Off Topic Messages

Music Execs Push Mediocre Music For Too Much Money (article)

Fri Feb 03, 2006 5:04 pm

Record of failure

Execs push mediocre music for too much money
& miss the market of serious listeners

By Errol Lewis, "On Culture" opinion column, (NY) Daily News ... 9199c.html

A nationwide poll released by Rolling Stone magazine and The Associated Press makes clear what music aficionados have been grumbling about for years: The music business is selling junk, and charging way too much for it.
Music in general is getting worse, according to 58% of the survey's respondents, and a whopping 74% said the price of CDs is too high.

But the real measure of dissatisfaction comes from the fans.

"Less talented people are able to get a song out there and make a quick million and you never hear from them again," is how one 30-year-old from Massachusetts put it to the pollsters.

The honchos at recording labels and commercial radio stations, who often seem literally deaf to audience feedback, need to wake up to reality. They can either restore quality to the airwaves and sales racks, or get used to shrinking audiences and vanishing profits.

According to Nielsen Soundscan, 618 million CDs were sold last year, a drop of nearly 19% from the year before. And millions have abandoned commercial FM radio, with its stale, predictable playlists, in favor of satellite radio.

I recently talked with jazz giant Ramsey Lewis, a Grammy-winning pianist and composer.

Lewis, who has been selling records for decades, has partnered with public television in a major effort to set things right. Starting in April, the pianist will host a 13-episode weekly TV series, "Legends of Jazz," set to air on public television stations.

The series will feature dozens of performers, mixing giants like Tony Bennett and Chick Corea with up-and-coming talent.

It will be the first time in 40 years that live jazz performances will be aired on national television - a kind of return to the days when "The Ed Sullivan Show" introduced America to pop acts like Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, along with jazz performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Lewis blames money-hungry record labels for the gap between what the public wants and what the industry sells.
Ramsey Lewis at work
"They don't encourage quality today," Lewis said. "When I was coming along, Columbia Records would sit with you and assume it would take two or three albums to get the act where it needed to be. Then the company would structure its promotion based on one, two or three years. They encouraged quality and innovation - that's why groups like the Beatles would use sitars, string orchestras and so forth."

By contrast, according to Lewis, "in the 1990s, companies began saying 'We've got 10 jazz acts and it will take two years to make our money back.'"

Rather than nurture talent for the long term, he says, record labels began picking a handful of artists to promote, and dictated how they should sound to generate maximum sales.

"It's corruption from the inside," Lewis said. "Not thievery or mischievousness, but falling prey to needing money quickly to pay the execs and shareholders."

Lewis says the recent failures of the music business created the opening for him to get the new show off the ground.

"The record industry as we knew it no longer exists," he said. "We're in the midst of companies looking for a new formula. Are we that formula? I don't know."

But what we do know is that nobody's happy with the bland offerings of the music business.

Here's hoping the record labels finally hear Lewis' wakeup call.

Originally published on February 3, 2006
Extended version of original A.P. / Rolling Stone poll:

Poll Examines Music Buyers and Their Needs

NEW YORK (AP) - While one-quarter of the nation's music fans say they've downloaded songs onto their computers - legally or otherwise - a new nationwide poll suggests music executives should look elsewhere to explain their business woes.

Three in every four fans complain that compact discs are too expensive, and 58 percent complain that music in general is getting worse, according to the poll conducted for The Associated Press and Rolling Stone magazine.

"Less talented people are able to get a song out there and make a quick million and you never hear from them again," said Kate Simkins, 30, of Cape Cod, Mass.

Ipsos' telephone poll of 1,000 adults, including 963 music listeners, from all states except Alaska and Hawaii was conducted Jan. 23-25 and has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

It's been a bad few years for the music industry, knocked on its heels by the popularity of downloading and iPods. A total of 618.9 million CD albums were sold during 2005, sharply down from the 762.8 million sold in 2001, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

At the same time, 352.7 million tracks were sold digitally in 2005, a category that wasn't even measured five years ago. After years where fans had to buy $20 CDs because they liked one or two songs, now they can download the songs for 99 cents a pop, or free if they can burn a copy from a friend.

Many in the music industry grumble that downloading has been their downfall, and the business has aggressively tried to stop illegal file sharing.

The poll found that 80 percent of people consider downloading music for free without the copyright holder's permission to be stealing. People who actually download are less apt to consider it stealing, but there's evidence that many fans accept the iTunes business model. The poll found that 71 percent of music fans believe that a 99 cents a song is a fair price or outright bargain.

"They shouldn't be able to do it illegally," said Mickey Johnson, 41, from Charleston, Tenn. "That's art. Somebody is putting their art out there. They should be compensated for it. It's just like Picasso or something."

The industry would be wise to embrace downloading, said Greg Hoerger, 42, of Minneapolis, who suggested that customers could receive five or six free downloads from an artist when they buy a CD.

For fans like Hoerger and Simkins, buying a CD for about $20 is no bargain. They'd rather download one or two favorite songs to their iPods. The digital music revolution also has other benefits, Simkins said: with the iPod, she no longer has to have cassettes or CDs cluttering her car.

The last CD she bought, a few months ago, was by the Killers. "It was on sale," she said.

Many fans also say they just don't like what they're hearing. It may not be surprising to hear older fans say music just isn't what it used to be when they were growing up. But the poll also found that 49 percent of music fans ages 18-to-34 - the target audience for the music business - say music is getting worse.

"Even if our parents didn't like how loud rock 'n' roll was, or that it was revolutionary, at least they could listen to some of it," said Christina Tjoelker, 49, from Snohomish, Wash. "It wasn't gross. It wasn't disgusting. It wasn't about beating up women or shooting the police."

The last CD she bought was Neil Diamond's new one, "because Oprah was raving about it," she said.

Overall, music fans were split on why music sales have been declining for the past five years: 33 percent said it was because of illegal downloads, 29 percent said it was because of competition from other forms of entertainment, 21 percent blamed it on the quality of music getting worse and 13 percent said it was because CDs are too expensive.

FM radio is still the main way most fans find out about new music, according to the poll. Television shows are a distant second.

Rock 'n' roll is the most popular style of music, cited by 26 percent of the fans. It runs neck-and-neck with country among fans ages 35 or over.

Rap music is the source of the biggest generation gap. Among fans under age 35, 18 percent called rap or hip-hop their favorite style of music, the poll found. Only 2 percent of people ages 35 and over said the same thing.
Details About the AP-Rolling Stone Poll
By The Associated Press

Demographics and details about the AP-Rolling Stone poll on attitudes about music and where people get their music:

The survey information comes from a poll of 1,000 adults, including 963 music listeners, from all states except Alaska and Hawaii. It was conducted Jan. 23-25 for the AP and Rolling Stone magazine by the international polling firm Ipsos. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

HIGHLIGHTS: Four in five music listeners consider downloading music without getting authorization "stealing." Almost as many, 74 percent, say they think CDs are expensive. And a solid majority, 58 percent, feel that music is getting worse. People 40 and older were most likely to fall into this category.

WHERE PEOPLE GET THEIR MUSIC: More than half of music listeners say they usually get their music from stores that specialize in records or CDs, and about the same number said they get their music from large retailers like Best Buy or Wal-Mart. A fourth of those polled, 25 percent, say they have downloaded music from pay or free sites. The most popular type of downloading was buying music from Internet sites like iTunes that charge a fee for downloading.

Most music listeners, 55 percent, say the main way they learn about new music is through FM radio. Whites were more likely than nonwhites to say FM radio is the main way they learn about music. A majority of young adults, 18-34, were most likely to learn about new music from FM radio.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Rock and roll was the most popular form of music, the favorite of 26 percent of music listeners. Men were more likely, 32 percent, than women, 21 percent, to prefer rock and roll. That was followed closely by country music, chosen as the favorite by 22 percent. Not surprisingly, people from rural areas were more likely, 32 percent, than people in the cities or suburbs to say country music is their favorite.

YOUNGER VS. OLDER: Younger music listeners, 18 to 34, were much more likely, 34 percent, to say music in general is getting better than those 35 and older were inclined to say that, 20 percent. Younger music listeners were a little more likely to buy songs online than those 35 and older. Those from 18-34 were more likely, 26 percent, than older people, 16 percent, to say 99 cents is too expensive for a song download. Those who download music are more likely, 25 percent, than others, 13 percent, to say it isn't stealing to download music for free without permission of the copyright holder. Both young adults and those older were very likely to say downloading music without permission is stealing.


Associated Press director of polling Mike Mokrzycki contributed to this story.