Sunday, October 31, 2010

We only know what to say because we practiced at home

Francis Wolff - Herbie Hancock, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1964

A meditation on the music market and a lesson in Music History.

Quick Hist:
The exponential growth of the music industry in recent years, with the advent of itunes, ipods, youtube, and the internet, got me thinking today. I decided to enlighten myself with a little music history research that I will gladly share with those of you who may be interested. If you're at all like me, your attention wanders so I'll try to keep this succinct and as educational as possible, before reaching diminishing returns on information retention.

Music as we know it, of course, all began with sheet music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Publishers of sheet music reached the public mainly with the help of churches and aristocracies. Then along came the original gangstas and composers, such as Mozart, who saw marketability in their talent and sound; thus, the commercial music industry was born. Hallelujah.

According to Wikipedia (a very credible and fool-proof source) the sales of recorded music have dropped off substantially since year 2000, while live music performance sales have sky-rocketed. Not surprising, considering the easy-peazy-lemon-squeezy-ness of free downloads nowadays. Four major corporate labels dominate the music market, they include: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Entertainment, and EMI. These corporations are essentially our music market umbrellas that branch off into smaller companies and labels that serve myriad regions and markets.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is the organization that represents the recording industry worldwide-- it's headquarters are in London, with other offices in Miami, Moscow, Hong Kong, and Brussels. I don't know if those cities could be any more random.

Live Nation is not only the largest, but also the furthest reaching promoter and venue owner. In my opinion, Live Nation is a razor-toothed monopoly that takes advantage of the music-loving public, but that's neither here nor there. (I'm not entirely sure what that expression means).

The Mediation:
Most music lovers probably evolved as I had, making mix-tapes off the radio with a bedazzled boombox, pressing start and stop frantically in order to jot down the lyrics to Will Smith's "Just the Two of Us," rocking out to Nirvana Nevermind in janco jeans. The old days of the real mix-tape were, as Sanjay aptly put it "The Days of the Top 40," when the radio top 40, featuring Ja-Rule duets and Alanis tirades, was the only real way to get dat new new. The birth of youtube, ipods, grooveshark, pandora, napster, and itunes, has completely changed the way we are exposed to and expose ourselves to music. Fortunately for us, today's music market is monsooned. Music floods not only our ipods, but also our icals with concert ops and iphone apps. What has this done to the recording industry? Well, if you want to make money as a musician you better pimp your bus ride, because you will be spending a lot of time on the road. Festivals and concerts are back in style and have gained notable momentum in recent years. Are we reliving the 60s and 70s music explosion? I'm beginning to think so. But as Yonder Mountain String Band wisely sings, there is no way to know which way the wind will blow. I guess all we can do now is sit back, enjoy the sound luxury, and let the beat build, leaving the fate of la musica to the Gods of the Rhythm. Namaste.

for those of you who enjoy coldplay mashups- here's a great site recommended by Will

"I never thought kazoo playing could actually be... sexy." (also for those of you with kazoos, this is a really fun song to attempt at kazoo-ing along with)

awesome lyrics

Thanks Nick

Dawn Landes - Kids in a Play


  1. Hey yo Jessica! I've thought about this too. To me, it's interesting how all this bombardment of media and music sources has changed the way we listen to music too. I mean, back in the day, a new record would drop, people would get very excited, go buy the vinyl, and sit and listen to the whole thing straight in a room. It was the afternoon's activity. They would pay attention to the music, and hear the subtleties, instead of click the next link they see on youtube. I'm not really saying that one is better than the other i guess, just that its another example of our short attention span generation.

    I think we tend to miss things in music these days, as we are paying more attention to half-clever lyrics, ridiculous costumes in music videos or what have you.

    Just sayin, the passion paired with sheer musical talent of a herbie or a bill evans or a george duke just doesn't catch people's attention so much these days...

  2. Mike,
    Well put. I hadn't even thought about that, but it's so true. What you mentioned, especially about the "afternoon activity" of picking up a new record got me thinking about two things.

    1. You should read Daniel Levitin's "This is Your Brain on Music" because its super interesting. He talks about the genius of The Beatles in that they would write the songs on their albums in seven measure phrases because the brain innately expects to hear eight. That way, as people would listen to the album in its entirety, their brains would essentially crave the next song in order to get that eighth measure. Of course, today that would hardly be the case as we tend to listen to "singles" over full albums.

    2. What you mentioned about half-clever (i like that) lyrics and costumes -- is so true. It reminds me of seeing Passion Pit live at Nateva. They were entertaining, they weren't a horrible band. But Passion Pit relies mainly on computer generated voices and sound, therefore seeing them live was not nearly as exhilarating as listening to their album at home. The electronic-ization of the industry in conjunction with the "live" movement I was talking about, can contradict each other -- bands like Passion Pit beguile listeners into believing they will sound similar live, when in reality they sound just like any other garage band when singing into a mic.