Shifting Music

A really good Op/Ed piece over at NY Times about the death march the music industry is on. Its not so much that people are listening less, its just that they are buying a lot less. Favorite quote being, “This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model.”


What is interesting to me is how we’ve worked so hard to defeat piracy by coming up with all these new models — Pandora, single track sales, etc — that we’ve taken away the cushion the industry had back in the day. In other words, we had to buy the album to get the songs we wanted and buying all those songs helped pay for the ones we did want. Those days are over. When was the last time you bought a full CD?

Photo credit, via Flickr thomasmperry

10 thoughts on “Shifting Music

  1. I’ve purchased maybe 3 in the last 2 years. Two were used discs at a funky store in Waco (hanging out with Gardner Campbell) and one was a great collection of World Blues music from a book store where I could sample the content.

    Frankly, the concept of buying a companies packaged collection of music where I might, if lucky, want 30, maybe 40% of them, is DOA.

    But… my online *purchases* of music are at a higher level than anytime in the last 10 years- due to selection and preview and discovery at Amazon, iTunes Store (damn that Genius!), and finding a few gems at other sites that sell lesser known musicians.

    So if my only option were to buy discs in plastic boxes, the record companies would be getting less of my money.

  2. Alan, I couldn’t agree more. If it weren’t for legal digital options I doubt I’d be buying much music these days. I go through phases where I listen to Pandora and end up discovering new stuff to buy at Amazon or iTunes. Its gotten funny how I cross reference prices between the two these days. And then there is … I do nearly all of my work listening to my iTunes playlists stored in the lala cloud.

    Last CD I purchased? I think it might have been Norah Jones’ “Come Away with Me” from three or four years ago? Ask me if I *ever* put it in the player. Rip. Mix. Enjoy!

  3. I think there’s still enough high quality work going into full albums and compilations to merit buying CDs. Plus, I like that there’s a physical representation of the music — that usually includes interesting artwork and lyrics — on my bookshelf, rather than just 0s and 1s on my hard drive (or hard driveS, as it has to be so you don’t lose it all…)

    And what about sound quality? Sure, we have “CD-quality” digital audio files available now, but what happened to SACD and DVD-A? That was a far more exciting direction for consumer music to go, especially for a guy who can’t listen to music while he’s working because he finds it just too interesting not to be totally distracted by it.

    I admit it: I’m an audiophile, albeit one without the money to be one. My favorite way of listening to recorded music is akin to concert-going: Sit or lie down in front of the speakers, and listen. And maybe dance a little in your living room.

    Last CD I purchased: Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan, a soon-to-be birthday gift for my mom. It’s an example of an album that’s worth buying. The last CD I purchased for myself is another example: Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn.

    I do very much appreciate being able to fully sample music before I buy it, which is why I appreciate And there are occasional songs (e.g., “Home” by Marc Broussard) that are so much better than their mediocre surrounding album tracks that I’m thankful for à la carte options.

    • Everything old is new again, as the Barenaked Ladies once sang. Albums really made their mark starting in the mid-60s, now it appears we are back to singles as the predominate form.

      I don’t think albums as a coherent, related set of songs that captures a moment in an artist’s creative life will ever totally die. There ARE people who are fans of artists who will purchase an entire album.

      I have to chuckle at the claims some are making that you used to have to buy the entire album to get a particular song – cassingles, anyone? It’s just that now you have more control over the songs. For the Top 40/pop fan, that never really was an issue. You could always buy singles as they were released.

      And there ARE albums that are worth purchasing. I think the technology will enable more control by artists so they can release albums if they like; the more top 40/less “serious” artists will most likely stop releasing albums altogether and just keep putting out singles.

      And if you are the Black Eyed Peas, you can continue to try to top each Worst Song in Human History you release with another one.

      • Jamie, I agree that there are albums worth purchasing … I even buy them every now and then, but I do it at Amazon or iTunes. It was hard getting singles when I was a kid — Bloomsburg did have a record store, but they didn’t carry a ton of “cassingles” back in the day. Then once the CD hit, all I could buy were albums. Back then I would much preferred only buying a song or two simply b/c the music I was buying wasn’t anything that had real long term staying power. I recall getting my first Squeeze tape and that entire album was amazing … and if it were to come out now I know I wouldn’t have given the whole thing a chance.

  4. I agree with Alan that while the distribution changes, the volume has actually increased.

    My last actual CD was last year, but that hasn’t stopped me from buying virtual CD’s and singles left and right. Even the free singles lead to more music purchases if I like the act.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the range of music I now buy is wider than I would have thought. I certainly am buying more music from Mexico than ever before. I have to think that regional music publishers are benefiting.

    And ironically I can buy new songs from old acts who aren’t “relevant” to be on the radio anymore. Isn’t this extending careers longer than ever?

    Another key feature that Apple added is the 30 second preview. Instead of gambling that an album with a single I may like has additional decent songs, I can preview the whole thing. On YouTube I can preview the entire song.

    It gives me a lot more trust in the process.
    I admit that I feel sad for local record shops, but they have been vulnerable to Walmart, BestBuy and Barnes & Noble.

    Do I feel sad for the “music industry”? No. I am confident they will be able to regroup.

  5. Something else I should have mentioned in the article is the info-graphic about music sales by format and year. Really cool … answers the question of if the industry is in decline. Spoiler alert … the answer is yes. Take a look.

  6. Love this passage: “Apple is working with the four largest labels to seduce people into buying more digital albums.”

    Last CD I bought: the Jeff Wayne War of the Worlds, as a present to my wife. (And it is awesome.)

    I buy far less music than I used to. Early 1980s, I was a creature of audio tape and vinyl (punk plus classical). In the late 1980s and through the 1990s I built up a CD collection for my odd tastes (19th-century classical, odd industrial stuff, World Serpent, etc).

    But that dropped around 2000, as I started digging Web radio. Then podcasts. Now it’s podcasts, plus Pandora and YouTube. Plus whatever odd things people send me (cf the Polar Music affair).

    I have never bought from iTunes. It was initially due to my opposition to DRM, and is now habit.

    My family sometimes buys tracks from Amazon.

  7. Cole, I am not talking about albums as a CD – I am talking about mp3 albums – and I buy them on Amazon as well. One thing I am a little bit surprised that we are not seeing more of, and that is the album as a multimedia experience.

    As a “serious” music lover (whatever that means), I do miss the liner notes, photos, lyrics, etc. in a CD cover. I thought we might eventually see this stuff transfer over to a new format, where an album would be kind of like a DVD (meaning commentary, etc) that has spoken liner notes, studio clips, videos, photos, pdf posters, etc. Although I guess it would be hard in iTunes to keep that all together in one package, like a folder or whatever.

    On cassingles, back in 1992 when I freelanced for In Pittsburgh Newsweekly I wrote an article on the death of certain music formats – then it was vinyl. I talked to a local rep for Columbia, etc. but the most interesting guy was the owner of a great record store in Pittsburgh, Eide’s. He said cassingles were dead because they were a massive pain in the ass and were doomed from the start due to the “new” format.

    With Walkman’s, music was now more portable. Who was going to carry a bunch of cassingles and keep changing them? Old 45’s were never really portable, plus you could stack a bunch of them on a player to create a playlist of sorts.

    Also, the cassingles were poorly made, would go bad in no time. Not to mention the crappy packaging, often they would be housed in lousy cardboard.

    Now, let’s go back to the future and check this out:

    The music industry failed miserably by investing so much into the cassingle. Your graphic showed they sold some, but not a lot.

    Another thing that you might not remember but seemed to steam the record company guys’ ears was the mix tape. I would argue that this was the predecessor to the iTunes playlist and was in many ways content creation. Many of us created them to impress a girl/guy, catch a mood of a time, set the tone for a summer, etc. All the record companies saw was home taping thieves.

    Maybe they should have looked harder and saw clues to the future?

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