If you scroll through the Industry label on this blog, you’ll see a series of musings / rants that I posted, mostly fairly early on in the life of the blog, beginning with my creatively named State of the Industry Address, back in 2012. For a long time, I’ve been meaning to put some kind of post together to summarise the findings.
That was just over five years ago, and as my annual sales analyses (also under the same label) have proved, the “industry” has changed fundamentally in that time. Back in the 1980s, as you may remember, record labels could pretty much throw anything out, and it would make the charts in one form or another. Then CDs came along, and they were able to go round reissuing everything, so silly suckers like you would buy them again. Then, about 15 years later, they discovered that the original CDs weren’t that well mastered in the first place so you had to buy them again, now as a remaster, which might come in a nice big boxed special edition, or it might just be the same as the original, only a lot louder.
But in the 1990s, the music industry started to limit itself in bizarre ways – they changed the chart rules so that the number and contents of formats were limited, and tried to kill the remix at a time when it had become one of the most creative elements in music. They tried throwing more formats at us, to see if they could change the way we listened to music, but we didn’t bite.
But by the end of the 1990s, the record labels were being edged out of their own game by technology, and that’s the trend that has dogged them for the last couple of decades. Initial attempts to stamp out illegal copying by adding copy protection to CDs backfired spectacularly.
Then, when sales started to slump, and pretty much every high street record shop had closed, computer games suddenly went mainstream, and VHS finally gave way to DVD, and the few remaining shops started selling them instead.
Nowadays, you’re most likely to stream your music rather than buy it outright, and nobody seems to care about the UK charts since they moved to Fridays, not even Radio 1. And if you’re a total completist, there’s also a good chance that you might be trying to build up a completely lossless music library too. Physical releases still sell, and record companies continue to come up with ingenious ways to sell us the same thing again and again, such as the recent trend of releasing anthologies.
There are positives – many of the most creative record companies are actually still going strong, the music industry is finally bouncing back with increasing revenues, and the cost of buying and listening to music continues to decline (in fact, nowadays there’s a good chance you pay nothing at all). But it’s also fair to say that today’s music business is very different to what it was ten or twenty years ago.
All of the links above will take you to more in-depth pieces that I wrote about those subjects. Happy reading!