Fixing the Music Business Starts With Identifying Its Problems

Music Business problems sick
Jon Reinfurt

Next time you’re trying to figure out what went wrong with the music industry, here’s a handy list of problems that need to be addressed.

MONEY. There’s not enough of it for investment.

We keep reading about venture capitalists putting their money behind tech startups, but it’s hard to get people to invest in your band. There’s tons of money for the elite at Live Nation and AEG, but they don’t really back new acts. And the labels have been decimated by the Internet, and don’t have much to spend on hunches.

Furthermore, no one with deep pockets wants to speculate in music, because the labels have catalogs, making their ongoing business more sustainable.

As for VC money, it goes only to techies, who’ve raped and pillaged music for a decade and a half. Despite all the lip-service paid to their being music fans, the truth is techies love money more, and will strip-mine music for a buck.

SOUNDSCAN. Sales are meaningless, despite the industry still making most of its profits from CDs. Continuing to lean on outdated models would be like Apple de-emphasizing the iPhone because there’s still big business in iPods. If the industry as a whole can’t agree to move into the future, what hope is there?

INFORMATION. There’s not one site that lists all live gigs in your area — not one that’s trustworthy, comprehensive and has critical mass. Eventful is a failed enterprise. Songkick is a financial play based on the delusion that they’ll be able to sell tickets to desirable shows. Ticketmaster is slow, inefficient and can’t list everything, because competitors don’t want them to. In other words, the music business is failing the information age.

SELLING OUT. Anybody who says there’s no cost to endorsements is clueless. It’s hard to be credible if you keep complaining that you can’t make money and are playing to corporations as opposed to fans. If we can’t believe in you, there’s no bond. Get a hip sponsor, like Patagonia. Or leave the money on the table in service to a longer career.

SCALPING. I get it; the rich can buy up everything I want — but even concert tickets? Paperless, as well as all-in pricing, should be embraced by all acts

that want to go clean. Just because Ticketmaster gets the blame instead of the act doesn’t make it right. (But StubHub went to all-in pricing, and is taking a hit in sales. What kind of bizarre world do we live in where a resale service is more honest than the primary service?)

RECOMMENDATIONS. The L.A. Times printed a booklet of the top 100 restaurants in the city. Its author, Jonathan Gold, writes so well I almost put down the newspaper to drive for the fries at Republique while reading his column.

But we’ve got no trusted tastemakers in music. We’ve got tons of algorithms and narrow-play radio stations beholden to advertisers, but no one with established credibility telling the public what to hear. Once upon a time WABC-AM/Cousin Brucie, et al., imparted that kind of wisdom to their listeners. But today …

Songza gives us too much untrustworthy information, never mind all the bad music. Beats has the same problem, and reaches no one. Pandora is a cornucopia of what you do not want to hear.  No one’s got time to explore endless playlists.

DATA. The labels still believe we’re living in the pre-Internet era. Google coughs up truth instantaneously, for free, yet labels and most publishers still can’t provide accurate data of what was sold/played, and certainly don’t pay accordingly. So music is made on computers, but accounted for via the equivalent of paper books. Ultimately, anybody with a brain refuses to participate. And we get the music we deserve.


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    1. Greta says:

      Musicians are not paid. Their product is taken and used by lying greedy corporations and the creator is not paid. 0.00 is not a payment.

    2. Scott Wilson says:

      In San Diego there is a daily gig listing: There is also an app – Timbre, although not comprehensive it is worldwide.

      Music labels have been marketing singles and selling albums since the 50’s and that paradigm has not changed. However, it appears that they have succeeded in two respects. They have taught their audience to buy singles instead of albums, so when singles finally became easily available, it decimated the industry. And they have also taught their audience not to respect authority, which ironically and perhaps poetically has become increasingly represented by the music industry itself.

      Congratulations on your marketing acumen.

      Now the tech industry has taught them that music ownership is not necessary. And neither is sonic integrity. And that music should be free (and it should). Politicos have convinced them that musical education is not necessary. TV has taught them that winning talent shows is the only way to musical success.

      This all has the makings of a perfect storm, where the only makers of music will become those who have no choice but to do so. Hopefully the end result will be that the music itself will be better when it is unloosed from monetary considerations, because currently the paradigm is too focused on the monetary value of music, rather than its artistic value.

    3. veganjules says:

      I’ve also been thinking that rising costs of food, rent, and education have taken something away from money people used to have to spend on cds.

      If the music industry went after universities lining their endowments it would gain some goodwill.

      Also. You need to bring indie mainstream again and let knowledgeable music people dictate tastes the way labels used to, radio dj’s used to, and MTV used to. Today Depeche Mode would have no push behind them, no exposure, and wouldn’t be selling out the Rose Bowl. But they should always have that sort of backing.

      Good point about techies and tastemakers :)

    4. Sue Few says:

      Simple: Label honchos should go out and hire the techs who are plugged in!

    5. Having worked for Tower Records in its last years, and at one time being an avid CD collector, I still believe the main thing that killed music sales wasn’t the internet, but greedy labels setting ridiculously high prices on CDs. In the 80s when CDs first came out, it was speculated that their prices would drop once they became cheaper to manufacture, but instead the prices of many new albums went UP.

      Those of us who care about sound quality still buy media rather than downloads. Multi-channel Super Audio CD was a great idea, but it’s mostly regarded as a failure due to not much compelling material put out on it. Ironically many recent CDs have been mastered with little to no dynamic range, ruining their purpose (look up “loudness war” for an explanation.) And of course many of the current ‘popular’ acts have little to no talent.

    6. rocky-o says:

      “…once upon a time..cousin brucie…”…you hit the nail right on the head…i used to be on the air back in the day as well, so i can tell you…the biggest problems with radio today are…

      first off, the fact that most stations are run by the same few greedy corporations who use computers to tell them what to play…secondly, you have people running the stations that are more familiar with their computer mouse than the music they’re playing…third, and possibly most deadly…the younger generations have blinders on to anything outside of their own little worlds… they know nothing about music history or different genres to even open up a mic and impart some pertinent pearl of wisdom, like Brucie or Casey or Alison Steele used to do…

      i could go on and on about this, but…when i can talk to a so-called ‘music lover’ who is in his twenties, who says he knows everything about music, and then he doesn’t even know who jimi hendrix is…man, that says it all…

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