Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week 1

This is a summary and my thoughts of the readings for week 1 (Chapter 1 and 2 of The Future of the Music Business by Steve Gordon.)

Introduction and Chapter 1

When reading the preface and introduction, I noticed right away that Gordon's focus is on the state of the music business and how technology can change it. He reports that with CD sales down and big name artists like Radiohead releasing albums for a name-your-price price, technology has arrived on the music scene for better or worse. This reminded me of a book I read recently: So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star by the drummer of Semisonic (famous for their one hit "Closing Time.") I figured that getting signed by a label in the 90s would equate instant success, but that book proved me wrong. Semisonic struggled with shifting of record company CEOs, Elektra going under, and later MCA going under. With emerging technology allowing artists to release their music online for free or just whoever will listen, it seems like the ever growing pool of available music in the world has grown exponentially, making an industry that is already difficult for artists to break into nearly impossible to make a splash.

Next, in Chapter 1, I found it interesting that anyone from a bowling alley to a restaurant must acquire a license from BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC to be able to play music publicly. It makes my imagination run wild with "music police" running around to various restaurants and fining owners for playing Foghat with no license. Now that I think of it, I've seen stickers on restaurant windows mentioning something about BMI.

Reading about advances and royalties for artists and seeing that an artist can get a budget then keep whatever's left over or get an advance for the recording costs reminded me of a story I'd read recently. When one of my favorite bands Rise Against left their smaller indie punk label Fat Wreck Chords and signed to Geffen, they went the budget route. They toured in a van rather than a swanky bus and recorded a great record at Colorado's own Blasting Room for less money than many Hollywood studios. As a result, with all of the money left over, they were able to release their album for $9.99 rather than some of the more insulting record prices, upwards of $17.

Chapter 2

The first thing I found interesting about chapter 2 is that "the practice of ripping a CD to a computer and copying the file to an MP3 player has not been challenged" (Gordon, 2008, p. 26). I've noticed that a common practice at libraries is for a patron to bring a laptop and an iPod, take a handful of CDs from the collection, and rip them to their computers to transfer to the iPod. Most libraries seem to overlook this or ignore it, so it was interesting to read the official law and statement on the subject. Since MP3s are so popular now, I think legislating the practice of ripping CDs on computers and copying them to a device would prove nearly impossible.

Reading about internet radio also made me take note. I remember hearing about this new thing called Pandora a few years ago, people telling me that it was an internet radio that could play music based on what type of music you liked. I played around with it for a bit, decided that the music I like is too obscure even for its metadata-filled library, and wrote it off. A few years later, Pandora comes packaged with Blu-Ray players and is a mainstay at most of the parties I attend. It seems that this along with websites like and bandcamp are fast becoming the place consumers go to listen to and discover music. These trends most definitely coincide with the statistics Gordon rattled off regarding the recent explosion of internet radio. Reading on, it seems there are different types of internet radio. Pandora and are classified as a Narrowcaster, because it personalizes streams based on the user's tastes. I'd imagine this would be a more popular type of internet radio, as it allows the user to narrow down the vast world of music to a smaller pool of similar styles and genres.

As Gordon (2008) mentions, it seems the Amazon MP3 service has become a major player, perhaps even detracting from iTunes. I have recently started using Amazon's service. While iTunes continues to generally sell songs for .99 a piece and sometimes an album for $9.99, I recently purchased a hard-to-find punk album with 14 tracks for $7.99. It's hard to compete with prices like that. On the other side, with companies like Microsoft and Rhapsody offering subscription services for "celestial jukebox" types of sites, I remain skeptical. Paying to listen to and download but not exactly own still keeps me from having any interest in these services. Rhapsody does not even support playing songs on the iPod, so I don't see this service taking off any time soon.

Finally, I'll agree with Gordon (2008) that YouTube and channels like Music Choice have an impact on the music industry. Although the age of MTV's music videos changing an artist's career are likely over, I believe actually seeing a band performing their song with a clever video can boost popularity. From my experience working with teens in a library, I can testify that YouTube is an extremely popular place for them to listen to music, probably even the place they go to the most since MySpace's popularity has died out.


Gordon, S. (2008). The future of the music business: Second edition. New York: Hal Leonard Books.

Slichter, J. (2005). So you wanna be a rock and roll star. New York: Broadway.

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