Change or Die

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Music is a fast moving, trend-setting culture, but the majority of the businesses that manage that market have walked slowly along the road of change. Instead, they've chosen the tactic they don't really need to change. This attitude is not just prevalent at large record labels, but at the adjacent industries as well. Radio programmers, print publications, TV shows -- many of the related businesses who play a supporting role in an artist's career have not been able to shift. The result of this neglect has two damaging consequences –- the significant loss of the public's interest in the music market and, therefore, the loss of the business itself.

We could easily blame our woes on the folks who download music illegally, but we'd really all just be fooling ourselves. The problem is far greater than that. Studies show that music is being appreciated more now than ever before. If industry problems were simply based on the fact that some were stealing music, radio listenership would be high, music magazines would flourish and television would showcase far more talent.

But in reality, the numbers of music listeners at radio are way down, much of music print is out of business, and artists performing on TV earn extremely low ratings. This means the industry has failed to change and present an exciting music market. Instead, consumers are creating their own excitement about music without us.

And though the lack of sales isn't unique to North America, the music market has suffered far more here than anywhere else.

So at the end of the year, when hindsight has better vision, who is doing it right in the record business?

No question that the digital world has turned the marketplace literally on its ear. And within that world, many bloggers have emerged as discerning taste-makers, who show a skillful and even-handed ability to bring great music to the public. Some of the more interesting names in this world include Stereogum, Aquarium Drunkard, Largehearted Boy and Drowned in Sound.

In radio, this station has always been on the cutting edge of change.

KEXP in Seattle, The Current in Minneapolis and WRAS in Atlanta are three other good examples. But compared to the thousands of radio stations broadcasting, these are just a few glimmers of lights in a very dull world. Satellite radio does present a new point of view, but it comes with a price tag most cannot afford.

Television tells a different story. Shows like Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have earned widespread interest, underscoring that hip and irreverent is not only "in," it's impactful.

Unfortunately, there's really no equivalent for music audiences on the air now, except perhaps Saturday Night Live.

And digital retail has gone far to reach into the lifestyle of consumers to generate excitement. Now with Amazon, iTunes, Rhapsody and eMusic all fighting for market-share, it will be interesting to see how these companies continue to compete to be more responsive to the lifestyle of their audience in the coming year.

Make no mistake about it, the record market needs a massive adjustment.

Maybe the leadership in 2008 will find the new pair of glasses needed to bring energy into this depressed marketplace. Maybe, but it hasn't done so yet.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.