From Grammy Awards to Darwin Awards: Where’s The Music Industry Headed and Who Will Survive? by Wigs

Make no mistake of it…the music industry is changing. The format that music was brought to us on has changed numerous times over the years. From the Edison phonograph to vinyl records to 8-tracks to cassettes to cds and now to MP3s the music industry has changed with the times quite a bit in the last hundred years. When tape dubbing began the music industry panicked but miraculously survived and the same can be said for burning CDs. Each and every time the music industry has been fine with minimal effects.

Not until the introduction of the iPod and iTunes has the industry truly been challenged. Since Apple introduced iTunes technology in 2001, the industry has been forced to completely rethink the traditional way of doing business and is being forced to adapt a new model or suffer by being pushed out of the game. The problem is there are some very monied executives who have been profiting for a very long time off of this model and are not taking kindly to switching their style up.

Recently we posted a story about a Dipset associate, Carlos “Zoo” Thompson, who ordered the murder of a 15-year old bootlegger from Harlem who was selling their CDs on a small scale to help pay for college. While understanding that music is the livelihood of music artists, “Zoo’s” recent actions clearly demonstrate a misunderstanding of where the real danger lies for current artists: their own inability to adapt to the new music model. While Dipset and the Feds are busy attacking bootleggers, Jay-Z is clearly setting the standard for the emerging paradigm in the music business. His tour with Mary J Blige, just wrapped up in late last May, grossed over 23 million according to Rolling Stone. Fellow Roc boy Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark Tour, which ends midway through June, is set to gross over $21 million. It’s time the industry stops looking at bootleggers as a problem and accepts that adaptations must be made in order to make money in new ways.

I’m not going to pretend to have all of the answers to the biggest paradigm shift in music industry history, but I do feel like there are others pointing the way to the new direction that we all must begin to consider.

First, we must recognize and come to terms with the idea that music is now, for all practical purposes, free. Music as a physical product is evaporating quickly and the first step in embracing the new model for the industry is to realize this. Artists and labels should no longer concern themselves with seeing a return on investment from the physical or digital (though iTunes is now the number one music retailer in the world) sale of their music. The music itself should now be viewed as an investment and not a commodity to be sold.

The music consuming population (and that is most of us) has access to more music than we ever have in the entire history of the industry. Think for a moment about the amount of music that your parents owned and even if they had large collections they probably never had as much as you have on your iPod. With such great access to music the artists and labels must begin to look at music as an advertisement for that particular artist and understand that it is used to sell other things. Sure, a small and dwindling percentage of money will come back from individuals that still buy music but it should not be relied on.

“Every song is now an advertisement”. Sounds bad, right? Not so. The idea that every song is an advertisement does not mean that the song is urging you to buy a particular product but rather endears you to the artist as a brand and a name/message/feeling that you identify with and embrace. In effect, this means that artists can no longer be content to fill their albums with unnecessary filler, less than funny skits, and collabs with the crew’s weed carriers. Since the consumer now has easy access to all of an artist’s music and will more than likely perform some degree of exploration, such as tracking down the song they initially came after, the artists cannot no longer afford to produce whack joints. This should inspire a sigh of relief from consumers who have, in part, been drawn to downloading free music in response to lackluster albums from the so-called “hottest stars”.

When artists begin to understand that every song they release is valuable and can add to or take away from their worth then they understand that along with the self-serving purpose of expression their music now advertises the new commodity that they are seeking to push; live shows, merchandise, and the branding that leads to product endorsements.

If the money is no longer from the sale of physical product than it must come from somewhere and the first obvious choice is the live show. This is a huge benefit to all of us. In order to survive in this industry the artist must now be willing to perform and tour on a regular basis. The art of the live show in Hip Hop has, for some time, required a lot of improvement. Sure, there are plenty of exceptions who put on great shows but the time has come to give the people more than the bare minimum of just two turntables and a microphone — though you better be able to hold it down to at least that level or you really aren’t shit.

As Jay and Kanye have recently proven, there’s a lot to be made from live shows, touring, and the sale of merchandise at these shows. As anyone who’s been to a show can attest to live performances endear you to the artist and give you a more personal connection with them. This is where major headway is made in branding the artist to the consumer which in turn means that companies will seek out popular young artists (and we’re all still young damn it…even the oldest amongst us) for endorsement deals, continuing the cycle. We are quickly entering a time where this cycle is going to be the only way for artists to make real money in order to keep the lights on and within this transition we’ll see many who refuse to adapt fall by the side while those who can embrace this change move forward to further success.

In reality, things really aren’t as bad as some will have you believe. In fact, I would argue that the future looks even brighter than the past. Sure the concept of brick and mortar stores and tangible music are becoming a product of yesteryear (and trust me when I tell you that those things pain me too) but at the same time we have access to unprecedented amounts of music that is virtually free. Emcee’s, deejays, producers and others involved in the creation of the music are being asked to give no less than 110% every time around or be forced out by more talented artists, thus creating a higher quality of music. Your favorite artists will be performing more often in a city near you in the not so distant future — performing like their career depends on it — because it really does.

For this trade off, I’m more than willing to give up holding the album in my hands in exchange for more and better music in my ears. This transition period will be like a litmus test in revealing who is ready to adapt and change the game and who clings so hard to the past they fail to continue to be relevant. Ya hear me Dipset? Maybe instead of killing bootleggers in Harlem you should just put on more shows for the people of Harlem. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.


1 Response to “From Grammy Awards to Darwin Awards: Where’s The Music Industry Headed and Who Will Survive? by Wigs”

  1. 1 La Liko June 2, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Love, love, love it — right on! This article is some real talk, no doubt.

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