I wanted to buy Green Day's new album 21st Century Breakdown. I could have downloaded but I desired to touch it, look at the CD art, and own a hard copy. I'm old school sometimes.
Also, I didn't want to wait for shipping from Amazon.com. No, I needed it now. Suddenly, I felt like a complete moron. Where can I buy a CD in Los Angeles? Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard went under, as did the Virgin Megastore. Amoeba Records, the only independent record store -- actually the only record store period still in business in was too far for me to drive to. Oh no! Oh no! I had to go to Best Buy! I panicked. Until now, I had managed not to give in and purchase music at Best Buy.
I bowed my head, sucked in my pride and went to Best Buy. I found the music easily at the front of the store. I didn't fall prey to expensive electronic gadgets beckoning me to buy. I ran out of the store, CD clenched in my hand. I was happy sad. Yes, I do believe there is such an emotion. Happy I had the album. Sad I was lame enough to need a physical copy. Sad my beloved recorded music business was falling into the toilet. Happy that out of the ashes can come new models. Or maybe old ones can be revived?
A quick history lesson: RCA Records, home of Elvis Presely, was initially launched in the 1930s not to sell music, but to sell phonographs, specifically the famous "Victorla." Fast forward to 1999 when Starbucks got into the music business by purchasing Hear Music. The Starbucks honchos put music in stores to sell coffee, not music. They were trying to create Starbucks as the ultimate lifestyle brand; music was simply a part of that. Music executives however thought Starbucks could be the salvation of the music business. That dream came to an abrupt halt McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts started boosting their 'gourmet' coffees. Starbucks had to refocus on their core and cut their entertainment initiatives almost to nothing.
Itunes. Yes. Music sells iPods. Best Buy is not in the business of selling music, they want to sell flat screen TVs. Music is a lure -- a lure that is not working. Big box retailers are such as Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart have dramatically cut music retail space. Some will use mobile devices and gadgets at front of store to seduce customers instead of music.
What is recorded music worth? Note I say recorded music. Sales are plummeting -- both digital and physical. In part, this is due to the economy -- if a consumer has to choose between dinner and a CD, most will choose dinner. Also, an entire generation of music lovers do not value recorded music as a product to buy. They grew up stealing it off the internet and became accustomed to poor sound quality. Musicos take great care in the perfect mix, the perfect sound quality, and the perfect equipment to get the perfect sound. However, the average consumer could care less. They are accustomed to listening to music on mobile phones, cheap MP3 players, or through computer speakers. Nothing fancy. Nothing hi fi.
Fact: Artists need to make recorded music. An act lives to make their art and have people hear it. Fact: Artists need to make money to live. Do artists need to make their money off of recorded music? Not necessarily.
Let's take a developing band looking to make it in today's marketplace. They have to be good. This may sound like a silly caveat, but it's surprising how many mediocre and often downright horrible acts are signed to record labels. The band has to be able to play live. Gone are the days of made-up over produced bands, fans want the real thing.
Despite the current downturn in ticket sales (stay tuned for another blog entry devoted to ticketing), smaller venues, booking good bands, offering affordable tickets are selling out. Those same fans are buying tshirts because they want everyone to know they were at the show. True fans may even subscribe to an online fan club if they could get tickets before the general public, video blogs from the band, and yes, FREE recorded music to download.
Or, what if Coca-Cola were to become the new "Victrola"? A brand could pay an artist to record music and then offer the tunes for free to all the consumers who purchase the product. Why not give away free downloads with cans of soda pop? Artist makes money. Fans get free music. More people are drinking soda pop.
This model can work, but there are few requirements: the artist has to actually like the soda pop, the artist has to be very active with fans online, the brand has to allow for the artist to grow slowly and not slap logos on everything. There is one company that is trying this model -- Red Bull. Yes, Red Bull has a record label and they are developing a few artists under the radar.
Once upon a time kings and queens commissioned artists like Mozart for musical masterpieces. Perhaps, brands will be the new patrons of the arts.