In a moment of clarity, Billboard admits that album sales don’t tell the whole story of record label revenues. According to Billboard, “there’s more to the story. Recorded music looks better when streaming gains are taken into account.” As I’ve been arguing for a while, record labels earn revenue from a number of sources well beyond album sales. So the recent decline of albums and tracks is rather irrelevant when considering industry profits.
Album sales are down. But that really isn’t the point. Albums were the logical result of the available recording technology. At first, recorded music was limited by the “brevity dictated by the size of the shellac plate.” In other words, the length of a song was limited to the length of a side of a 78-rpm record, which for a while was about 3 minutes. The album only developed as a concept with the 33 1/3-rpm LP record, which could initially hold 22 minutes of music per side. Rather than lengthening a song, record companies began bundling 3 minute songs together in the form of an album. With digital music, it does not necessarily make sense for record labels to produce albums if they can release digital tracks. Continue reading
My essay “Digital Downsizing: The Effects of Digital Music Production on Labor” was recently published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. The preprint version is available without the firewall here. Digital Audio Workstations and Drum Machines increasingly replace highly skilled musician labor.
I’ve been writing about what I call the piracy panic narrative for a while. The piracy panic narrative goes that file-sharing is piracy, piracy is stealing, and this stealing hurts recording artists. In this simplistic view of the recording industry (constructed by the major record labels), we are bringing about the death of music by file-sharing, ripping CDs, and streaming music. The main problem with this argument being that piracy is not stealing and these activities are not “piracy,” in the first place. However, the recording industry repeatedly makes these claims beginning with Metallica in 2000.
Now Taylor Swift has gotten into the discussion. She states “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” Continue reading
iTake-Over: The Recording Industry in the Digital Era was released today by Rowman & Littlefield. Be sure to grab your copy. Continue reading
More than a decade after the launch of the iTunes Music Store, parts of the recording industry are finally changing the way they calculate sales. Billboard changed the metrics it uses to calculate the Billboard 200. Rather than calculating only album sales, Billboard 200 will now use “track-equivalent albums” and “track-equivalent streams.” This is the biggest change in the way that Billboard calculates this chart since the implementation of SoundScan in 1991, and it already appears to be every bit as monumental. Continue reading
A new book by a UT Arlington assistant professor reveals how large corporations exploited new technologies to maintain their stranglehold on the music industry.
David Arditi, an assistant professor in Interdisciplinary Studies, wrote “iTake-Over: The Recording Industry in the Digital Era,” published by R&L Publishers. It will hit shelves Dec. 5.
In October, people panicked that 2014 could be the first year without a platinum album. Could this be the end of platinum albums? What will this do to music? The panic swelled on the Internet. Then Taylor Swift’s 1989 dropped and sold 1.287 million units in one week, and it could go multi-platinum in under a month. Of course the platinum album isn’t going anywhere. And whether or not an album is certified platinum has no effect on whether you will get to listen to your jams. Continue reading
The recording industry has been going through a digital transformation over the past 20 years. However, this is only the most media recent transition in a culture industry that is marked by constant change. In iTake-Over: The Recording Industry in the Digital Era, I explore this transition by interrogating the rhetoric about music’s pending death. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, the book intervenes in the reductive discussion about music piracy. By arguing that file-sharing is piracy, the major record labels have convinced the people, Congress and the judicial system to change both music listening practice and law. As a result of this transition, I argue the major record labels are economically and politically more powerful than ever before. To learn more, you should order your copy now.
iTunes is the largest music retailer . . . ever! It makes Wal-Mart seem small, and just a few years ago Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and other big box retailers put record stores out of business. Many people saw the Internet as a way for independent musicians to circumvent the major record labels’ grip on music distribution. As it turns out, the Internet has done little to help independent artists get their music to new fans. Yes, there is the occasional exception to the rule from Justin Bieber to OK Go, but the exception only reinforces the rule. My essay appearing in Popular Music & Society entitled “iTunes: Breaking Barriers and Building Walls” explores the way that iTunes has created the same barriers for independent musicians through digital distribution as existed from physical distribution.