Here’s another excellent guest post from Fathomless Regression. Enjoy!

Assuming that you haven’t been living under a rock for the last decade then you know that piracy has become an everyday part of the music industry. Like it or hate it, piracy is now one of the primary channels of distribution in our industry. Record company execs and artists alike are scrambling to try to figure out a way to stop this train and get things back to the days of the early 90’s. Remember paying $20+ per CD down at Sam Goody? Yeah, they want that! Ridiculous markup and the pop industry churning out record after record that sell millions of copies and cost nothing to make.

Albums have been getting cheaper and cheaper to make, as technology gets better and better. Back in the day if you wanted a string sound on your song, you hired a string quartet. 4 people’s wages, airfare, hotels, etc can really add up. Now you just buy software from East West for a few hundred and call it a day. Oh, and you only have to buy it once and can use it on endless tracks. Staff is getting leaner, gear is getting cheaper, and the cost of physically making a CD is going down, yet the industry would still like us to pay the same amount for CD’s. Progress, thankfully, will not be stopped and independent labels and distribution channels have driven the prices down to what I consider a reasonable level. iTunes really set the bar, $1 per track. That seems fair, right? 10 track disc for $10? 24 track double disc for $24? Yeah, I’d gladly pay those prices. Yet, many people still don’t. Many people, regardless of price seemingly, are still pirating music. Why is this? I’ve got some theories.

Music has become disposable. It is fast food, instant, rehydrated, and therefore lacks value to most of America. Obviously the audience who is reading this feels very differently about music because we’ve devoted our lives to creating it rather than consuming it. You have to be aware of the mindset of the consumer, though, and most of America views music as a temporary, somewhat intangible thing. I still get excited about going to the record store, buying an actual CD, tearing it open in the car, looking at the liner notes while still sitting in the parking lot, and then giving it a listen from start to finish when I get home. I do this because I am a true fan, and I consider each album an experience. I assume that the producer/engineer put a lot of time and effort into carefully planning which track went where in the lineup, and created it as a whole, rather then as 10-13 individual parts.

Most of America doesn’t work this way. They will simply download a single song from iTunes, or maybe the whole album if they’re really dedicated, listen to it track by track over time, and may or may not ever view the liner notes. Eventually a few select songs will end up on a “genius” playlist and the rest will be lost in the catacombs of their hard drive. So what does any of this have to do with piracy? Everything! Because they don’t view the ENTIRE album as a labor of love, and something that was truly crafted, they have no appreciation for it. Therefore, they see no real value in it. It’s an amusement, a simple way to pass 3 minutes. It’s the sonic equivalent to Youtube, which is also FREE. What I view as a filet mignon, and am willing to pay a premium price for, they view as a $1 bacon cheeseburger at wendy’s. Sure it’s filling, but it’s not something they savor, so when they see it available for free they snatch it up, digest it, and…well, you know the digestive tract. 🙂

There are three genres; however, that seem immune to this plague of piracy: Christian, Country, and Rap. I previously wrote an article outlining some pretty glaring similarities between Country and Rap, but this is one that I left out. I think it’s easy enough to see why piracy doesn’t seem to be such an issue for Christian music. WWJD? I think pirating Christian music would be the most obvious form of hypocrisy out there and it doesn’t seem to happen much. Country and Rap are a different scenario. With Rap especially it would seem that stealing the music would be right in line with the values of many of its artists who claim to have lived a life of crime. 🙂

So why do these two genres, which seem to be perfect examples of the disposable fast food music I mentioned above, not have the problems of the pop industry? I actually think it’s because they are the EXTREME examples of disposable, track by track, in-cohesive album, music that exists. These genres, for the most part, produce singles. Songs that can be played in clubs, or easily danced to, and that’s about it. They don’t try to create cohesive albums with a singular vision, but rather as many catchy singles as can be crammed on to a single disc. usually there are 1-3 hit singles per disc and the rest of the album is filler so that they can charge $13 at a music store. Since no one is going to care about the filler, many fans of these genres simply buy one or two songs and are done with it. Thanks to the convenience of services like iTunes it’s extremely easy for them to get their singles here and there downloaded straight to their iPod, and the convenience of this is worth the $1 to them. There’s no significant investment at one time, so they don’t bat an eye.

I realize my two theories seem to be contradictory to one another, but I believe it’s a combination of these two that has led to the decline of the music industry. I believe the solution is found in creating real value in albums again. When I buy a CD and the liner notes are 2 panels, I feel cheated. Where are the lyrics? Where are the photos? Where are the inside jokes hidden in the notes? On the other hand, when I buy a CD, such as the reissue of Weezer’s Blue album, and find a limited edition t-shirt in the packaging, I feel completely justified in spending more money on an album that I already spent money on years ago. Give them real value! Package live discs in there, DVD’s, spend some time on the liner notes, really put effort into producing albums and not just singles surrounded by insulation. That is how you can survive and maintain album sales. Give your fans a reason to be a fan again. Don’t just assume that they’ll buy your next album because they bought your last. It may even get to the point where they don’t even consider your music worth stealing! Just ask Metallica about that.

Fathomless Regression

[Photo bypasukaru76]

  • Beaker

    I know this is an post… I like “story” cd’s like Pink Floyd The Final Cut (the best Pink Floyd cd ever!!) or The Counting Crows August and Everything After. These cd’s keep my interest from beginning to end with no “filler” music. Each track takes the listener deeper and deeper into the story. I think in comes down to the “artiest” being an actual artiest and not just out to make a buck!! Just my two cents.

  • There is no decline in the music industry. If anything, there`s more work for more musicians and producers than ever before. The decline is in the traditional means of control and distribution.

  • Jose

    The real sad thing is that nowadays music alone is not a reason good enough to buy a CD and real value is seen in artwork and t-shirts and all that crap.

    • Very true, Jose’. Sadly, an album’s worth of songs doesn’t apparently hold as much value as it used to.

  • Ryan

    Every other Friday I used to pick up my paycheck, head to the bank and head straight to tower records and a couple other hole-in-the-wall record stores down by the beach.

    Too bad 90% of retail music stores are gone these days. Theres what, Best Buy, Target and the like? The only CD’s they have are one isle of new pop music.

    The only place I have now that I enjoy is Amoeba (in Hollywood).

  • Smurf

    I wrote the OP 3rd paragraph almost 2 years ago on my old site.

    This generation of “gime gime I’m entitled” don’t give a rats rear if it is a single, or a fantastic collection of music…..they just don’t feel any obligation to pay, period.

    I REALLY feel that the day of buying a product in a tangible form, like music or software, is over….even tho I myself would rather have an object in my hand.

  • Wow, I didn’t know my post would spark such a conversation. Happy day! In regards to the very first comment about singles, it’s true that this industry really was built on singles. I like to think that it was mainly because of technological and financial limitations of the time though. WAY more expensive to produce an album back then, and a lot more financial risk for the label.

    I have no issue with singles being released these days either. BUT, don’t surround them with 11 more tracks of filler and call them an album. Release a single and be done with it. I’ll be plenty of people will feel fine and dandy about spending $.99 in iTunes to buy that single, but who wants to spend $13 at the music store to buy your single surrounded with 45 minutes of fluff? That was really my point.

    To me piracy is the problem of the artists, not the pirates. I place the blame on artists and record companies for not creating tangible value for their customers. DRM and other safeties are just a lazy band aid approach. They’re trying to put their finger in the dam that is holding back a pool of crappy music.

    Joe you have the best readers in the world! I love how much they interact!

    • I have long felt that many/most albums contain “filler” songs. So I agree with you FG. Perhaps it is easier for an independent artist to produce one song, release it, re-invest some/any proceeds to make the next song, repeat. The buying pattern had for so long been album oriented, but iTunes and “shuffle” listening habits tend more toward singles. So at least for now, I think a focus on singles makes a lot of sense.

  • chrisw92

    I have always brought music (well music should be bought, I have quite a few free “creative commons” albums in my collection). yes I use youtube and spotify for streaming but I’m one of these people who think the best quality comes from the source (in the form of a CD or similar) no MP3 could ever match that quality and is probably the main reason why I buy physical CD’s instead of downloading.

    and it does seem that sideline notes are boring, once the songs are made no after thought is put into anything other than possibly the cover art.

    • Yeah, I’m glad you guys are talking about the cover art, etc. I’m getting ready to release my album…and I was probably just gonna throw something together…now I’m not. 🙂

  • Mark

    for Fathomless – what evidence or sources do you base your claim about Christian/Rap/Country piracy claims on? I’m not saying your wrong, I’m just curious about that conclusion.

    • Are you sure you’re not saying I’m wrong? 😉 To be honest I honestly don’t remember where I saw those figures. I actually spawned the idea for this most quite a while ago (closer to the original days of Joe’s site) but just didn’t flesh it out until recently. The figures were strictly record sales based, and were published in some industry mag. Couldn’t get any more specific for you than that, sorry.

  • joe

    i dont think most people understand that most bands are in debt to their record lables.if you love a band and want them to tour or get in the studio for their next album ya got to buy their release.if you dont
    support them they will be dropped.
    the 1# album in the u.s.for 2009 was taylor swift at 3 million.
    thats it!this number scares me.
    people aren t buying music their stealing music sales are going down the midwest has figured how to steal too.

    i am a U2 fan their latest album sold 1 million in the us,yet they had the single most succesful tour for all of when i am fed ex field with 86,000 people paying to see u2 i know that there is a portion of the audience that stole their album and dont care.
    bands big or small have overhead.regardless if a band has sold 100 million records or if they are selling music out of their trunk theft is theft.clearly the record companies have made mistakes,making rare recordings available over the internet in the mid ninetys would have been a good start oops or lowering the price on cds like they did for vhs
    remember 89.95 how about 29.95 then the average price went down to 14.95 and so i walk in to sam goody ok mine are closed i walk into tower records…ok not there either but the point is someone tells me “check out killing joke”i go to a store and the albums only 5 dollars.yeah i ll buy it and a handful more.itunes price fair ,not really but its a start.

    • I agree that theft is theft. However, I would argue that MAYBE…maybe…artists should consider giving their music away more. This is the idea behind NoiseTrade. It’s a place to give away your music for free in exchange for an email address. The idea is that you’re using your album to market yourself an artist.

      Artists who depend solely on album sales for their income are kind of like businessmen who have only one stream of income for your business. The entire record industry has built this model based HEAVILY on album sales. When albums stop selling, they don’t know where to turn, and they’re very reluctant to change how they do things.

      Independent artists have a chance to use creative new methods of supporting themselves.

  • Ox

    Great post!

    I think this also explains why there are not a whole lot of big studios around….When you are so formula driven and not ready to take risks what are you actually producing? Some of the greatest materials we have today are concept albums, for instance Electric Ladyland album from Jimi Hendrix that producer Chas Chandler actually left the project. But now it is still being played after all these years.

    I believe that we are not just experiencing this in the music business but with architecture as well. Answer me this…how is it that we have some of the most incredible technology of all time in mankind history yet I would bet that many of the buildings we are building today aren’t going to be hear in 100 years let alone 1000.

    We are too focused in the now! We need to take our time and create something that we can be proud of. The duty now stands on us as engineers, producers and musicians to help educate the general public. You have to be evangelist for the area of music and quality music.

    Many people I talk to don’t realize that an MP3 is a severe down-grade in quality from a Cd. We have to educate these people because they don’t do it on purpose they just don’t know any better.

    Many of us didn’t find the truly ‘good’ music on our own…people, namely friend, mentors and fellow musicians, took us a side to the back room or basement and said ‘Check this out’ and you were on the path. So do yourself and everyone a favor and help educate people about what music is and can be like.

    Sorry for the novel, this is just a topic I’m burningly passionate about.

    (Dismount soapbox and taking off the robe)

    • Great points. You know what else you should tell your friends about?


      Ha ha ha… 😉

    • Stephanie Carlyle

      “Many people I talk to don’t realize that an MP3 is a severe down-grade in quality from a Cd. We have to educate these people because they don’t do it on purpose they just don’t know any better. ”

      It pains me to say this, but I have a strong suspicion that the vast majority of them don’t care, which goes back to the whole ‘disposible commodity’ thing that music has become.

  • I miss liner notes and albums. I’ve had quite a few “record store parking lot” moments in my car reading the notes and listening to the opening track to an album. When I was a wee little kid someone gave me the White Album and ELO’s “Out of the Blue”. The WA had high-quality color photos of the Beatles you could hang on your wall, and the the other album had gatefold painting of the band as astronauts manning 24-track recorders (ahh late-70s sci-fi) and a cardboard cut-out spaceship model….couple these things with great music and you have yourself an experience. Sure, labels and add-ons shrank with CDs, but you STILL had a heyday in CDs where liner notes were as much an art as the cover. With digital albums that’s almost gone, and people just buy one or two songs from those albums. Like you say, most people don’t approach the album as an experience anymore, it’s a song-by-song commodity and, just like that fast-food burger, fills you up for a brief time but isn’t looked at as a piece of art or enjoyed.
    Indie music is pushing back and I’ve seen liner notes and quality packaging make a comeback in some circles, but there will always be those customers who throw away their CDs completely and replace them with the iTunes experience. Don’t get me wrong, I have an entire media drive a couple hundred albums & thousands upon thousands of MP3s…but I still buy CDs of my favorite artists and I still have those all-important albums you can never throw away, no matter what format replaces them.
    For those people who don’t enjoy music as a craft or have never created it, they’re still going to be a customer now and then…but rarely do they buy an entire album. I don’t mind the singles-only people, so long as they aren’t who the markets cater to only. And for those that still don’t want to pay for music in the $10 album age, the record companies can those many of those people back by bringing value back to the album format. If it isn’t in CDs, then some kind of digital packaging that can offer more than picture content (lyrics etc can already be embedded in files if the album labels bothered). DRM attempts have also been a miserable failure too…DRM has only pushed people to decide to use a torrent to get the music they want in a portable format instead of Steve Job’s “5 device” limit. It’s not a good reason to pirate, but people want to feel they have some control over music they buy….so if the industry loses it’s obsession over DRM, it may actually make piracy go down. There will always be people who still insist on not buying music, so you shrink that group down to a managable level by making people who can buy, be willing to buy…packaging albums with things of value that you cannot get from a torrent. The question is, how can you do that in this digital age?

    • Mark

      Hi Julian – I’m not buying the idea that piracy would go down if the industry loosens up on DRM…technology has made it just too easy to get the content for free, but I do agree with you and the author that you have to give the customer something for their money. I like the idea of more elaborate digital packaging, etc. Maybe you give the original purchaser some kind of bonus, extra tracks, behind the scenes tracks/vids, things that encourage buying the genuine/authentic media from the appropriate sources…

      • I definitely don’t think increasing the value of what record companies are selling will eliminate piracy altogether…but I DO think increasing the overall value it could _reduce_ piracy to a level where the smaller pool of pirates can be isolated and managed maybe?
        RIAA tried to sue individuals for years before all-but-giving-up on that policy a couple years ago. Legally it just seems impossible to eliminate piracy that way….but with costs so low, by increasing value it could pull those “half-hearted” pirates who have disposable income to back away from the free stuff. Sure, many won’t when its so easy to pirate…but I like to think real music fans will always buy if there’s a higher quality product at a decent cost. Still, you’re right….there will always be pirates when you have a digital distribution channel.

        But I’m just not sure DRM helped. When I first started using iTunes, I hated that the format allowed me to put music on my iPods, but not my mom’s Zune (Zune’s distribution-channel sucked at the time, and several albums were exclusive to iTunes for digital purchase). Other times I had to authorize the music I bought if I set up a new computer, wanted to listen to my music on a computer at work, etc. Not a huge pain, but think about backups of a few thousand Apple AAC downloads: you copy your songs to a USB backup-drive, have a computer crash or OS replacement occur, and now you have to re-authorize all those thousands of backed-up songfiles. Apple has made it much easier to do in later versions, but with around the iTunes 3 time period it was a huge pain to restore all your DRM’ed music on a re-formatted PC or Mac.

        It just seems like DRM didn’t stop any pirates, and only punished the legit customers. Maybe not, I dunno.

        For me, seeing a file be downloaded that I had limited playback options on wasn’t a huge hassle…but it made me decide to stay with CDs a lot longer than most folks. I still prefer CDs when I want to a more “lossless” listening-experience anyway. But when most musicphiles DO buy from iTunes, many “clean” the music they download (replace w/ a high-bitrate MP3). Apple and Sony/Universal/EMI (they control roughly 70% of the world’s music) would NEVER want me to convert my downloaded albums to MP3 because of the jerks out there taking it a step further and de-DRM’ing & post music on those illegal download sites. That’s frustrating both to consumers like me and the record companies.

        Legally, I don’t “own” the music I buy: I’m licensing it to playback at home. So I understand the record companies’ position and, even though I have never illegally distributed any music, I think DRM has failed at stopping piracy.

        Agh, I wrote a book of a reply again! Sorry. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m sure DRM hasn’t done a ton to stop piracy. Not in the numbers the record companies would want anyway.

        • I think you’re right, Julian. If the artist can create a valuable experience, they’ll always have buyers.

          Check out that video I linked to in another comment. One of the points he makes is that Jonathan Coulton gave away his music for free AND sold it on iTunes, etc. When he stopped giving away his music for free, his sales also went down. I imagine that would be true for most of us.

  • aLf

    I still love the old big black plastic things with the hole in the middle 🙂

    Today I have a problem to read the liner notes of a cd-cover – to small everything.
    I don´t like the jewel-cases either. The digipack, CD packaging is for me very attractiv, but they could be a little bit bigger.

  • Joe,

    You got some good points there.

    I too think that it’s the album artwork that is the key to bring back the cd sales. But it needs to be something really valuable to the consumer, a serious reason to buy the actual cd.

    best regards,

    Petri Suhonen

    • I think even more than album artwork, artists need to focus on adding value to their CDs. More and more artists are including bonus content or a free music box of their songs…all sorts of things. People will probably never pay $20 for JUST a CD again, but they will pay (even more than that) for a limited edition special package full of extra bonus goodies.

      I posted a video a while back where a guy talked about making money in today’s music industry. It’s a very interesting video/presentation. Check it out here:

      Making Money with Music in a Digital World

  • Before LPs, music was bought and sold as singles. Sure there were some catchy songs that lacked much substance, but there was also significant, artistic songsmanship. The pendulum swing back toward singles isn’t the harbringer of bad songs. And it seems to me that holding out for physical media (compact disks) clings to the same Golden Age ideas as the record companies. More to the point, I think there is room for albums AND singles in the listening habits of the general public. So keep rocking your album perspective Fathomless Regression but don’t dismiss the cultural value of a great single.

    • Great point, Randy. It seems like singles were the original format for consuming music. People made “records” not “albums.”