Don’t believe the hype: music is doing better than ever
“There is nothing wrong with the music business, there is a problem with the CD business.” - Chuck D
If you reduced the last decade’s discussion about the music industry to a single word, it would be decline.
And yet, observing music consumption over the same period, the opposite is true. More people are listening to music in more ways than ever before.
On planes, in trains, in movies, on ads, at the gym, on the computer, at the desk, on the way to work, in the car, waking up, falling asleep, getting married, breaking up, doing housework, in the shower, in restaurants, cafes and bars and every second in between, music is present.
In last year’s MTV Music Matters survey of people aged 15-34, the percentage of people who claimed they liked music rose from 67% in 2007 to 85% in 2008.
Along the same lines, Bauer Media, the company behind Q and Mojo, released findings from a five-year study of music consumers.
The study found that 44% of respondents consumed more music in 2008 than in 2007 and in terms of favourite interests, music ranked higher than any other pastime including films, shopping, sport and fashion.
Perhaps it’s time to put the discussion about music into a new context.
The musical doom and gloomers have one major source of ammunition: falling CD sales. They’ve been in decline since in 2000, the same year N’Sync sold 2.41 million copies of ‘No Strings Attached’ in the US alone.
But in a world of kaleidoscopic music consumption, are CD sales still the most accurate gauge of the music industry’s health?
When you look beyond CD sales, you find that the total number of all units of music sold (that is, CD, digital, LPs and ringtones) grew by 10.5 percent in the US in 2008.
The biggest area of growth was digital downloads but there was growth in other areas. Vinyl sales increased by a staggering 89%.
Elsewhere over the last few years, tens of millions of iPods have been bought and (at least partially) filled, Guitar Hero has sold a billions copies and a billion plastic guitars and streaming through sites like MySpace, Last.FM, YouTube and Pandora has become a daily destination for a new generation of music lovers.
Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts for US-based Billboard magazine, sums up the situation neatly: “Music consumption has never been at a higher clip, it’s just a matter of trying to turn it into revenue.”
On the revenue front, the revenue issue is an ongoing one. Major labels in particular are rushing to reorganise their business models to mirror the consumption habits of a society that can effectively access whatever music they like, whenever they like, for free.
But major labels aren’t suffering through a lack of smarts or will or talent. Music industry people know what needs to be done and how things need to change, but you can’t implement that kind of shift within a multi-billion dollar industry still overly reliant on CD sales and subject to the demands of retailers, publishers, rights-holders, copyright lawyers, media-buyers, managers and most critically – artists.
So long as the focus is on that chapter of the music story, the bigger picture is going to be ignored.
If the music industry’s health was measured by total music consumption then it’s never been in better shape.
When the business models evolve and the music industry’s challenges are overcome, there are entire nations of music consumers hungrier than ever for the next song to change their lives.
It’d be nice if we could spent a little more time talking about that, and a little less counting plastic CDs.
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