Jeff Balke has a great post on the long history of how the music business created its own problems – well before file sharing arrived on the scene. They grew fat and happy from easy compact disc money as fans replaced vinyl, attracting financial speculators with no music knowledge, which created a hard stop:
What they failed to realize is that the CD gravy train would soon come to an end as people finally replenished their collections and went back to their normal buying routines. The years of off the chart sales came to an abrupt end and corporations were stuck with bloated record divisions and they had no clue what to do – the end result when you replace creative minds seeking talent with bean counters seeking profit.
The bean counters have run things ever since, gutting artist development and streamlining promotion (which fed the creation of homogenized, centralized radio).
One really good point he makes is that while record companies have leaned on catalog sales (Springsteen, Petty, U2 et.al.), they’ve forgotten how they became classic acts in the first place. Take Tom Petty as a good example. His first record stiffed, the second was mired in a label transition from Shelter to MCA, and his third was barely released (‘Damn the Torpedoes’ original Petty-bestowed title was “$8.98” in protest of a one dollar list price increase. If anybody can find me a “1978 Lawsuit Tour” T-Shirt, I’ll pay big bucks).
The third time was the charm, as TPHB went from playing clubs like the Paradise and Old Waldorf to places like the Music Hall, er, Wang Center, and later to hockey rinks.
Without a firm label commitment, none of this would have happened. Yet, the business is overrun with flash in the pan one hit wonders who wouldn’t know a deep catalog if they drowned in it.
Balke also talks about the single most destructive piece of legislation ever foisted on music fans, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This piece of crap has more to do with today’s state of affairs than Napster, Grokster and Morpheus combined. Why? Because it created Clear Channel, and paved the way for radio becoming a playground for Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern and an army of talk show ass-hats. Centralized promotion and narrowed playlists resulted on the remaining stations, and interest in music was ceded to video games, cheap VCR movies and DVDs (isn’t that ironic?) and a million other niche pursuits.
Like the Internet.
Bottom line, music was devalued and Napster stepped up and finshed the job, which started a long time ago.