Monday, November 10, 2014


Another interesting article on the music industry, this one from The Detroit News: 

I've added a few of my own thoughts and comments in orange text...

Taylor Swift sold 1.287 million albums this week, and the music industry is in more trouble than ever.

Swift's new album "1989" sold more copies its first week than any album since Eminem's "The Eminem Show" during its debut frame in 2003.

That's great news. DiscConnected-Is it? In eleven years, no other artist sold more than Eminem? Not that I begrudge Ms. Swift her success or her moment, but the record industry should be cautioned not to think that this is a sign of a return to the "old days."

Album sales have been trickling off for years, and Swift's album proves that with the right star, the right marketing and the right timing people will still buy albums in droves. DiscConnected-Again, one album is not a pattern-and one album every eleven years is more like an outlier.  

Here's the problem. Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify this week, dealing a blow to the streaming service that is one of the industry's few bright spots and the model many are looking to as the future of music consumption.

It's not unusual for big artists to withhold their albums from Spotify to juice their first-week sales; Eric Church and Coldplay both did it this year, and enjoyed two of the year's biggest debuts. Those albums eventually showed up on Spotify, but the Swift case is more severe. She's the first star of her caliber to outright yank her catalog from the service over money issues. Since she's music's biggest star, it's cause for concern that others could follow.

 "I'm not wiling to contribute my life's work to an experiment that I don't feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music," Swift told Yahoo! this week. "And I just don't agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free."

DiscConnected-not sure I agree with Ms. Swift here-radio has always been free, so has TV. You paid for cable to get TV without commercials-isn't the Spotify premium service the same model?

Plus, although Ms. Swift is cute as a button, either she or her management team are not demonstrating forward thinking. In the long run, as CD sales continue to decline, the streaming revenue streams will be the only revenue stream. Isn't something better than nothing?

Music sales have trended down for more than ten years. Maybe artists will have to accept that the future revenue streams are not going to be the same as the CD revenue streams of the 80's and 90's, when everyone in American replaced their vinyl record collection with CD's.

The current generation does not collect like my generation did. Young people consume music in different ways by utilizing new technology. 

In my lifetime, a slew of industries have come and gone, and the people who were able to weather those changes adapted.

Spotify is a Swedish-based streaming music service that launched in the U.S. in 2011. From a consumer standpoint, without exaggeration, it's the greatest thing that has ever happened to music. It puts the history of recorded music, give or take a few artists — the Beatles, Bob Seger and AC/DC are notable holdouts — at your fingertips at all times. No more need for CDs or downloads or iTunes' cumbersome software. For music fans, it's nirvana. (And yes, Nirvana is on there, too.)

DiscConnected-Spotify has a comprehensive selection-if I did not already have my collection, I'd probably be on Spotify.
Spotify has a free model and a pay model; of its 40 million U.S. users, about 10 million of them are paid subscribers, according to the company's latest figures. The free version has ads, the pay models don't. For $9.99 a month, users can enjoy all the music they want, anytime and anywhere, and they can proudly count themselves among those who still pay for music. (And at $120 a year, they're spending about triple what the numbers say the average consumer pays for music on an annual basis.) DiscConnected-I feel good when I keep it to a $120 a month....

Artists are not as keen on Spotify, however. Despite the company's insistence that it pays 70 percent of its revenues to rights holders, artists complain they receive a fraction of a penny for every stream. DiscConnected-the author states this is a problem. Is it? Without knowing the costs involved in maintaining their technology, maybe a 30% margin after licensing costs is not excessive.  Spotify still has payroll, rent and other administartive costs, and is entitled to a profit.

That's a problem, but as a subscriber, it's not my problem to solve. It's something that needs to be worked out between Spotify, the labels and the artists. DiscConnected-wow-that almost sounds like a free market, capitalist America? Note to self-call Obama-the music industry needs a bailout.

Despite anomalies like Swift's blockbuster sales, CDs aren't coming back. DiscConnected-it is a concern to me that players are getting harder to find. How long before you cannot get a player for your car or home? CD drives are no longer standard in computers. What if you have 20,000 CD's with no CD player?

Downloads are also dead; too much hassle. DiscConnected-says who? What was the hassle, exactly?  

That leaves streaming. It's the model the people have chosen, and we consumers play a pretty important role in this process. People are willing to pay for a good product, that's been proven.  

DiscConnected-the author at times makes it sound like we as consumers have some sort of obligation to support streaming services.

If Spotify is sharing the ad revenue with the artists, isn't that the same as sharing the premium subscription fee?

It also amazes me how quickly the other formats have been abandoned.

Are downloads really dead?

Wasn't the demise of the CD hastened by the industry due to the additional profit on downloads? I pay ten bucks for a CD versus ten bucks for a download.

Do not try to tell me that the cost of getting the CD manufactured and mailed to Amazon or Best Buy and then into my hands is not substantial enough that a record label would prefer I purchase the download. The price point on a download has never made sense to me.

I am not so sure that downloads are down because people prefer streaming-I wonder what consumption would look like if the "free" options on Spotify, Rhapsody and Pandora went away.

But there is no question that the business is changing (again? still?) and that artists and labels need to embrace what the public wants.

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
-Neil Peart


  1. Just the lack of really good sound in a song heard via streaming will keep me in the CD market. Actually, I buy very few CDs now because I have most of what I really want and some discs don't make it onto one of my players for two or three years at a stretch (i.e., I probably have too many CDs now as it is).

    However, this week I intend to get my Bose CD player (which hasn't worked right for a few years now) repaired, if it's not too expensive. The sound I get from that little Bose player is pretty awesome, so I will never abandon my CD collection for streaming.

    Spotify is nice to have at times, but I would never consider paying for it just to avoid a few 30 second advertisements every 20 minutes or so. I view Spotify as just the "new radio" (for when I'm sitting at the computer, with a dead Bose player behind me). The "new radio" is better than the old radio because I get to select the songs it plays. But that's the best I can say about Spotify. It's nice to have, so long as it remains free to me.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

    1. (1) You can never have too many CD's

      (2) You and I are the same age demographic, but it's that younger demographic that is driving the industry

      (3) You echo my thought-isn't the free Spotify just another take on the radio model? So why are artists so opposed to that idea?

      Do you mind me asking how many years your Bose player worked without a problem? I need something at work (the $5 player I bought at our old employment location back in 2010 is starting to skip....but $5 for four years isn't a bad deal) and keep wondering if it's worth biting the bullet for one of those.

  2. Yeah, but the bad news? Taylor Swift sold 1.287 million albums this week. God, her music is just atrociously awful. I wish she would go away already and take Justin Bieber with her.

    No, music shouldn't be free, but you should also be able to stream some of it before you buy it. I always listen before I buy, and if I love it, I always buy it.

  3. Bryan-

    A couple reasons why I do not so quickly dismiss Taylor Swift's music.

    (1) I am considerably older than her target audience. A lot of what seemed musically relevant to me as a teen is fluff now (or a nostalgia trip, at best).

    (2) I respect her involvement in the output. She writes or cowrites the songs, she co-produces the albums, and has been doing so since she was fourteen or fifteen. Back in the 80's, I had a soft spot for Debbie Gibson for the same reason. So many artists, especially the young female pop stars, are product-they find someone with a look, buy her songs, dress her up (or down, rather) and bingo! You've got J-Lo, Britney Spears, The Pussycat Dolls or The Spice Girls.

    Now I have not followed those "artists," so maybe they went on to be more than an attractive body with a backing track, but whether you like her music or not, at least Swift is creating art.

    1. Believe it or not, I only dismissed Taylor Swift within the last few years.

      I used to respect the first Taylor Swift that emerged - the bright eyed teenage girl who wrote, played, and sang her own country songs. Sure, country's not my style of music, but I respected what she was putting out because it was honest and had some decent lyrics.

      With her new album especially, her music has just degraded to watered down bubblegum pop, manufactured for the masses, with simple, idiotic choruses just meant to snare tweens.

      Cuz the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
      And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
      Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
      And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
      Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
      I shake it off, I shake it off

      This is the chorus of her new hit song... which, sorry, I just can't call art, especially not knowing what she's capable of.

    2. What-you do not find meaning in those lyrics?

      I get goosebumps....


      Point taken...

  4. Good point - the radio is free. And back in the day, we all sat there with our tape recorders, taping songs from albums we may or may not have ever purchased.
    Certain bands I will always want the CD, while others I am satisfied with just a download.
    As for Spotify, I'm really glad I got in with them when they first began, as I get the perks of a subscription for free.

    1. Alex-

      Does that mean you have the enhanced service?

      I am curious-are you able to download songs and play them on another device with the premium service?

      The other drawback to streaming (besides fidelity) is what do you do when you are on a five hour flight with no internet connection?

  5. Everything is getting too confusing for me to keep up with. It's nice to have a lot of options, but I'm sure it's perplexing to the music industry where to go for the greatest financial benefit. Like McCarthy I have so many CD's, LP's, and cassette tapes that I don't need much more.

    It's nice to have all of the options, but I prefer the simplicity of things. Oh for the days when I'd just have my turntable and record collection and every now and then I'd treat myself to some new additions to my collection.

    On the other hand it's great to have computer access to just about anything that I'd want to listen to. YouTube has been great for putting together the BOTB posts.

    Tossing It Out

    1. Oddly enough, the industry does not seem to mind You Tube, yet how can that possibly generate more revenue than Spotify?

      Similar to my comment to McDogg, our demographic is long past the age of driving change in the's the young whippersnappers that will decide what happens, and they've pretty much made it clear what their preference is.

      I certainly have more music than I need-I could listen to two different CD's a day for the rest of my life without repeats without buying anything new (not counting the new ones that will be waiting at home-had to get that "new" Pink Floyd)

      Accordingly, as younger acts move away from physical releases, the idea of a Spotify subscription is much more appealing to me than buying the downloads. Either way, many titles spend more time sitting on my shelves than spinning on either a turntable or a CD player, and the handful of "must own" artists are also my age demographic, so they'll probably continue to release in physical formats.

      I worry more about keeping the players functioning than new content...