The Return To Real Music
Written By Patrick Ortiz
Last week we went in-depth about the collapse of the record store, exploring the reasons why certain record labels and their tactics failed and how we arrived at the age of digital downloads and lost our connection with music. This week we take a look at the inverse of this situation by analyzing the resurgence of vinyl records, the comeback of brick and mortar record stores, and the (hopefully) steady rise of respect for musicianship.
We are currently in the middle of an overwhelming digital music revolution that has significantly altered the way we listen to music, the way it is produced, and the way it is distributed. However, this revolution has been going on since the late 90’s and early 2000’s, initially onset by the “emergence of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks” that allowed consumers to download an entire band’s discography and have it on an external CD or hard drive in a matter of minutes. Then, with the advent of recording software like Pro Tools and Logic, the average Joe could make a recording in his room alone with minimal effort. These are the situations that led to the downfall of some major record labels and demanded others to change their methods of producing and representing artists.
Due to the convenience of having as much music as you can cram in your ears available with literally the click of a button, the digital music age boomed, and people became disconnected from their music. People just weren’t buying physical versions of music anymore. In fact, “total revenues for CDs, Vinyl, Cassettes, and even digital downloads in the U.S. dropped from $14.6 billion in 1999 to only $9 billion in 2008.” It seemed that no one really cared about the music the way they used to; they just got a song or two from a friend or Napster, put in in their Ipod and moved on. This led to the notion that holds painfully true today, that a song is more important than an artist as a whole.
With the collapse of Napster and other filesharing type sites, companies began realizing that they should capitalize on a market that music was headed in anyway: streaming. Anything from videos, to music, to talk shows can now be streamed and accessed in a matter of seconds, which has dominated the media world. Radio sites like Pandora began popping up at an astounding rate, allowing listeners to find new bands and keep music playing for hours. This sprouted many other sites in the later 2000’s like Spotify and Soundcloud, where you can search thousands of bands with just a few clicks. This completely revolutionized the way we listen to music and as of 2013, “streaming music hit a record of 11.8 Billion streams.”
Over years of digital media transforming, bands have been forced to grapple with mind and career altering changes to their sound and writing process. Do they sacrifice their originality in order to fit in with the times, or do they continue in the same trajectory and hope they have a loyal fanbase that will never waiver? Unfortunately, a lot of bands have fallen victim to the instant gratification mindset and fleeting attention span of the average music consumer. With the advent of the various streaming services, we can listen to two songs by one band and be three genres away in five minutes. There is no need to explore an artist’s entire catalog or even a full album. That is why we are seeing bands release their music as EPs or shortened 3-6 song albums to entice their audience to listen to a complete body of work. This has not only forced bands to sacrifice their artistic expression but has also caused them to explore avenues they would otherwise never venture towards. For example, with the increased popularity of electronic music or sampled beats, we are hearing rock bands from even twenty years ago embrace this element in their music. That is when we have to ask the question of whether this is musical progression on an individual basis, or are bands conforming with the trends of popular music.
Even though the digital and streaming age of music has plagued musical integrity and appreciation, there may still be hope for the bands or artists who want to connect with their fans on multiple real levels. Ever since 2007, there has been a slow yet steady rise in record sales. This correlates with the inauguration of Record Store Day, “an annual event inaugurated in 2007 and held on one Saturday every April to celebrate the culture of the independently owned record store.” Over its 12-year existence, this event has garnered the attention of both fans and musicians alike and has contributed to a spike in vinyl record sales.
In fact, “In 2017, 14 million LPs were sold in the US, up more than 1,000% from 2007.” Sadly, the unfortunate passing of multiple musical icons over the past 3-5 years have also contributed to the interest in hard-copy albums. But could this be the only reason for the sudden surge?
We are seeing newer and lesser known bands releasing their albums on vinyl in an effort to reignite listener’s passions. But bigger artists and record labels are re-releasing older, classic works on LP and people are eating them up. However, “According to Nielsen’s 2017 year-end music report, LPs accounted for no more (but also no less) than 8.5 percent of album sales in the United States. When accounting for streaming and downloads of single tracks, that number drops to 2.5 percent of total music consumption.” Although this may seem insignificant, it is proof that we have a yearning to rekindle our relationship with music. We want to read about how our favorite guitarist came up with his tone or how a certain occurrence shaped the lyrics to a song.
The absence of major “corporation” record labels have inspired us to support an artist and his efforts. This has allowed the musicians to concoct new ways of making their art form an entire experience, not just individual songs. Musicians are once again hand-signing albums, putting personalized stories in their sleeves, and reconnecting with their audience. We have now gone full circle with the idea of artist and fan relationships. There is no better time to be a musician and with this fresh mindset in today’s world, the possibilities for success are endless.