Music Appreciation 102

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Let's face facts. Americans want to be entertained. The average American family is watching American Idol, Hannah Montana, and buying Guitar Hero and Grand Theft Auto. The record business is being given a real run for its money. Those shiny music discs are just no competition for what is considered entertainment these days.

Many in the business are trying to solve this difficult problem. But to solve it, you need to understand what the problem really is.

I'm partial to one theory. That the record industry decline actually began the day the Sony Walkman was released.

Up until the Walkman's innovation, people shared the experience of music. They bought records and played them for their friends. But once they had a portable player, with earphones firmly nestled in their ears, sharing music was no longer important. And by the time downloading was introduced, listening on your own was well established.

Human beings at their core are social creatures. We like competitions and rallies. Television shows like American Idol, musicals and gaming meet our desire to connect socially and participate. It's as if listening to music alone was OK, but now, we want to interact with it.

Some in the business are convinced that the only facet left for recording artists is the live performance. For everyone's sake, I hope that's not true. Fine if you live in one of the 15 major markets, but otherwise, most bands will probably never visit your town; and with gas prices soaring, bands will be touring even less.

Others believe the solution will be found with online social networking. But Last.FM, MySpace and Imeem are really only page holders for my interests.

It's like I'm living in two dimensions in a world that operates in 3D. I want a lot more.

I want a wholly interactive experience that speaks to my interests, stimulates my imagination and creates a rallying point. And though I've yet to find the ideal music website for my interests, I have found one for kids. Fred Penner is a singer and educator. His site,, is filled with music, ideas and experiences, all geared to children. Fred understands that we all crave belonging. We want to be entertained. And many of us are willing to pay for that experience. Fred offers songs, classes, games, downloads, and monthly memberships to help fund his site. There's no advertising, or sponsorship.

This is a very interesting model moving forward.

Imagine, if artists like U2, Beck and Radiohead participated in inventive websites for their audience to interact with. Imagine belonging to an online music club, whose sole purpose is to deliver innovative, exciting experiences online from the bands they are affiliated with.

For decades, the music business model has been shampoo, rinse, repeat. Radio airplay, press and touring. Yet so many bands, and so little success. Isn't it time the business adjusted to meet the market rather than hoping the market would come and meet them?

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.