Local Rhythms – The End of the Music Business As We Know It

A report from the Forrester Group last week predicts that digital music sales will surpass CDs in 2012. That’s a good thing for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is environmental.  If companies no longer need to stamp out discs (which may not sell, and ultimately be relegated to a landfill), less energy is consumed and the planet is better off.   

With the advent of online offerings from Netflix and Blockbuster, the DVD business could be in for the same sort of makeover.  Early reviews of Apple’s high definition movie rental service  indicate that it’s both easy and pleasing to feed the widescreen without ever leaving the house. 

“It’s the end of the music industry as we know it,” says Forrester analyst James McQuivey.   

Or to use Bob Dylan’s words – “please get out of the new world if you can’t lend a hand, ’cause the times they are a-changing.” 

The future belongs to hardware makers and software developers, says McQuivey.  What he doesn’t say is that it may be theirs alone.   

A trade organization recently reported that for every legal download, there are 20 illegal ones 

“There are more people availing themselves of free intellectual property than at any other time in history,” says Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne, a firm that measures peer-to-peer activity. 

The total number of songs sold on iTunes could fill maybe 10 percent of the iPods in the world, which means the other 90 percent is coming from somewhere else. 

Last week’s story on Big Head Todd and the Monsters is just one example of the many performers who’ve elected to simply give away their music.  Peter Gabriel recently announced We7, an online service that offers free songs with 10-second audio ads attached. 

Reading between the lines of the Forrester report, it’s clear that there is no longer a “record business” – just the “music business.”  

As such, says McQuivey, “the artist is the product – not just the source of it.” 

Rather than try to stop file trading, which BigChampagne says accounts for more than half of all Internet traffic, it makes more sense to find ways to monetize it so that artists benefit.   

Right now, that’s not happening.   

Songwriters, producers and session musicians – who contribute to recorded works but often don’t perform live – are left out of a system that uses free music to sell concert tickets; this inequity that needs to be addressed. 

Here are my picks for the coming days: 

Thursday: Cathie Ryan, Colby-Sawyer College – Keeping with the Celtic theme, Ryan ended a successful seven-year run with Cherish the Ladies to go solo.  She’s released four CDs, including her latest, “The Farthest Wave.”  She is comfortable with traditional fare, but she’s also written several of what the Boston Globe called “probing original ballads about a woman’s place in the modern world.”   

Friday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – Leap year is a good excuse to party, right?  This jazz quartet is one of the finest improvisational combos in the area. This probably explains why so many of its members can be found working with other musicians, including Emily Lanier’s Jazz Ensemble, performing Thursday at the downtown Claremont restaurant.  Quick on their feet and melodic to a fault, this is Rosen Quartet is one of the best. 

Saturday: The Dreaming, Mark’s Place (Bedford) – This LA band has Goth looks and a Big Eighties sound.  They’ve released 3 independent EPs, only one of which was a physical disk, and a limited edition special pressing at that.  They’ve sold everything else online in high-quality MP3 format, a situation that only changed last month with their first full-length release – old paradigms die hard.

Sunday: Jason Cann, Goosefeathers (Mt. Sunapee) – The roads may be tricky, but if you ski, snowboard or race custom-designed cardboard boxes down snowy hills, these are good times.  Personally, I prefer hot toddies in the lodge at day’s end.  Cann is a perfect complement to that experience, with an easygoing mix of tried-and-true (James Taylor and Dave Matthews), edgy (Pearl Jam, Staind) and originals.  Which reminds me – where’s that CD, Jason?  

Tuesday – Matt McCabe, Elixir – The ace piano player spent a long stretch in Roomful of Blues, and also helped out on some of RoB founder Duke Robillard’s solo efforts.  The quintessential sideman plays unaccompanied these days, with an easy mix of jazz and standards. Elixir is really hitting its musical stride these days.  If you haven’t been, you should. 

Wednesday: Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary Tour, Colonial Theatre – This is the longest continually running jazz festival, but not the oldest (that distinction belongs to Newport).   This celebratory tour brings together young and old musicians, including “Next Generation” vocalist Nnenna Freelon and sax player James Moody, who began performing in Monterey in 1963.  In addition to Keene, the show also stops in Portsmouth and Amherst.