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Part II: How Does it Feel to be Sam Walton's Bitch?
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Comments

Richard

Yeah, the constant scrambling to always appeal to the "casual" listener (or reader, or viewer) is the problem. You know what? Fuck the casual listener. Not that there aren't things I only dabble in, so am into only casually by definition, they shouldn't be watered down to appeal to me. Same goes with everything else.

Cara dB

These are great rants, thank you.

Jeremy

The data is pretty clear that overall record sales (including legal downloads) are way down. There can be almost no doubt that that is, at least in some part, due to illegal downloading. That's the data cited constantly by the majors.

But you make the point that maybe that data only shows half the picture. Maybe the overall sales decline just represents a decline in major artists, and that, really, more total artists are able to make a living wage.

I don't mean to be challenging, just curious, but do you know if there is any data to support that? I honestly don't know. I'd be very interested though to see whether smaller labels and smaller bands are selling more albums, or if they're suffering like the majors. (Did Neon Bible's sales suffer from the effects of downloading? Maybe even more on point, did the new CYHSY?) Seems like the indies would have to be doing better if, truly, more artists are making a living wage despite the clear overall sales decline.

pgwp

I don't mean to ignore illegal downloading altogether - selling 200 million less albums over seven years has to be chalked up to something beyond the labels' lack of love for music.

My main objective is to show that choices made by the majors--which ultimately boils down to devaluing artistry--has forced them into this corner. They're beholden to big box stores, which is crippling their ability to find their place within the internet.

Regarding Neon Bible, I've heard second-hand that it's the best-selling album Matador has ever released. So downloading certainly didn't negatively effect sales there. I haven't seen an actual article that quotes someone from the label on that point, however. As for CYHSY, again I don't know if there is any data on the effect of downloading vs that album's sales; but on the other hand there are virtually no middlemen where that band is concerned, so their business model should withstand illegal downloads better than anyone else's. That's just me pontificating, however.

I also admit that my impression of a larger number of working-class bands making an honest living is just that--an impression. I think it's worth investigating (though I'm no journalist). If anyone knows of an article that has done that, pipe up! I'd love to know.

Jeremy

I'd love to see those kinds of stats as well.

Also, I totally agree that the labels have backed themselves into the corner they're in. Your best point, in my opinion, is that they've deliberately fostered this anti-album culture, and this lack of devotion to artists. After having an entire generation molded to buy singles and then forget the next month who the artists even are, illegal downloading (to whatever extent is plays a role) came right in to find perfect conditions for its growth.

sroden

some of the blame should also fall on the bigger artists... a band like smashing pumpkin should demand the special version of their cd be sold only in small indie stores, and the generic version at wall mart. they could've done this, they are powerful enough. and jeez, even bob friggin dylan depressed the hell out of me by making a rare live cd only available at starbucks... going electric was nothing compared to buying into crappy coffee for inflated prices... these are folks who should know better. these are the people with power to do more. to me it says a lot about how little the artists themselves care about the record buying culture and their real fans (who most likely frequent neighborhood coffee shops and smaller record stores, and not walmart and starbucks)... and even more depressingly, how little they are interested in changing things. it's like the whole ticketmaster thing made everyone afraid to go against the grain... you shouldn't expect different from record companies, since the 80's they've only been about the bottom line; but powerful artists can and should do more than get into bed with this crap. there's a great short interview with michael tolkin who wrote the novel "the player" that became the altman film, in the recent bookforum. he talks about deciding not to option his next two books and why and what it cost him financially and careerwise, and you don't hear about anyone in music talking this way or willig to go out on a limb. it's funny, anyone will make negative political comments but no one will take a stance on issues that might cost them money.... ugh!

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