Monday, June 4, 2012

Record/Water Sales

2011 was a record-breaking year for water sold in the States. With 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water sold, bottled water sales broke the previous 2007 record of 8.8 billion gallons sold in the U.S. of A.

When I was in my teens, there are two things in particular that were facts of that time in life that now are no longer so: few people bought their water in bottles and most people bought their music in packages. Today, the reverse is true. Music flows over the Internet as free and freely as once did water. A fact of commerce is that “If you want something good, you have to pay for it"…otherwise you're stealing. It's not only the product or service, but it is the non-replenishable time given to provide tools, materials, and creativity to provide the former.

The bordering lines of intellectual property rights have blurred. Major record labels (so labelled) decry the robbery of their wares by Internet savvy generations who grew into a music market where they never learned that music was something one pays to own. But file sharing has been around since record cylinders could be borrowed, and music downloading for at least as long as there have been magnetic tape recorders onto which radio broadcasts can be preserved. When a group of my friends and I were equipped with tape recorders, we used to buy different albums and swap around to record those that we didn't buy for ourselves. However the thing is, this was done to audition music; if pal Joey had purchased something that I really liked, like Stevie's "If You Really Love Me", playing it on cassette tape was soon not good enough; I had to then have the actual record. It was a matter of the vinyl's improved fidelity, but as much or more so, it was a validation of my record collection to tactilely have it there. If someone asked "Do you have 'If You Really Love Me', answering "I have it recorded on cassette," was little more than tantamount to saying, 'Well, I hear it when it plays on the radio." Overall, the main reason for owning a record was for the immediate convenience of it being at the ready. Second to that, with albums and with covered singles—to a lesser degree, it was the packaging. As a music major in the late 1970’s at Mississippi Valley State University, I walked the campus with pride holding my brand new that day released copy of Stevie Wonder's"Songs in the Key of Life". Department classmates would ask to hold it, like admiring prospective mothers reaching out to hold another's cuddly new newborn infant. When I would strut my stuff (that is Chick's, Stanley's, Lenny's, and Al's stuff), walking around the schoolyard with Return to Forever's landmark Jazz-Fusion masterpiece "Romantic Warrior" you could tell I was that deep, and not to be messed with.

The climate changed; it was a one-two punch. When MTV arrived, coinciding with the acquisition and mass absorption of the major independent record companies by major film company corporations, music was no longer a thing to sit and listen to; it was a thing rather to watch. And if one was not so sedentarily inclined, one could take one's music show on the road for a jog with the then ubiquitous Sony Walkman—a portable cassette player that enabled the listener, with the aid of lightweight mini headphones, to take his music with him. In both cases, the importance of high fidelity was diminished. I used to sell 5.1 surround sound audio systems at Circuit City. I would point out to my customers that although they were buying a six-channel system, the loudest would probably be the seventh: the visual one, a.k.a. the television screen. The psychology of it all is that our ability to concentrate is concentrated, that's why they call it concentrating. When we we want to fully grasp what someone is saying to us, we focus on their eyes, not that there's something there that will reveal any more significance; it's more a blinder device that keeps our attentions focused. There is rarely anything so compelling there before us that will leech focus from those things we’re trying better to understand…except for me in the case of my staring into my wife's so beautiful eyes; she is a distraction as such. The point is that our best way of hearing is not seeing. And in the case of the mini headphones, a penknife brought into a gunfight is a practical concession.

So music began to be secondary. When Disco evolved into Techno and R-n-B became Urban, arrangement became beats. In the metaphorical housing development of musical neighborhoods, Club Electronica and Hip Hop fill the trailer parks while most of the old mansions barely stand in disrepair in their zones of amassed decrepitude. That is not meant as a direct slight against the former, but it is more a comment on the former and latter's respective purposes for existing nowadays.

Traditionally, popular music for ensembles was arranged to be performed expertly by skilled players and singers so that the performances might be recorded and replicated to be enjoyed at the time of their releases and collected to be treasured by generations after. As such the construction had to be such that it could withstand the rigors of whim and whimsy, style change and groove extinction. Today's music serves more as vaporous ephemera for tastes that change more frequently than the weather. For these consumers, their music is not constructed on expensive arrangement foundations but rather quick constructs known as "beats" that can actually be punched into something as comparatively insignificant as a smartphone in a matter of an hour and be ready for retail in the next two.

There's no such thing as a free lunch…you get what you pay for…nothing ventured, nothing gained. So many wise saws say much the same thing on the subject. If you want something that will last you, spend the money. If it's just a disposable quick-fix that you need, do just what it takes to get by. Many complaints about music today has at least as much to do with the demand as does it the supply. And speaking of supply and demand, the age-old equation has been horribly skewed.

With the onset of project studios being as common a household appliance as microwave ovens, there's more audio content available than the multiples of lifetimes it would require to listen to a tenth of them all. It has been said that it is futile to try selling music to musicians. Imagine trying to sell your music to hobby-artists boasting their own vanity labels. The price of recordings today not only do not reflect the aforementioned anemic supply and demand ratio, but seemingly it even fails to acknowledge the legal streaming websites—where members can download "all they can eat" for a monthly price that's less than the retail price of a CD. …not to mention the infamous file-sharers. As most "Ableton Live"-insta-studio type quick punch-n-play productions take only seconds, as opposed to hours of code-writing performed by "free app" developers, perhaps a fair new price point for download albums might be $1.00. …with no more singles offered. The only problem with that scenario is that dwindling value of music would bottom out to sheer worthlessness. Maybe we're just about there already.

I remember when the mere idea of paying for drinking water was ludicrous. Well, today maybe listeners feel the same way about paying for "listening music".

…just saying.

No comments: