The End is Near!…for Selling Recorded Music
Before 1909, when technology changed everything, performing artists earned a living by performing. The only way to sell talent was to traipse it around the countryside and throughout the theatrical circuit. Packaging a voice on phonograph recordings, distributing the disc through retail channels, and marketing the product as a valuable commodity was a radical and culture-altering innovation.
Now technology is changing everything again. Thanks to digital downloads and file sharing, we’re returning to the pre-phonograph model. For most recording artists — and probably for all recording artists within a decade — the only way to monetize talent is to become a full-time performing artist.
Paying for recorded music is rapidly becoming an obsolete, 20th Century concept. Replicating and distributing sounds has never been easier or cheaper. But, with apologies to Vegas “tribute” acts, replicating a live performance is impossible. Purloined concert tapes and bootleg videos can offer only a simulacrum of the experience. The real thing is the real thing.
I envision a future where all recorded music is given away for free, as it always has been to radio stations and other promotional outlets. CDs, or whatever technology comes next, will serve as fancy business cards, compelling reminders that the artist is someone who ought to be seen the next time she comes to town. The recording industry and its government lobbyists have fought this model for more than a decade, since Napster revolutionized the music business. The fight, it seems, is nearly over. The complete democratization of the performing arts has begun.