The State of the Music Industry in 2003

(This post was written by Cody Breur and taken from his Mog.com page.)

Taking Issue: While On High Alert, Music Biz Can Still Flourish

Is it just me, or are we at Code Orange in the record biz? This state of high alert, where Billboard reads like a collection of obituaries and general grumpiness reigns supreme, is growing a bit tiresome, no? And there are a lot of questions, so let me take a crack at a few of them.

Are we at Code Orange? Yes, we are. But it does not mean that music is dead or dying. The fact that the music business has lost some momentum is not stopping people from going into their garages, basements and bedrooms and dedicating their lives to their instruments and ideas.

What can we, the little guys, do as the majors attempt to make music just a minuscule part of the cultural fabric? We can give the creation of music the respect it deserves. We can share the joy of hearing something that moves us. We can support new artists on records and onstage. We can open up our minds to the incredible diversity of sounds coming from all over the world. We can separate music from movies, videogames and advertising. We can teach children how to play instruments.

Is music just a sales tool to move refrigerators? Some very powerful people seem to think so, while some other very influential people don’t seem to have a problem with it, so the real music people have to buckle down and give the customer something more. Like, for instance, personal service, music knowledge and ties to the community.

Are kids under 18 the only audience worth selling to? In the old world, yes; youth should be served. But in the new world, there are still folks over 18 who have a lot of money to spend on music. They come from a time when music was the most intimate, mysterious and moving thing that pop culture had to offer, and they are dying to hear something that moves them again.

Is a record that sells 100,000 copies a failure? If the label spent $500,000 promoting it, it sure is.

I am aware that you have to spend money to make money, but things are getting way out of hand. I think that we need a market correction on the money spending. Some of these bottom-line-conscious majors should stop acting like Bill Gates and let these bands build their audience the old-fashioned way: on the road.

Will the current business model for selling records in stores made of bricks and mortar last? After visiting an iTunes store, I sure hope so. Standing in a room of iMacs, looking at a screen and downloading onto a disc is like going to the dentist’s office or being in an airline terminal.

I hope music is a lot more than data. Doesn’t the package mean anything? I’ve learned more about music from reading liner notes and record jackets than I have on any Web site. I’ve found out tons about my favorite records from talking to human beings on the floor of a record store.

The personal digital age is fine, but there should always be a place where the communal nature of music can flourish. I think an ideal candidate for this is the independent record store. Of course, if people just want to live the life of working, ordering online and sleeping, that is their ebizness.

Is there anything positive going on right now in the music scene? Yes. The rise of Cuban and Brazilian music, underground hip-hop, the bluegrass revival, heavy music (pro- and anti-mullet sectors), the nu-soul movement, funky 45 collecting and compiling, DJ culture-an excellent example of how the Internet does not kill the music industry-all the diverse sounds of Africa and an ever-growing list of music that we never had a chance to hear before we became so “connected” with the rest of the globe.

So, perhaps, it is the best of times and the worst of times in our little ol’ biz. Things may be shifting gradually to a world we don’t understand and can’t even fathom right now, but, if I’m looking for a ray of light in the darkness, I can always go back to the basics. Turn down the lights, shut off the computer, click off the TV, close my eyes and listen. The music always has an answer.

Cody Breuler is a sales and marketing rep for Navarre Entertainment Media in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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