Maybe someone in the music industry is starting to get it

I remember just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from work and a song caught my attention on the radio. I was pretty sure I’d never heard it before, and given the nature of my two favorite radio stations, there was every possibility I’d never hear it again either. And the DJ never told me who it was.
And I had a thought. If more stations would play something other than the same 50 or 60 songs over and over, and the DJ would actually tell you what each song was, and you could run home and buy it for 75 cents,
I reasoned, then the music industry would be in a whole lot better shape. They might not sell what they wanted, but they’d be able to sell something. Which, if you listen to them, doesn’t exactly describe their present situation.

Now in the age of the Internet, if I’d been able to remember or jot down a couple of lines of the song, I’d be able to search Google for it and probably come up with an artist and title. The RIAA hates it when people post song lyrics on the Web or on Usenet, and while technically it is a copyright violation, I know I’ve bought tons and tons and tons of records that way. I hear a song or remember a song from the past, search for it, find out what it was, and then I buy it. Case in point: One of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio was “Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson. I think the last time I heard it on the radio was sometime in 1983. I remembered the tune and one line: “We’ll leave the TV and the radio behind.” One day I couldn’t stand it anymore, searched, was shocked to hear it was Joe Jackson, went to CDNow, listened to the sample, and bought his Greatest Hits album on the spot.

Now I would later find out that I can pretty safely buy a Joe Jackson record for one song and there’ll be at least one other song on it that I like a lot and one or two others that I like. I found out through experience that’s not usually the case. My CD rack is full of discs I bought for one or two songs and weren’t worth the price of admission.

There’s an Offspring song called “Gone Away” that I really like. But I don’t like Offspring. Similarly, I can’t stand Sugar Ray because all of their songs are about either getting sloshed or getting laid, and I don’t care for that lifestyle or music that celebrates it. There’s so much more to life than that. But somewhere along the way, that band recorded one song that I like and would like to own.

I don’t care much for Matchbox Twenty because all of their songs pretty much sound alike and the lyrics are almost all about shallow and empty relationships that started in bars or ended in bars and how lonely and empty they leave Rob Thomas feeling. If I want mope rock, I’ll listen to The Cure because at least they’ve found more than one thing to be depressed about and found ways to make it sound different over the years. But I’ve heard one or two Matchbox 20 songs that I like and wouldn’t mind owning.

Listen.com offers downloadable tracks for under a buck but it’s a subscription service. Apple’s iTunes has the right idea, with a fair price and no subscription, but of course it’s Mac-only at least for the moment. And now there’s Buymusic.com, which is completely Windows Media Player-centric. I tried visiting the site with Mozilla and it told me to download Internet Explorer. When I visited with Internet Exploiter, it gave me a popup saying I needed a newer version of Windows Media Player. I closed the window and it let me browse.

I’ve looked at both Listen.com and Buymusic.com, and they both have holes in their catalogs. I know some bands don’t want to be listed because they want to sell albums, not singles. To which I say record great albums and I’ll buy them. When I put in U2’s The Joshua Tree, more often than not I skip past the first four or five tracks that contained all of the album’s hits. There wasn’t a single hit on the second half of the album, but the songs are better. “One Tree Hill” and “Red Hill Mining Town” are two of the best songs they’ve ever recorded, and most people have probably never heard them.

I’ll almost always listen to Disintegration by The Cure and Straight Up by Badfinger and Whatever by Aimee Mann all the way through. But the last great album I bought was All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2, and that was two years ago. I can’t tell you the last great one I bought before that.

But hey, at least now I’ve got a way to buy some singles with a clear conscience. I kind of like the idea of being able to buy all the big-label music that’s caught my attention the past five or six years for about 20 bucks. And I do want to buy it legitimately. I’ve spent some time writing songs and I know a lot of work goes into it. And even more work goes into recording songs. I’ve spent some time in a recording studio too, and all I know is that I don’t know half the time and effort that goes into recording a song. Most of the people you hear on the radio work longer and weirder hours than I do and yet make only slightly more money than I do. So I really don’t want to steal from them.

Now I need to go find some good indie stuff. I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m going to have to look if I want great albums or something that sounds a little different.

8 thoughts on “Maybe someone in the music industry is starting to get it

  • July 23, 2003 at 12:52 am
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    Have you looked at the conditions that BuyMusic.com is putting on the songs? They have different licenses, depending on the artist, label, album, etc. Some songs, you can burn 3 times, or transfer 3 times to a portable player. You can only transfer them to one computer. You are stuck in WMA format, and can only use the players that they say.

    Coming in November (around Thanksgiving), Apple will be bringing out iTunes for Windows, and along with it, access to the iTunes music store.

    Apple got the same terms from all participants. You can play the song on up to three computers (and you can change the computers at any time). You can burn a song to CD unlimited times. Playlists that are burned are limited to 10 burns of the same list (but you just have to change a song, and burn more). iTunes lets you rip your own CDs into either MP3 or AAC formats. Yes, there are a few restrictions, but nothing outlandish. For most people, they will never notice.

    I don’t know if you saw it, but CDBaby now will submit songs for indie artists direct to the iTunes store, and the artist gets a 91% cut of the proceeds. Apple is extending the exact same deal that the five major labels got to any other label that wants to put their artists on the iTunes music store.

    Yep, I’m biased. I think Apple is doing it right this time. Hold out to the end of the year, support someone that at least tries a little.

  • July 23, 2003 at 4:19 am
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    Concur with Ken, iTunes is a good deal, that I don’t mind supporting at all. Also nice, many times you can down load an entire album for less than the 99 cents a song price, ie an album of 14 songs typically for $9.99. Downside though, while iTunes has a good selection, there are holes in it too. Sometimes you can find one album from an artist but not the one you want. So far, iTunes seems to be doing quite well with just the Apple crowd, the Windows version should send business thru the roof and draw even more artists into the pool. I do expect iTunes’ success to also spawn a host of imitators with mixed results.

  • July 23, 2003 at 8:07 am
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    Good point on the terms. And no, I don’t like them, but I can live with them. But BuyMusic has the bigger library, which is a point in its favor. And a lot of the stuff I’d buy has the looser terms. So it all depends.

    I imagine I’ll end up using several services before it’s all said and done, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    But first I have to put a hard drive in my CD burner-equipped PC, so I won’t be buying any music today or tomorrow.

  • July 23, 2003 at 9:08 am
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    Once the music companies finally realize that they MUST sell their music with no more restrictions than on the iTunes site and not force someone into using Windows Media Player 9 or some other proprietary interface or format and say “the hell with it”, hold their breath and put their entire catalog on-line at iTunes or someplace even less restrictive for individual use, they will start making a lot of money again.

    Imagine if virtually all songs every recorded were on iTunes at prices from 50 cents to 99 cents per track, depending on the demand for that artist?

    I’d wager giving long odds that the VAST majority of people would flock to these sites, enjoy their music again without feeling like the music companies are ripping them off and put some real energy back into the system.

    Of course, the more independents join the iTunes site the better. It is far better to have most of the $ going directly to the musicians than the _ _ _ _-the-musician contracts the labels use for the vast majority of the musicians. That is another big contributing factor to their current problem, they may have a legal leg to stand on but they are totally bankrupt regarding any moral or ethical “legs”.

    Well, enough of my rant.

    Excelsior,

    Bruce

  • July 24, 2003 at 10:03 pm
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    First, what about “Trip Through Your Wires”? I love that song. AFAIK U2 still haven’t performed “One Tree Hill” live.

    I have purchased several great albums in the last two years, although the qualifications are a matter of taste. All of them were sampled online first in some form or another. Off the top of my head: “On and On” by Jack Johnson, “Sea Change” by Beck, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” by Coldplay, “No Angel” by Dido, “Come Away with Me” by Norah Jones, “Scarlet’s Walk” by Tori Amos, and “Drops of Jupiter” by Train. Each of these have played on repeat for 3+ hour on consecutive nights while I worked at the computer.

    My point here is that there is plenty of good music. I don’t buy the shortage mentality that there isn’t that much good music. I also don’t buy a CD withoug sampling a majority of the tracks. Yes, this means downloading mp3s. If I like what I find, I toddle off to the reka’ sto’ and pick up a copy. I then rip that to high-bitrate mp3, and put the disk on the shelf, at least until I want to hear it in the car. Perhaps that makes me a “pirate” to some. I think it makes me a happy consumer.

    IRT commercial downloads, the comments above echo what I have read elsewhere. I’m ready to try iTunes (software and store) when Steve Jobs is ready to let me in.

    Cheers,

    Alan–

  • October 21, 2003 at 4:45 pm
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    Now that ITunes is available for Windows – have any Windows users tried out the service – If so, what do you think? I continue to like the Mac version but I do hope the new Windows service will attract more artists to the ITunes library

  • December 11, 2003 at 12:37 pm
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    The new windows for itunes is great.

    My favorite feature of itunes is the individual song purchase feature. So many albums today have one or two good tracks the rest just filler. Purchasing individual songs is a great way to weed out the mediocrity, thanks to itunes you no longer have to shell out 18 dollars for a 15 songs album just to hear the one or two good tracks.

    Regards Fujitsu Kyoko

  • December 11, 2003 at 12:38 pm
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    Also I’m not suprised that the iTunes Music Store has been named “Invention of the Year” by Time Magazine.

    I hope all independent artists eventually get to feel the benefit of itunes not just those on majors or selected few indie labels.

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