Music benefits from changes in the way it’s delivered
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 12:51 p.m.
If it’s true that understanding the past can shed light on a possible future, that might not be more truthful, when it comes to popular culture, than with music. A new book, however, recounts how the advent of new delivery systems played a far larger role in creative direction than many may have realized.
Author Marc Myers says the development of the LP and the 45 decades ago came about directly as the result of business and union wrangling — specifically record companies trying to outdo musician unions.
But what’s most intriguing about Myers’ findings, as recounted in a recently published article in The Wall Street Journal, is that the creation of the LP, and the far-longer playing time it brought in replacing the old 78, played a major role in the development of jazz as a musical entity.
While Myers’ book, called “Why Jazz Happened,” recounts the role such developments played in his chosen subject at hand, it also can be said that later changes in the delivery systems of commercial music similarly affected the quality and diversity of the music itself.
When CDs began replacing LPs in the late ’80s, it suddenly dumped into artists’ laps the need to routinely deliver an album with nearly double the amount of music as the previous delivery systems did. The record companies, of course, got away with initially charging an increased list price of $16.99 per CD (as compared to the $6.99, $7.99 and $8.99 of LPs and cassettes at the time) precisely because the new product was essentially a “double” album.
But those nearly 60-minute-long CDs ended up containing a far greater percentage of “filler” songs per album than LPs once did. And the excesses of the bloated CD, both lengthwise and price wise — coupled with the digitalization of music in general — fueled a thirst by listeners for individual songs, and then a
demand, especially among younger listeners, for downloading individual music files.
In at first ignoring the newest revolution in recorded music (by not developing ways to sell individual music files to listeners themselves), the major record labels left themselves vulnerable to the Napsters of the world — a movement in popular culture that also led to the implosion of the labels themselves.
What’s interesting, though, is the long-range effect that the major labels’ decline in power, prestige and taste-making has had on the music available to listeners.
Just as record companies have had lesser means to invest in grooming newer music makers, those same young artists have become more dependent on themselves in finding ways to get their music out to listeners.
And in becoming more independent — in effect becoming scrappy, musical entrepreneurs — newer musical acts also have embraced that freedom and independence by increasing the boundaries of popular music nationally, as shown by the Celtic-flavored acoustic sounds of Mumford and Sons, the neo-bluegrass of The Avett Brothers and the earthy folk of Civil Wars. But more on all that later.
Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at email@example.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.