The Future of Music (Part 1 of 5)

5 Questions. 5 Voices. 5 Fresh Perspectives.

More than anything else, music fans will remember 2007 as the year that Radiohead changed the game forever. As we stand on the dawn of 2008, it’s pretty clear that the rules that have governed the music industry since its inception are either dying or transforming into something new. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting five questions, followed by five responses written by five different voices within the music industry.

ThePanel:

Phil Conner: President, Red Room Management. Red Room recently signed Kentucky-based rockers Nineball.

Mike Condo: Senior Sales manager of Gotee Records (Family Force 5, Ayeisha Woods, Relient K)

Josh Ballard: Vocalist/pianist for Until June.

Manchild: MC for the acclaimed underground hip-hop group Mars ILL.

Luke Bushias: Guitarist for the Chicago-based band Made Avail, who currently have no record label affiliation.

Question 1:Let’s talk about formats. Several trends have emerged this year, from Lil Wayne releasing over 150 songs for free to the reemergence of vinyl a relevant format once again. Where is the distribution of music going?

Condo: You hear it all the time that more people are consuming music then ever before. That being said distribution of music has already changed. We now have multiple distribution outlets, from physical/digital to myspace as well as mobile platforms. As a record company we need to support all of them. The more people that hear our artist the better off the artist will be. The distribution model will continue to change in the coming years as different outlets will come and some will go away. Our responsibility to our artists is that we need to partner with them and get their music and message heard.

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Manchild: It’s all headed towards digital. How it’s marketed and sold is an entirely different animal. I think a lot of [us artists] are scrambling…trying to figure out exactly what to do. 150 free songs? I guess that’s the equivalent of 8-10 street level mixtapes for the public to get their hands on. We’re headed towards a place where you’ll walk into Best Buy in five years and there will be no CD or physical media section, period.

Phil: I think that most record labels (if they are thinking progressively) are no longer putting stock in making their money on those little round shiny things called CD’s. The CD racks in stores like Best Buy are shrinking, and there is a general feeling in the industry that no one really knows what a success is anymore. Kanye West sold over 900,000 units his first week out this year, and that was astonishing. (Just a few years ago, many acts sold over 1 million albums on release day alone). I hear a lot of record executives saying that it is time to forget making money on music sales all together. Labels are now starting to sign 360 deals when they sign an artist. This means that they are now dipping into merch sales, touring, and publishing. This has never been part of a record contract but it will be. Labels are now essentially saying to artists “if you want our help to grow your career, we need a piece of all of your income.” On the surface, this can sound greedy, but music is changing and many artists still need labels to do music full time. It’s a pretty hot topic right now amongst a lot of my friends in the business. Time will tell how it pans out…

Josh: The music industry has survived many trends in formats, this is nothing new. However, music has never been looked at as just “information.” Until the late ‘90s, if you wanted a song or a record it came in a tangible form, i.e. Cassette, CD or Vinyl. This is not the case anymore, which raises a lot of questions. I think the need to hold something tangible will always exist. However, I believe the margin for that need will shrink dramatically over the next few years, and most music fans will lean toward downloading. This is just one musician’s opinion. If you find out the answer, give me a call.

Luke: Everywhere. I think people will always be able to make some form of money off of their art. The artists that find creative ways to distribute their music will have success and longevity. CD’s, iTunes, vinyl, and free downloads are just the most obvious formats. There are multiple ways to travel i.e. trains, automobiles, airplanes etc. Why can’t artists have multiple ways to get their music to the listener? Artists and labels have to be creative with more than the just the music in the 21st century. We need to use the same amount, if not more, creativity to focus on and discover other formats. We need to keep looking. The love of what they do will drive artists to find ways to get their music into the hands of the listener.

Tomorrow…the panel sounds off on “the fate of the album.”

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