Music is Not An Object

The Economist recently did an interview with record executive Roger Faxon (Head of EMI music publishing), it fascinated me and it got me thinking about the future of music.

Music is not an object

For years music has been made into an object.  There was a time when we wanted music to be an object–like a CD.  Some people still do want that.  But music is not an object and that makes it hard to make a living from it.

There was a time before anyone had this wrong-headed idea that music was an object.   “(In the past) You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience” (David Byrne).

The record, CD or tape have had their day, and while they continue to exist, their importance is going to shrink and shrink. “The object is not the thing people pay attention to, it’s the actual underlying music that they pay attention to.” (Roger Faxon).

Where does that leave the Record Industry and Music Business

The digital download has yet to save the music industry and I don’t think it will.  The record industries profits are still 80% from CDs 20% downloads and everything else.  But, that 80% is coming out of a smaller and smaller pie.

Digital Music

The problem is that if we can access music digitally, and often for free, why buy it?  “Any music that I want to listen to I can listen to at any time, (or at least that is the perception) and that makes me less likely to buy it.” (Roger Faxon)

Maybe there are other ways for record companies to make money, maybe there aren’t.  But, there is a need for what record companies did and still do.

“Somebody has to shine the spotlight on somebody” (Roger Faxon).

To some extent, new media fills that void.  People exchange information through social media and learn so much about the media they consume online.  My friends often discover music through sites like Lala, Spotify or Pandora. These avenues did not exist a couple of years ago.  That said, blogs, myspace and a couple of music sites cannot stand in for what a record label does, any more than iTunes can stand in for record stores.  They might help but they aren’t a complete solution to the problem of marketing a band.

I don’t have a solution either, but if you want me to feature your band on this site your welcome to write me an email.

Good News for the Artists

Many of the costs associated with making music have gone down.  Digital distribution is essentially free and recording costs have come down in recent years.

This is not without problems. While these pieces of music-making have been liberated for individual artists,  the artist’s responsibilities have swelled.  Deciding how to distribute music was the responsibility of a label.  Now, it’s up to the artist how much to partner with outside entities to produce, and distribute music.

The Better News

The music industry is no more music, than music is an object.  Though the industry struggles, it doesn’t mean that artists must do the same.  Musicians may have supported themselves by selling records, but that isn’t all they do.

The music listener isn’t going down with the ship either.  While we may lose permanence and tangibility in the form of a record, that doesn’t mean that there is less music or less engagement with music.  The history of listening to music didn’t end with the record, or the download, and it won’t end here.

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6 Responses to “Music is Not An Object”
  1. Colleen says:

    With music liberated from CD’s (and labels), you’re liberated from buying tracks you don’t like, to get the ones you do. A big musical paint box exists out here in the digital world.

    But how to get artists paid? One way is to connect them with brands. Brands can create exclusive experiences to offer free to purchasers. Here are examples from Schick and GoGURT and a

    If you want to hear from another visionary, I recommend Justin Jarvinen, founder of VerveLife and my CEO.

  2. Tim says:

    Nice, interesting post. I recently had an epiphany about music, CDs, etc after taking a few CDs out of the library. I’m 40 and frankly have only recently gotten used to downloading my music. To be honest, I’m pretty addicted to Amazon’s MP3 store. Yet, taking those CDs out of the library made me realize something was missing. I’ll reveal more about this in my post in a few weeks. I have heard something recently that I agree with…since a large number of today’s music fans download their music illegally or just purchase a song here or there, they have less of a connection to the musicians they listen to. Anyhow, cool post with some interesting stats.

    • Casey says:

      I totally agree with you there is a huge gulf between the experience of buying a download and the feeling of owning a record, tape or cd. I don’t want to go back to a time before that’s what we did, but I have total sympathy for somebody who wants to stick with the physical object. Also, make sure you drop a link to your post, on your “something missing” here when you finish it.

  3. CharlesHo says:

    The music industry as you correctly note, is not synonymous with music, though they did a good job the last few decades of trying to convince us that they are. From all I’ve heard about Woodstock, hippies didn’t get together to get the concert t-shirt and an autographed copy of Hendrix’s latest CD. It was about the music. The technology has come about and returned the whole spirit of what music means to people back to the individual I think instead of some recording company collective and for that I’m pleased.

    For the artists, I imagine it must be a difficult life making a living, but doesn’t the new media help them find a way to carve out a living? To my thinking freeing up the creation and distribution of their work should make it much easier for talented musicians to earn a livable wage from their art. It may not be Britney spears mega-millions, but from what I can tell, maybe less folks would burn out in that odd bubble that exists for those in that life if they’re living a more reasonable existence earning a decent salary being their own boss than being at the mercy of some corporate recording behemoth.

    • Casey says:

      I think you’re absolutely right that there are a lot of things that people don’t have to have corporate behemoths do for them anymore in the music industry.

      I worry that the internet doesn’t make more room for everyone but rather make the middle smaller. This is a funny phenomenon and the economist does a better job describing it then I can hope to, but the gist of the idea is that people like having a shared culture. Blockbusters are nice because they give people something to talk about around the water cooler. What greater ease of distribution has done (according to many people in the entertainment industry and cultural observers) is give a stage to the niches and raise up some of those that are on the margins of the public consciousness (like yours truely) not at the expense of the Britney Spearses of the world but at the expense of the middle.

      Sorry if I got side tracked there but I am fascinated by that idea.

  4. Colleen says:

    Last week, our music director observed that artists can now make a living wage in music. Thought it may be moderate, the biz is not just stars and struggling singers with “day jobs.”

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