The Growth Of Access, How the Record Business Lost Its Beauty

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This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat for KCRW.

As a young girl, I devoured music. Back then, 40 minute albums rarely disappointed me. I'd listen to records with my friends over and over. My music was a lifestyle choice and it defined me. I was not alone. Millions of kids like me were doing the exact same thing around the country.

The 60's may have been the musical age of Aquarius, but in this time where poetry, sound, politics and social thought converged in unison, the means to expose music was a relative one lane highway. AM radio was at the centerpiece. The DJ was considered a god because he had access to new music. Live performances were not common, but, historians would agree, this was our most significant musical decade.

Following that, the 70's came brimming with opportunity. We saw FM radio explode, giving millions of people a whole new way to listen to music with full albums airing in their entirety. Bands began to tour much more, and live performance quickly became an essential marketing tool for building awareness.

When video overtook radio in the early 80's, MTV became the marketing tool du jour. Hip hop music emerged, and though radio stations wouldn't embrace the new sound, MTV would. About this time, a marketing guru named Jay Conrad Levinson, wrote a book called Guerilla Marketing. The book had a profound effect on hip hop music. Using his recommended tactics, labels began to set up teams of hip hop fans, who introduced this new form of music to friends in their community.

The 90's was a very vibrant time for music marketing, with the explosion of the internet. It was hard to believe the future could offer even more opportunity for discovery.

But it did. With the expansion of cable, digital and satellite television, we have dozens of new outlets to see music. Films, games and even retail stores promote their own albums. Websites yearn for us to download unknown talents.

Practically anyone can release a record these days. And we can now digitally transfer all our music to portable devices effortlessly and take our music collection anywhere.

The American public had developed an attitude of super sized culture. We like our televisions with 500 channels, our games in 3 different configurations, our multiplexes packed with different movies. You'd think that all this access would give rise to a profoundly rich new era of creativity. But in fact, we've ended up with a lot more mediocrity. The quantity of music released is not mirrored in a quality of artistry. Record labels have released tens of thousands of albums annually to meet the perceived demand. Sales will tell you, the public is not really demanding. All this access means that music is becoming less relevant and more disposable than ever before.

The real deal is that the solution lies with the labels. It's the responsibility of the labels to determine when a record is ready for release and in many cases, they seemed to have lost sight of their jobs.

Though access to consumers is important, it's more important to release great records. Only by careful selection, can record companies find their way out of the hole they are currently in.

This is Celia Hirschman with On The Beat for KCRW.