Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Killing the Music an Industry in Crisis Has Relegated Artists to 'Content Providers

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Killing the Music an Industry in Crisis Has Relegated Artists to 'Content Providers

Article excerpt

When I started in the music business, music was important and vital to our culture. Artists connected with their fans. Record labels signed cutting-edge artists, and FM radio offered an incredible variety of music. Music touched fans in a unique and personal way. Our culture was enriched and the music business was healthy and strong.

That's all changed.

Today the music business is in crisis. Sales have decreased between 20 and 30 percent over the past three years. Record labels are suing children for using unauthorized peer-to-peer (P2P) file- sharing systems. Only a few artists ever hear their music on the radio, yet radio networks are battling Congress over ownership restrictions. Independent music stores are closing at an unprecedented pace. And the artists seem to be at odds with just about everyone -- even the fans.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the root problem is not the artists, the fans or even new Internet technology. The problem is the music industry itself. It's systemic.

The industry, which was once composed of hundreds of big and small record labels, is now controlled by just a handful of unregulated, multinational corporations determined to continue their mad rush toward further consolidation and merger. Sony and BMG announced their agreement to merge in November, and EMI and Time Warner may not be far behind. The industry may soon be dominated by only three multinational corporations.

The executives who run these corporations believe that music is solely a commodity. Unlike their predecessors, they fail to recognize that music is as much a vital art form and social barometer as it is a way to make a profit. At one time artists actually developed meaningful, even if strained, relationships with their record labels. This was possible because labels were relatively small and accessible, and they had an incentive to join with the artists in marketing their music. Today such a relationship is practically impossible for most artists.

Labels no longer take risks by signing unique and important new artists, nor do they become partners with artists in the creation and promotion of the music. After the music is created, the artist's connection with it is minimized and in some instances is nonexistent. In their world, music is generic. A major record label president confirmed this recently when he referred to artists as "content providers." Would a major label sign Johnny Cash today? I doubt it.

Radio stations used to be local and diverse. Deejays programmed their own shows and developed close relationships with artists. Today radio stations are centrally programmed by their corporate owners, and airplay is essentially bought rather than earned. The floodgates have opened for corporations to buy an almost unlimited number of radio stations, as well as concert venues and agencies. …

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