Writing in Huffington Post, John Mellencamp says that the music business’s problems began long before Napster. Relying on Soundscan store reporting and BDS per-play radio reporting changed the game, he says, “from one that measured popularity to one that was driven by population” :
Record companies soon discovered that because of BDS, they only needed to concentrate on about 12 radio stations; there was no longer a business rationale for working secondary markets that were soon forgotten — despite the fact that these were the very places where rock and roll was born and thrived.
Combine that with songs midwifed by corporate boards focused on maximizing shareholder value. and art suffered:
Early in my career, I wrote and recorded a song called “I Need A Lover” that was only played on just one radio station in Washington, DC the first week it came out. Through much work from local radio reps at the record company, the song ended up on thousands of radio stations. Sing the chorus of “I Need A Lover.” It’s not the best song I ever wrote nor did it achieve more than much more than being a mid-chart hit, but nevertheless, you can sing that chorus. Now sing the chorus of even one Mariah Carey song. Nothing against Mariah, she’s a brilliantly gifted vocalist, but the point here is the way that the songs were built — mine from the ground up, hers from the top down.
One genre didn’t become a casualty, though, says Mellencamp:
During the time of the upheaval wrought by SoundScan, BDS and the “Wall Streeting” of the industry, country music seized the opportunity and tacitly claimed the traditional music business. Country has come to dominate the heartland of America, a landscape abandoned or ignored by the gatekeepers of rock and pop. Great new country music stars came from seemingly nowhere to grow to tremendous popularity; think Garth Brooks.
Mellencamp covers the other usual suspects – the CD as a greed engine, Napster’s ascent, and the present day sad state of the biz, where, sadly, “it’s really a matter of “every man for himself.” In terms of possibilities, we are but an echo of what we once were.”
This means more artists are also responsible for marketing themselves and seizing every opportunity that makes sense in a world of slimmer and slimmer pickings. Once upon a time, this was the job of A&R folks at record companies. Mellencamp takes a not-so-subtle swipe at gadflies like Bob Lefsetz, who fragged Mellencamp awhile back both for his alliance with Chevrolet, and for looking too young on the cover of his last album:
I’ve always found it amusing that a few people who have never made a record or written a song seem to know so much more about what an artist should be doing than the artist himself. If these pundits know so much, I’d suggest that make their own records and just leave us out of it.
It should be noted that this reprises Mellencamp’s earlier judicious dispatch of Lefsetz’s comments.