Friday, October 19, 2012


"Albums don't have the same significance they did 10 years ago," says Elvis Costello. "You can't even find a record shop. My last album was in a coffee shop." Yep. Carly Simon, Bob Dylan, Elvis…a lot of artists have turned up in Starbucks where the last of the affluent Yuppies toss an extra $12.95 at the counter because it's not much more than they spent for a latte. But Starbucks has cut back on the number of titles they sell. Costello's last didn't even make the cut.

Rolling Stone, back on March 1st: "Many cities have no record store, not even a Best Buy or a Target (which don't stock many CDs). You've got to order from Amazon…." And does anyone? Not when Amazon pushes mp3 downloads: "With streaming services like Spotify rising and iTunes entrenched as the world's biggest music retailer, digital sales in 2011 outstripped physical sales for the first time ever…" People under 50 overwhelmingly buy digital: "In the first week of February, Leonard Cohen's OLD IDEAS sold roughly 79% percent of its 41,000 copies on CD. Lana Del Rey's BORN TO DIE sold just 26 percent of its 77,0000 copies that way according to Billboard."

More bad news. Because of piracy, digital music sales are nowhere near the sales figures when CD or vinyl was popular.

Rolling Stone's answer to its own headline, "Is the CD Finally Dead?" is YES. "Within three years," the magazine predicts.

Charging less for a CD isn't the answer. The discount-pricing strategy might have slowed the demise of CDs "but sources say it also pushed profits on CDs down." So says Rolling Stone.

The Village Voice: "CDs came out in the 80s and, by the late 90s, you could make your own at home. Then, when the digital download came out...even companies are saying, 'Why are we making CDs if people can just download the whole album?'" Around Christmas some fogeys might buy a re-issue box set on The Beatles or Neil Young, and some ancients will buy Susan Boyle, but that's not enough to sustain CD manufacture.

Sony shut down its CD manufacturing plant in New Jersey laying off 160 workers…and now has only one plant in America making CDs!

Am I ranting? No, it's just facts. Technology does this. Pro Tools has killed off a lot of recording studios. It's progress. It's part of why our economy is so bad, but it's been going on ever since Henry Ford built his first assembly line. Woody Allen said his father lost his job to progress: "a machine does what he did, but ten times better. And my mother bought one!"

In a generation or two, we went from vinyl, to tape, to CD to mp3. We went from making a tape copy to perfect digital duplication. Now, copying is so common, blogs are disappearing. You can find most of what bloggers used to post all over torrents, lockers, YouTube, and more. The "usual suspects" still doing blogs are mostly half dead zombies who monotonously re-post the entire Beach Boys catalog over and over. Or they croak "not to be missed" about a once-rare psych album all over the Net and one they re-posted a dozen times. Or they steal a download, re-up with their dopey name as the password, and get some senile kick out of the same "nice comments" left in the shout box, all about "thanks" and "we are not worthy," and "you are God." Even if the number of these comments has shriveled smaller than the uploader's dick.

Meanwhile the death of CD and the proliferation of mp3 means file lockers like Rapidshare have lowered their price for an account. Too much competition, including the huge torrent sites that make money with fake dating service ads or click-throughs to game sites full of spyware.

Joni Mitchell didn't know clouds at all. Heh heh. Now she does. Clouds and new sharing via Kindle devices and iPhones mean the percentage who buy music (movies, books, magazines) is shrinking every day, like the polar ice. Hell, there's so much free entertainment, even free entertainment isn't a lure, so TV shows are sinking in the ratings…and even low-budget reality shows cut down on staff. Sports stars are likely to see less money too, thanks to free streams of "pay per view" events. Buy entertainment? "Zero paid" is the goal. At best, a new album comes out and sells 40,000 units instead of 400,000 or a million.

Well, Brother, a lot of people are begging for a dime now. Three companies have emerged to become like Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II (that would be Google, Amazon and Apple) but those giants do NOT employ all that many people.

Remember when "sharers" had an answer to piracy? It was "find a new paradigm." Like, sell t-shirts. Or tour till you drop dead and never mind if the club is tiny and your hotel bill cuts your profits. Or sell music so low that a million would buy for a dollar. None of it worked.

Unemployment, like climate change, is not going to ever get better. Those who are out of work, or forced to accept a soul-killing job that barely pays the rent, can soothe themselves in the evening with free YouTube or torrent downloads, or cheap home-made meth (good weed, like any good crop, is tougher to get at any price).

Kids can adapt. They don't give a damn about paying attention to music and holding a CD in their hands. If the doctor's waiting room doesn't have a copy of Newsweek, so fucking what, a zillion mags are on KickAss torrents to be put into their kindle. Who gives a damn about the news anyway? All they care about is what Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian are up to. Anything else and there's always Huffington Post and Google News which give you all you need to know for free. "Fair use," you know.

Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood.

This isn't a rant about thoughtless, greed-headed pirate assholes like Kim Dotcom or some retarded bloggers going overboard, or whether it's moral to avoid buying HBO, Showtime or over-priced PPV sports events by getting it free . It's not a complaint about stupid punks who think that "free speech" and "fair use" and "no censorship" is an excuse to steal.

This post is just a statement of fact: there are no new paradigms, and brother, it's hard to make a dime. That's all. Even "totally fuzzy" music "sharers" have come around to admit that not paying for music is a bad thing. Capitalism thrives on buy and sell. But it's all over now, Baby Blue. Just like it's all over for the blue whale, and fresh-caught salmon. Like it's all over for record and bookstores. Like it's almost all over for movie houses, or the post offices. Might as well play an old Ray Davies song mourning that we don't have Queen Victoria anymore. So? We got Queen Latifah and Lady Gaga and Queen touring without Freddie Mercury.

Back in the 30's, when "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" became a popular song, things were different. There was a work ethic. Immigrants came to a new country to work, not demand benefits, refuse to speak the language, and plot to blow up buildings. Second, most any skill you had could be applied to a new job opportunity. Cylinder records went obsolete? OK, the factory makes 78's. 78's went obsolete? Manufacture 45's and 33's. Vinyl goes? Manufacture CDs. But now…the manufacturing plants stand empty, ready for the wrecking ball. Music, movies,'re supposed to give it away on Google's Blogger, YouTube, cloud systems or watch it get stolen via Google's copyright-raping search engine and their digitizing of every book and their pointing toward every blog or YouTube free version. Google's "monetization" of your YouTube account ain't the answer, neither is their pledge to toss a few pennies to publishers. And Spotify is not giving songwriters the living wage that radio once did.

Among the books nobody's buying is one called "Free Ride" by Robert Levine. In it, Levine writes: "At what point did free music become a social cause? If artists want to give away their music, that's great. They just shouldn't have to do it when they don't want to."

Perhaps a better quote comes from Kurt Vonnegut, who no longer needs royalties: "And so it goes." Right down the drain.

Rolling Stone, the anorexic magazine that could drop dead any day and go to digital only, is actually trying to get more people to check their website for exclusive site-only features. They know you can download every new issue from some torrent or other. So while I still have a subscription, I know one day there won't be a magazine in the mail box anymore. And that Rolling Stone will have a staff of only a few people, and not enough for well-researched exposes, and they'll just have puff pieces on Justin Bieber, and reviewers who take hip-hop seriously.

So be happy CDs are dying and a few external hard-drives store everything. Hope that the 1% who can afford to pay for downloads do so, and it's enough to keep some artists and production companies and publishers in business. Move into a smaller low-rent place and save your money for food, since crop erosion, spoiled oceans and fetid slaughter houses will make the price for a healthy meal go up while your pay check shrinks down. The answer my friend, is that music, movies, and book downloads are just blowin' in the wind. And some incinerated dust that was once human, will be blowin' along with it.

"I've seen the future…and it's murder." Oh, that was Leonard Cohen. Let's go back in time to find more optimism. to the 30's, when a bum asked for a dime and got it, instead of a cackle and a sneer of "get a new paradigm."

"Brother Can You Spare a Dime," a zip file of obscure versions as well as star turns. Vintage: Charlie Palloy, and ("Hey, don't you remember, they called me Al") Jolson. Recent: Mandy Patinkin's half-campy brawl on Letterman's show and a slow, slow funky meditation from Dr. John and Odetta. Brother Can You Spare a Dime Four Times


borka said...

Back in the late 1970ties the music industry whined: Hometaping is killing music - we had an answer: homefucking is killing prostitution

Guess what: there's still music and prostitution ;)

Ill Folks said...

Heh heh. Well, there's a big difference between making a lousy cassette copy of your vinyl and giving it to a friend...and perfect FLAC copies given to millions of people by Pirate Bay, Kim Dotcom, and others who become millionaires.

Kim Dotcom had his gullible followers buying "premium accounts" when he was making millions off ads alone. But hey, he's not as greedy as the CEO of Burger King who pays minimum wage?

Lastly, in the 70's, you still had record stores, despite home taping. You also had people employed making blank tape, and tape recorders. Now? No Tower Records, no HMV, artists no longer selling millions of copies (unless it's a Susan Boyle, Adele, Bieber, or some other idiot who appeals to kids and old people who don't know where to steal music from on the Internet).

There's still music...not as much. Steve Miller, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon...a lot of artists got bumped from labels, or are too dispirited to record anymore. Or have too much pride to put out an album that won't go gold. And indie artists are having a hard time being heard when a) technology makes it easy for everyone to do Pro Tools and throw songs on eMusic or Youtube, and b) nobody's buying and it costs a lot to tour, have a manager and publicist.

There IS still prostitution. But as the Pirate Bay guys prove, you can jerk off free on the Internet!