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  MP3 killed the radio/video/etc. star?

JULY/2011 – For the past decade (give or take a year or two), we've been hearing about how the rise of MP3s have somehow killed the music industry. Then, why does there seem to be more music spanning more genres available than ever?

Somewhere, I imagine the entire music industry is aping Mark Twain, gasping "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated". Or, maybe the music industry is some sort of proverbial zombie just ambling around, waiting for someone to chop off it’s head. Tho’, somehow I doubt that’s the case.

If you pay attention to the, ahem, lamestream media (FU Sarah Palin) you have read accounts of major labels hemorrhaging profits. Music stores and record labels that track and report profits have reported that at the end of last year (2010), sales were down over 50 percent compared to a decade earlier. But, the numbers are misleading. I seriously doubt that indie bands selling MP3s from their own website are being tracked and included in those figures.

The numbers do look bleak and on the surface it looks like this baby is about to flatline. But, the devil is in the details ... or better yet, the devil is in the details that are skipped. While it is true that major labels profits have declined year over year since the proliferation of the Internet as a means for delivering MP3s (pirated or otherwise), no one seems to have picked up on another trend: indie labels are not only exploding, but we’re seeing some indie artists outselling old-school major label artists.

Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, The Shins, The Decemberists and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are among the indie darlings that have managed to crack the Billboard top 10. And once small-time players like Merge Records, No Idea!, and Saddle Creek are now backing A-list artists.

Plus, music is cheaper now. One can purchase and download all 43 tracks of the Minutemen’s seminal classic “Double Nicles On the Dime” from Amazon.com for $8.99. That’s a far cry from the days when Tower Records charged $18.99 for some discs. <sarcasm>I’m shocked that keeping that business model in the digital age didn’t save Tower Records from going under.</sarcasm>

Ack. But what does it all mean, you ask?

It means a lot. Back in the day (which I believe was a Thursday), you had but a handful of options for obtaining music:

1. Head to the local music store (chain and/or independent) and play exorbitant prices for a CD. This was the most prevalent method, and most likely, you only found mainstream artists when browsing the endless rows of shiny, overpriced discs.

2. Mail order from an indie label, indie distributor or directly from the band. Personally, I always found this method to be a crap shoot. More often than not, the wonderful slabs of vinyl I ordered arrived at my doorstep. But, more often than I was comfortable with, stuff would never arrive, or arrive in a state where it looked like the mail carrier dragged the package behind their van.

3. Make the pilgrimage to a music Mecca like Amoeba records in San Francisco and pray to the vinyl gods that the latest from your favorite punk/indie band was in stock. Then, angrily shake your fist at the sky when it wasn’t.

Fast forward to today and you'll find that sources for music are endless. A lazy day of web surfing will yield a plethora of good tunes from your favorite bands (mainstream and indie). Plus (and this is huge), there are no pressing limitations for MP3s. Rip an MP3 once and it can be downloaded an infinite number of times.

In the days of yore, indie labels would press between 1,000 and 10,000 copies of an album. And label-less bands would often press as little as 100 copies. By the very nature of the beast, this made punk and indie music difficult to come by. But now, all a band has to do is post some MP3s and anyone can download them.

Before I get too far off track, the point I'm trying to make is that there is more music than ever from more sources than ever, and it's available in an unlimited quantity.

People aren't buying less music. They're just not limited to buying mainstream music and they’re not paying nearly $20 an album. And that doesn't even begin to touch on the fact that some bands put their music online for free because (gasp!) they love making music.

So, put the heart paddles away, shelve those smelling salts, stop writing those eulogies and for christ's sake, stop pronouncing that the patient is dead. Music is alive and well and profitable. The difference now is that it's not just a handful of megacorps making the money. The money is being spread around to the majors, the indies and the unaffiliated.

Music is dead. Long live music.

-Caruso Deluxe


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