LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for ARSCLIST Archives


ARSCLIST Archives

ARSCLIST Archives


ARSCLIST@LISTSERV.LOC.GOV


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

ARSCLIST Home

ARSCLIST Home

ARSCLIST  January 2012

ARSCLIST January 2012

Subject:

Popular Music in the Current Context, was US record business in the 1950s

From:

David Lewis <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 23 Jan 2012 14:22:50 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (164 lines)

1932 was the worst year ever for the music industry in the United States;
only 125,000 units shipped industry-wide the whole year long, with labels
like Gennett and Paramount (both on their last legs) pressing up records
some records in runs of only 18 copies. 1946-53 was the most musically
stale period in the historic space; while great jazz was being recorded and
some important, and even avant-garde, classical music was making its way to
LPs for the first time, not to mention all of the great R&B & Gospel
recorded in this period, the pop market was dominated by vocals and ballads
derived from predictable formulas.

The industry would have to totally collapse -- even the independent part of
it -- in order to undercut the numbers of 1932; I don't think we're going
back there, no matter how much the majors complain that sales are shrinking
to the point where the industry is near death. Every downloadable mp3, mp3
album or conventional vinyl/CD release would have to total less than
125,000 units and I don't think that's possible now; the varied
distribution systems for music militate against it. However, we have been
experiencing 1946-53 now like 1997-present. Part of this is due to the
slowing of forward development in music, which actually goes back to at
least 1970; instead of experiencing the impasse for seven years, we've had
it for 15. But also it results from the way the folks at the top of the
industry are handling things.

Pekka Gronow is correct in stating that major music interests -- save EMI,
which especially worked hard to shoot itself in the foot -- are retooling
their business models to adapt to new streams of revenue and other kinds of
strategies. And it's sort of working. Solid product, servicing brick and
mortar establishments, developing discount programs and door to door sales
promotion are no longer priorities for them. Licensing and acquisition of
existing properties and management of a limited, current-day artist pool
are. These companies are shrinking to fit the revenue stream, and renting
out suites in their high rise office buildings previously held by
now-vacated departments. One of the reasons copyright is so screwed up is
that the licensing/acquisition aspect is so confused; they really don't
know what they own, having binned so many potential assets and trading
material with others to the extent that there is no record of such
transactions. This is a downside to being able to activate one's whole back
catalog at one time, at practically no expense and with no need of physical
product; a wonderful thing if you have loads of catalog, but not so great
if you don't know what you have. In the late 90s, NARAS was in the process
of making the first catalog ever of the entire commercial American output
of recordings, but were forced to stop as the majors refused to cooperate,
viewing the information as proprietary.

In 1996, the world wide web was still relatively new, and I had just
rediscovered it; I had some contact with it in a text-only state in the 80s
and was not real impressed. At that time I was working as a classical buyer
at the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles and had ready access
to the retail people from basically all of the labels. And I told them,
"Look; this thing is here, and you'd better find a way to adapt to it
before something comes along that you don't like." In '96, the majors'
websites were terrible; BMG's site opened with a plain white page with the
insignias of all of it's labels which took forever to load and you couldn't
get past that. Even Virgin had a series of windows with people waving out
of them to signify different departments; you couldn't even fully load that
first page.

The only company that took me at my word was Naxos. By '97, they had their
whole catalog listed on the web, and when you were able to add a secure
shopping cart, they had that. And when downloading became popular, they had
that too. Instead of working pro-actively, the whole rest of the industry
got embroiled in the Napster fracas and then passed the DMCA legislation
and tried to take down the whole web, arresting 68-year-old grandmas and
charging them fees in the tens of thousands of dollars to compensate for
the sins of their grandsons. This was a shakedown of society as a whole,
and it really served to turn a lot of people off entirely to music -- why
purchase, or acquire something that might cost you your life savings? The
industry is still trying to live down the bad publicity and practically no
one now regards it as a respectable business.

The reason there is so much variety in the music of the 1950s, despite the
creative slump early in the decade, as there was so much disparity between
supply and demand. The demand for records was tremendous, and the acts
within a given genre had to be sought out of the live space in order to be
exploited on records. That Elvis Presley would take a day off to cut a
lacquer as a gift for his parents and be discovered as something special at
Sun Records was a pretty unusual event in 1954; what was more common was a
hard-bitten A&R man traveling from club to club to hear act after act. The
shift towards supply outdistancing the demand began in the late 60s, when
even major labels began to sign more acts that they really needed in search
of the next big thing. Some of these signees would find ways to screw their
labels; like, if they had a seven-album contract, they'd record a
double-live album and count that as two albums on the contract, so that
they could hasten the process leading to a new deal. Of course, the
double-live would suck, and it would stiff, and the band was the only one
getting paid. The record companies that got wise to these tactics started
dropping these artists, and tightening up their contract strictures to
prevent against bad deals -- this was in the 70s.

When punk/new wave/industrial came along, the majors didn't really embrace
those movements. They peeled off The Police, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads
and a few others from the top of the deck and had dropped the rest by 1981.
It wasn't a matter of taste so much as it was the fact that with albums by
bands like Toto, Ambrosia and Journey going platinum why would you settle
for selling 2500 copies of The Dictators' "Go Girl Crazy"? By 1982, most of
the little labels that supported these subgenres began to go bust also, but
ultimately smaller, more modest labels came along to take their place and
to keep that music on record.

Then came MTV, which was a great opportunity for the major music industry
to dictate the terms and to control the message. Soon, music became
associated with the visual as much as the aural, and if you couldn't get a
decent video together you were seen as having no chance of making it; the
immense popularity of Madonna kind of threw down that gauntlet -- despite
her later independence of mind, she was made by the industry and MTV. MTV
also led to a number of hits in the 80s that were embarrassing to say the
least -- Lionel Ritchie's "Dancing on the Ceiling," the totally forgettable
Paula Abdul song in which she danced with cartoon characters, David Bowie
and Mick Jagger's duet on "Dancing in the Streets." "Yummy Yummy Yummy" may
not impress you as a great pop song, but it's like Beethoven's Fifth
compared to "Dancing on the Ceiling." The music industry began to market
high end, certifiable junk as a matter of course, making "Itsy Bitsy Teenie
Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" seem like high art.

By the late 80s, the tables had turned, MTV was calling the shots and the
airwaves were dominated by hair bands and metal; great if you're a
headbanger but crappy if you like anything else. The little aftershock left
by punk and new wave caught on big on the college circuit, and by 1991 it
made a big comeback with Nirvana and even industrial groups like Nine Inch
Nails. It was a musically more interesting, but depressing kind of
counterculture and Kurt Cobain's death -- and the thoroughly reprehensible
actions of his widow -- kind of put a bad taste in everyone's mouth about
grunge, and by 1997 it was basically done. Thus opens the digital era,
which overall has been dominated by rap. That's just simply what sells;
that and country music, though in nowhere near the numbers as rap. It will
be unpopular for me to say that I object to the coded, criminal content in
some gangsta rap; sure, you can't have a rap tape in the prisons, though,
like illegal substances, they still find their way in. But it ties in
significantly, and in a traceable fashion, with the gangsta culture and its
business. So companies that traffic in promoting these messages are making
their money from the blood of the citizens that they help to kill. That's
worse for our society than junk food. End of rant.

That Lady Gaga -- whom I think is very good, and would be better if she
wasn't limited by what she knows she can sell -- can command such a sizable
market share today is an anomaly. Pop music -- apart from rap and the ever
splintering subgenres and hybrids that make up what is regarded as "pop"
these days -- simply doesn't have the upper hand, and doesn't have a
specific identity. It's 1947 all over again, except that now there is no
radio, not even a "real" MTV and -- if you think the web is going to save
you -- extremely stiff competition for ALL entertainment from video games;
I think television's conventional advertising based business model is
doomed. There are now generations of people who have never sat down and
listened to a whole album from end to end, nor have listened to a radio
station that played current context pop music that wasn't rap or country.
The rock stations are still playing Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Jimi
Hendrix, acts that have been done for decades.

I always say that a healthy avant-garde is a great thing for music, even if
you don't like what they do; it usually leads to something viable if the
experiment is worthwhile. And there are tons of these acts out there,
supply WAY outstripping the demand, with their mp3 downs competing with the
majors and every other down/YouTube video on the web. As much as I love
groups like Deerhoof, The Hard Nips or Heartless Bastards I seriously doubt
any of them will make the Hot 100, though Heartless Bastards came close --
perhaps it had something to do with being on Fat Possum Records rather than
Geffen? In any event, the average consumer these days is far more likely to
spend six hours blowing away bad guys on Duke Nukem than they will six
hours listening to a Frank Sinatra box set, or even to sit still for 45
minutes to listen to "Led Zeppelin IV" end to end. That's the challenge we
face.

UD

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



LISTSERV.LOC.GOV

CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager