Times, they are a’changin

Well 2009 is quickly approaching and I’m going to start talking about how I think things are going to look in the future for the SMB. And not only the SMB but the whole music industry in general. So this year I have decided to try and blog for a while to see if I have anything worth saying…..or at least reading.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the future of the SMB; not whether we will have one but more about what it will look like. I mean, how do you really survive in this current musical world without the likes of American Idol behind you or some big huge PR campaign from a corporate giant? Even those guys will only give you a momentary splash that will be here today and forgotten tomorrow. So just how do you make a life-long career in a business that is changing so dramatically that nobody really knows where it is going?

Well, I have a number of thoughts on this and this is what I am going to start blogging about. Because where these ideas go; well, so will the SMB go. So in that aspect it is very important. While this is a multi-faceted issue, I will look at the issues individually to start off so we can all get on the same page. So I am going to start with the future of recorded music.

What is the future of recorded music? What can we really expect over the next 10 years? I say 10 years because in this world that is an incredibly long time. In fact, 10 years may be too long. Who knows what technology will be around in the next 5 years that could change everything? But right now I will stick with 10. So humor me.

So, the future of recorded music? Well, I think it can be very bleak for any individual or company that is looking to make a living off the sale of this music. The reality is that more and more people have very little desire to pay for recorded music. You can download it for free all over the place and if your good buddy has just bought a copy of the new Radiohead CD and you love it too; well what do you do? Do you run to the store and buy it? Maybe. Do you go to iTunes and buy it? Possibly. Or do you say hey dude, or dudette if they are female, can I burn that real quick? More and more likely.

And people aren’t doing this because they are thieves or crooks or bad people, it is just the way things are right now. As a musician do I spend my time trying to convince the public this is wrong and you are a bad person? Well the record industry, the RIAA, has been doing that for the past several years and it hasn’t done a thing. CD sales continue to drop and downloading is on the rise. Factor in the growing streaming services like Rhapsody and it looks even worse for sales. Why buy anything when I can pay Rhapsody about $15 a month and get to listen to any song I want, as many times as I want, anywhere I want, because that is where streaming and the 3G network are taking us.

So now you are thinking, “Well, Charlie you can’t give up the fight because then the illegal downloaders win. It is wrong and the artists have to be in the middle of it.” Maybe so, but I think realistically the downloaders have already won. The old Napster was probably like Normandy in World War II. The beachhead was established and there was no turning the allies back.

I’m beginning to think it is like speeding. Everybody knows the speed limit on the interstate is 70, but who goes 70? Sure there are those people that will go the speed limit but the majority will exceed it. In fact most of us know the extra we can go and not get pulled. Are you really going to get a ticket at 75? 78? Technically that is speeding but we think we are ok. The biggest factor keeping the speed down is the cops. If they weren’t there, I can’t imagine what it would be like. Now, imagine instead of one interstate going from…. let’s say Tallahassee, FL to Jacksonville, FL… there were 5,000. And all of them got you there in about the same way. There are not enough cops to patrol the roads and now it is up to the individual to decide how fast to go. Some will go 70. I would probably go around 80. Some will go 120.

I think this is what it is like when you burn or download stuff. Most people will say oh it is just 3 or 4 albums or maybe it’s 10 or 15 songs etc, etc. I mean I am just going 78 here that is no real harm is it? Well, technically it is, but we aren’t going to stop it.

So, as a musician, what does this mean for me? How do I address this new world and use it to my advantage? How do we use this present reality to help the SMB survive? I can wish it was like the old days but it never will be. And I really don’t want ‘the good ole days’. Then the major labels were the gatekeepers and if that was still the case then the SMB wouldn’t even have a CD out now much less 3 with more on the way. Ironically this new system, which is killing CD sales, is the same system that gives the SMB a chance to exist. Try and wrap your head around that.

So how does the SMB survive in this new paradigm that is the music world? How do we get heard over the onslaught of good music, which is almost ubiquitous today, and stand a chance of making a living? That is the challenge of 2009 and what I will explore in this blog. I welcome your thoughts, insights, snide remarks and general ripostes on all my ideas because I know I’m not the only one who has thought about this. (Especially read Bob Lefsetz at the lefsetz.com. Amazing wisdom and insight there.) It is possible that some of my ideas may be off. But one thing is for sure; ‘times, they are a’ changin.’

Charlie

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3 responses to “Times, they are a’changin

  1. I have been having these same discussions with a lot of different folks. I am fascinated by the approach of Bill Mallonee as he attempts to make a living on his own with no label (and their support). Of course, he has a built in following from his days with Vigilantes of Love (reformed, btw) but he is now uploading songs as he writes them and relying on grassroots support for house shows and “record” sales. (http://www.myspace.com/billmallonee) He may never get rich but he may make a living doing something he loves. At least it is an option now a days and that could be enough…

  2. Jay, that is pretty interesting about Bill Mallonee. That is the kind of stuff you will see people doing. innovating! Trying to figure out how to work this new system without the onerous oversight of big brother aka the record labels. I’ll have some more on this tomorrow.

  3. I’m in an Management of Information Systems and Technology class this semester and we are supposed to read one of the following books. I’m planning to read most of them, as I think a lot of them have valuable insight into general business trends…and especially the changing environment of the music business. I’ll probably chime in on Charlie’s blogs with some thoughts on these books. Read and discuss along with me if you want. I started reading Groundswell last night.

    1. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More – by Chris Anderson
    2. Groundswell – by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
    3. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
    4. The World is Flat – by Thomas L. Friedman (2005) version
    5. Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything – by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
    6. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
    7. The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security – by Kevin D. Mitnick, William L. Simon, Steve Wozniak
    8. Better Off : Flipping the Switch on Technology – by Eric Brende
    9. Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage – by Nicholas G. Carr
    10. Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium by Dick Meyer

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