The Record Business vs the Music Business

Hosted by

This is Celia Hirschman of On the Beat for KCRW.

The record business is fading deep into the fabric of the American culture, where online gaming, on demand television, and youTube reality outtakes competes with the excitement of the latest music releases.

It's ironic that the same day that Apple announced the sale of their 100 millionth iPod, media analysts were singing a far different tune. The Financial Times reported that the record industry should prepare for two more years of declining sales.  In fact, the report went on to project that overall music sales in 2009 will be half what it was, at the peak of the CD boom.

But these reports only underscore just how separate consumers feel from the record industry.  Of course consumers bought the iPod. Once purchasing individual tracks became a reality, the idea of spending $17 bucks on untested albums was doomed. Consumers had been waiting for a device to make their music truly portable, and easy to use. Apple delivered and everyone bought in. Technology serves one master –- the public  -- who is hungry for new innovations to eclipse their latest version of reality. Somehow, the record business thought they’d be safe if Apple was doing well.

They were wrong.

Think of the record industry and the music business as two distinctly different businesses. Related, but separate. The record business is based on the continual selling of CD's, DVD's and tracks. It's a business  morphing into a shadow of its former self, because folks aren't buying the products.  But the music business is alive and well. That’s a business built on helping consumers discover music and connect with artists.  The music business is about supporting artists by going out to live shows, and buying music directly from them. Thanks to the iPod and the Internet, millions are now enjoying this business.

It seems pretty clear that the record business must change.  The musical Age of Aquarius is over and we're now well into difficult adolescence.  Tweener years are ugly.  One can only hope great music will come out of all this strife and the labels will be around to support it.

And sometimes, even record label and consumer support isn’t enough. New York City is having a difficult time holding onto its small sized live venues.  Condos and coops are so valuable in Manhattan that nightclubs are getting pushed out of neighborhoods. It seems a club in Manhattan is worth more closed than it is open.

Tonic, one of the more interesting nightclubs in the lower east side, is closing its doors this week.   It's the fourth nightclub to close in recent months. In early April, the rock club Sine closed its doors, also being pushed out of the hotly valued Lower East Side.  Late last year, CBGB closed on the newly minted million-dollar Bowery.  And in the past couple of years, we said goodbye to Brownies in the East Village, The Bottom Line in the West Village, and the Continental Club at St. Marks Place. Rock clubs in Manhattan built the music scene of the 1980's and 90's, but those days are over.

One would like to believe that when one door closes, another one opens. If that's true, Manhattan's music scene is due for something pretty fantastic.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.