacturers of recording gear and musical equipment are equally toblame by perpetuating the dream that "even you, the homehobbiest and half-assed “talent" can write a mediocre song,record it at home and with AutoTune and Beat Detective, and it willsound as good as any record you hear on the radio.

Unfortunately, it's true. More and more artists are recording athome to keep budgets down using these same bad recording techniques andquick fixes. It's estimated 35,000 new titles are registered every yearwith soundscan (and probably another 50,000 new titles without). Ourstandards have been lowered to accept bad sounding MP3's as a "norm." Ican't blame the public for not wanting to buy these CDs either. Theysound like bad > MP3's. Too many records with no identity andterrible sound makes a risky purchase for the consumer. It's a viciouscycle.

I do see rays of hope. The Norah Jones record swept the Grammys inevery category. This was a record sung with passion, a couple ofout-of-tune notes, used real musicians, and was made relatively quicklywith a small budget and good marketing ideas. It proved that peoplewill buy records without overproducing and correcting every little beatout of place. It wasn't a record that took two years to make.

Give the public something they can't get free on the Internet, andthey will buy. New formats (like SACD and others using 5.1 and largersystems) will require more skills to engineer and produce. Fewer peoplewill have the ability to record at home. Record companies will takegreater care in which artists they support in these formats, because itwill cost them more money to produce. DVD players have now outsold CDplayers at a comparable time in history, and there's consumer appetiteto be filled.

The larger entertainment machine won't go away too quickly, but asit becomes less profitable and more risky, fewer people will want to beinvolved. Downsizing will hurt for a while, but those who love musicwill always find a way to succeed in this business. Distributionnetworks for music will become more like other industries: fewerrevolving doors and returns, fewer products on the market, more focusof marketing a good product over a longer period of time andmaybe even the retailer paying for the product in advance as agrocery store buys their products.

Musicians will become more dedicated to their craft and welcomemaking records that take less time and are more natural. Theundercurrent happening in the jam band scene proves that people stilllove to go and listen to musicians playing music. Even without radioairplay these bands succeed on touring and word of mouth. It's supplyand demand. If there's no demand for the music or the musician, then itgoes away. Good riddance.

The promise of the Internet is real, even though we've had atemporary setback with the fall of the dotcoms. Once broadband hasestablished itself and larger files can be transmitted, purchasing overthe internet will become a reality, whether through subscriptionservices or other marketing devices.

I believe there's an opportunity to make great sounding hometheatres or listening rooms fashionable, as it was 20 years ago. But ifwe as an industry continue to make crap, then there's no incentive tohave great-sounding music systems. It's up to us to promote great soundas well and make great-sounding records.

This is not a time for the weak-hearted to be in this business. It'sa welcome time for change for those of us who have been waiting forthis for so long.

Cookie Marenco
producer, engineer, label owner

It's a wired world and the game has changed. Consumers wantconvenience and the labels needs to stay nimble and proactively createwin/win models with emerging content delivery platforms.

Stuart Dubey


San Francsico, Calif.

Who says the almighty Music Industry needs saving? Is it just yourassumptions or your job or your little corner of it that's underattack? Get over it! The theater has been dying for twice as long asI've been alive, but in recent years, it has been just as vital andfascinating and even profitable as ever. Music (like theater and dance)will always be a part of culture. Don't try to save the industry; try,instead, to serve music.

John Flynn
partner, Timeline Films

It will be musicians, if anything, and the revival of local andregional music scenes. Consumers are taking more of an interest in, andsupporting acts at, that level. Musicians are taking a more active rolein handling their own careers, managing their own business, recordingtheir own art, booking and promoting their own tours. Consumers are fedup with the major-label side of the industry, and many bands have feltlet down by the indie label side of the industry. It's only naturalthat artists are progressively taking more advantage of the newertechnologies to produce, distribute and promote their own work.

Brian Herb

Education can save the recordindustry. The record industry should teach the young consumers that themusic they steal today will lead to no music being recorded tomorrow.The whole point of mass pop culture is that everyone gets to commentand get in the same groove on the same thing. If there are 200 millionAmericans listening to 150 million bands, by definition, none of themwill achieve critical mass. Therefore, the only thing that will savethe record business to educate the consumers about the fact that thecritical mass is important enough to pay for.

Peter Fish
composer, principal, Tonic Studio

Refresh my memory (grin) again on why the average-Joe would pay forair, when he can breathe it for free? There is only one way to stopillegal file sharing, period. Fear. By labels anonymously uploadingvirus-infected-versions of popular tracks. Scary thought, eh? We arenot talking brain surgery here, I am quite honestly surprised no hasthought of the idea until now.

Luke Eddins
song bounty hunter

Support LiveMusic
Lower CD prices, Lower ticket prices, Lower artist fees. People whodownload free music and burn CD's, the money they save MUST be spent ongoing to hear live music (especially local bands) and when they are atthe show, they need to buy loads of merchandise.

Marshall Lamm
Yoshi's at Jack London Square
Oakland, Calif.

Saved byTechnology
The same technology which is currently causing such upheaval in themusic industry will be its ultimate salvation. Ultimately, the onlything I'm certain of is that it is the artists who make emotionalconnections with their audiences who are able to have genuine long termsuccess on their own terms. The developing technologies will simplyincrease the efficacy in which this type of artists can make andmonetize their connections to their constituency. It's a wonderfullyexciting time to be working in the music business.

George Howard
Essex Riverworks

Time For The NewSchool
I think it's a fool's errand to try to "save" the music industry as weknow it. The quicker we are to let go the old model, the more activeeach of us can be in helping to shape the industry's inevitablere-invention. Of course the accepted scapegoat of this whole mess isinternet file-sharing. But let me propose a different way of looking atwhat's happened: In the intense competition for the consumer's time andmoney, the visual has ecplipsed the aural. Movie grosses arecontinually setting new records. The entertainment dollar that oncemight have gone towards music might now go toward a movie ticket,server fees or even a new playstation. In the era of CG animation andtheatrical surround sound, it might only be a less technical, morefeeling kind of music that can give the consumer something that themovies can't deliver--a resonant soundtrack for their own, very real,life. Obviously, because of the democratizing influence of theinternet, even the best of this music will be sold in smaller batchesthan before. We should get used to that, and find ways either to makeour music beat out the visual competition, or to work in harmony withit.

Brad Jones

What Are We Trying toSave?
I'm not sure the "Music Industry" needs saving. There is a largecontingent of independent musicians, labels, studios, college radio anddistribution that are doing just fine. Why should we bemoan the deathof 4 or 5 companies that have grown so large and ineffective that theyhave for all intents and purposes outlived their usefullness?

When there are full hour TV shows dedicated to the manufacture of"the next big thing", radio conglomerates that control the majority ofUS venues, while what seems to be the bulk of radio programming donefrom a 4 story building in Iowa, who are we trying to save? NARAS (tm)?Sony? Universal? Klear Khannel Kommunications? F*#k 'um. Let 'umdie.

What antiquated concerns like the RIAA seem to fail to notice isthat many "unsigned" artists are gaining recognition and exposure theyso richly deserve because of P2P file sharing. This recognition allowsthem a 'grass roots fan base' from which they can ply their craft. No,they may not be the next 'Beatles', but they may be the next'Sparklehorse' if we would stop trying to save the "record industry"and start supporting true artists that are just trying to make aliving.

What concerns like the "Grammies" (tm) fail to acknowledge is thatthe other categories besides the 'televised 8' are the categories thatembody the real music industry (OK, the "engineering categories" are abit lame... but hey, that's why there are the "TEC Awards" (tm) [oh geesorry, were those your shoes I just puked on? ...send me the cleaningbill]).

In the days when most of us in this "industry" were barely aconcept, independent labels grew the music that would be the backdropof several countercultures. It was independent studios, whose clients'were independent record labels that made music that was great andexciting. They brought us the music that shaped several generations,unfortunately those generations have refused to let go of the powerstructure they created as a 'counterculture'.

While I fondly recall High School days scrounging for Led Zeppelinand Rolling Stones tickets, it sickens me to hear Led Zeppelin blastingduring a party my neighbors kids' are having while the neighbors areaway. It repulses me that a pair of floor seats for a Rolling Stonesshow on the 40 yd. line in a football stadium cost more than most'second engineers' make in a week. That's just wrong.

The original pioneering and independent spirit has never left themusic industry. There are studios like "Electrical Audio" in Chicago,and "Big Blue Meenie" in Jersey City, NJ and a thousand like them thatbring us new and exciting music every day. Studios, that are owned andoperated by "small time" sole proprietors are not only prospering, butbringing us the backdrop for my children's generation. There are amyriad of pioneering artist with true vision (and like everygeneration, a myriad who totally suck). When artist's like 'The BlackEyed Snakes' can't be found on commercial radio with a Geiger counter?Burn it down and start again.

There are a whole slew of artists that have found a voice. There areclubs that are packed, "all ages" shows with band upon band that willnever be bigger than "Styx", but these artists have found a way to makea living by doing nothing more than playing and recording music. Theyjust haven't found "mass public appeal", they haven't found proper"corporate sponsorship", but they have found an audience. That audiencehas had to look a little deeper, dig a little harder, and be a bit morededicated to sifting through the rubbish than the audiences of mygeneration... but they're out there.

Mercenary Audio

Harness theGenie
Rumors of the demise of the music industry are greatly exaggerated.That is if you count the number of songs being traded and downloaded inthe overall numbers as a measure of health. Record sales were downanother 10% in 2002, while overall music consumption was up by as muchas 20%.

Demand is well, sales continue to slip. Any high school studentcould tell you from these two simple numbers that the music industry isselling the wrong product, delivering it badly or pricing itincorrectly. The answer: all of the above.

As an industry, we have to bring value back to music or inevitablyfollow the same track as the railroad companies who also failed torecognize the exact same issues. The difference is that I don’tsee Congress paying to prop this one up.

The core product has to improve – it cannot all be blamed onKazaa. It’s time to place less reliance on designing songs andsigning artists that can provide good call out research in the firstmonth at radio. We need to go back to building a foundation of trueA&R and artist development and long-term marketing; where careersare built over time. Commercial music has become a crap shoot limitedto those players who can afford the minimum bet. This has to change orchange will be forced upon us. It already is.

We also need to deliver value for money. Why would anyone put out$17.98 for something they can get for free when one can spend less on aHarry Potter DVD that offers better entertainment, six hours of bonusfeatures and a game? We are competing for limited entertainment dollarsand losing. Most retailers are giving progressively greater shelf spaceto DVD movies – there’s a reason for that.

Earlier this year I bought Bruce Springsteen’s “TheRising” for $4.99 at a major retailer on the day it came out.There’s a reason for that also.

A bright note on the horizon is the advent of DVD Audio. Although inits early stages we have a format that delivers stunning5.1surroundsound at much higher quality than a CD. Not only that but a typical DVDAudio disc can have the “making of the record,”“artist commentary,” “deleted songs,” Web linksand all of the features that have made the format for movies such aresounding success. Imagine having a record that feels as though theartist is in your living room or car and also being able to listen tothe band as they talk you through what the lyrics mean. DVD Audio playson all of the 80 million or so DVD players sold so far and also in yourcomputer or on an Xbox or PS2 so there’s no new player to buy. Oh– it also can’t be copied.

Here’s a slightly controversial thought – how aboutmaking a DVD Audio disc that has all of the high-resolution 5.1surround sound, compelling bonus features, has a hybrid CD layer forthose who don’t have DVD in the car or in their boom box, andalso contains MP3 versions of some of the music that you canlegitimately rip and share for free? Why fight peer to peer networkingand play into the image of the “big, greedy industry” thattries to shut down your favorite Web site – the genie is out ofthe bottle and it isn’t going back. We should harness it instead– can you think of a more powerful marketing tool?

This to me is something that reeks of value and could potentiallyrevitalize every area of our industry – from the mixing studio tothe retail register.

John Trickett
5.1 Entertainment

It’s All About TheArt
Norah Jones and the Dixie Chickshave just exemplified the best solution to many of our problems. Great,unique artists and music. The business side will adapt to marketforces.

Luke Lewis
chairman, Universal Music Nashville