Tuesday, March 23, 2004

In doing the sorting'n'packing shuffle, I've come across some old issues of CMJ New Music Report. Not the crappy monthly mag-with-a-CD they publish, but the weekly trade publication for college/community radio. Back in the day, I spent 2 years as MD of my college station, WBKE (North Manchester, IN), and we reported and subscribed to CMJ every week. I kept a handful of issues - some with particularly special playlists I'd reported (the first and last, for example), and the year-end issues. And just this morning, I came across something very interesting, written by their New World columnist, Cliff Furnald, for the 12.23.96 year-end wrap issue. Consider, when reading this, that Napster was unknown (if not uninvented) at the time. Yet the record industry was still bitching and moaning. Every generation of record execs comes up with a new scapegoat.

...the music industry has made itself even more unlikeable than usual. A recent New York Times cover article displayed the depravity of things beautifully, in a mournful piece on the slump in profits. Here's an industry that grew from about four billion dollars a decade ago to almost 12 billion today (man, where's MY piece of that!). OK, so "growth" has slowed from 20% per year to merely keeping up with inflation. Why? Executives, who spoke under "condition of anonymity," etc etc etc., were complaining kids weren't buying enough records, that there were no new "stars" and that the yuppies who spent the last six years re-buying "Sgt. Pepper's Stairway to Heaven" had gotten their fill. What they were really saying was "the stooges who used to buy whatever we told them to" have grown tired of Bootie And The Blowboys and endless "alternative" rock bands that haven't had an alternative idea since the first Nirvana record back in the Herbaceous Age.

Here's the news, boys. The music world is changing, and it may not take you along for the ride. People are going back to small venues where they can spend 10 bucks on a good show by a band that actually likes to play. Consumers are being critical. They don't need six Pearl Jam records that all sound alike, or endless collections of "Women Of The Planet," "Didgeridoos Of Space" or "Barry Manilow's Questionable Hits." They are looking elsewhere for their music, and there's a whole world of it out there. WalMart may refuse to sell Sheryl Crow and John Whatever-his-name-is-this-week, but hell, they never sold Dexter Gordon, Salif Keita, Ani DiFranco (boy, imagine them censoring THAT woman!) and
The Greatest Hits Of 1960's Benga. These records are being sold by dedicated folks who understand a small profit under their own control is a good, if somewhat uncertain, way to live. Add the Internet to the mix, with its proliferation of small, niche oriented "shops" specializing in folk, world music, techno and a thousand other genres the big labels have never even heard of, and you see a trend that will take that 12 billion dollar pie and spread it neatly around. Yum.

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