Thursday, December 3, 2009

Two Movies

Visited the local art house Sunday and took in 'Pirate Radio.' Verdict: save your time and money. Still, I have to wonder whether my opinion was overly colored by having done time in both the radio and music businesses. Perhaps I couldn't enjoy it for being on the lookout for errors of liberty-taking, sort of like how some golfers despise 'Tin Cup.' It is tough to watch a 1966 deejay spinning a platter that sports an A&M label that wouldn't be designed and used for another ten years.

Earlier in the week, an hour-and-a-half of home viewing was devoted to 'Empire Records.' This movie had no aspirations of greatness and presented itself accordingly. It did, however, capture one whiff of essence: for about three decades, a good record store could be thought of as an island of misfit toys. The employees, I mean. So when I allow myself a bit of nostalgia for the good ol' days, I choose to long for what is both lost and missed: my cohorts on the record store sales floor (especially 1982-84), and maintaining racks of LPs with their widescreen cover art...taken for granted back then and all but forgotten now.

My misty-eyed reminiscences rarely extend to those LPs' contents, however. Main Figurehead's uncharacteristically lucid post about the disappearing art of long-form recording was right on the money; in fact, I will likely anoint the top spot in my 2009 Top 10 to that same Decemberists album, which is well and truly an old-school long player. However, when I think back, how many albums from my youth demanded that I listen to all sides straight through? One handful? Two?

If you grew up with elpees, then you know: you listened to a whole side mostly because you got to hear twenty minutes of music without having to fiddle with anything.


Nowadays, the song's the thing. This brings us back to the Cedar blog's November scrum: the differences among digital music sales methodologies.

Let's pare it back to the original question: What is a song worth? Here's one person's answer: 40 cents. I'll come back to that, but let's take the scenic route past Robbins' barn to get there.

I like Lavender Diamond. The 'Cavalry of Light' EP is my favorite release of theirs so far. The opening track, 'You Broke My Heart,' is a fine introduction to their sound. You can find it at Amie Street for 26 cents (not a special price), eMusic for about 45 cents (depending on your subscription plan), as a track on the used disc at Amazon for about 79 cents (pro-rated, and including P&H), and at iTunes for 99 cents. This is not an isolated case.

I like Talking Heads' 'Fear of Music.' I like it so much, in fact, that I have purchased and repurchased it as an LP, an 8-track, a cassette, a CD, and a DVD-audio. In my last days in music retail, the CD typically sold for $8-9 when advertised. It is an 11-track album. The last track on side one, 'Memories Can't Wait,' is sold digitally on iTunes for $1.29. The only saving grace in paying the highest price yet for a 30-year old track I have bought over and over again is the ability to break it out from the album. A nice convenience, to be sure, but not compelling.

This post is not intended as another assault on the iTunes model. I have a pretty good understanding of what they're doing and why. My feeling is simply that iTunes pricing is often not reflective of the varying needs of content holders (whether artists, licensees, or owners) or music consumers.

Gobs of music being produced nowadays is available for one purpose only: as a marketing tool for nascent and/or touring artists. The needs of those content holders are entirely different from those who own or license niche music (legacy artists, say, or a specific subculture). Further, some music lovers are explorers who will willingly gamble, but not extensively at a buck or more per track. Their needs are entirely different from the convenience-oriented customer. (And yes, intrepid explorers can jump around among artist sites and streaming services, but without proper training one can easily contract hyperlink exhaustion.)

Apple's one-size-fits-all strategy works well for some, not for others. To my mind, the real winner will be the retailer who can offer a true one-stop music exploration and shopping experience, catering to the full spectrums of music creators, holders, and end-users. The trick will be in getting folks used to the idea that not every song has the same value and can range in price from free (or, let's say, a dime) to whatever the market will bear. Uniform pricing is an anachronism in digital-music commerce.

As for me...well, in a typical month I'll spend about $80 on music. The outlay is spread among retailers offering sliding-scale pricing, subscription pricing, and cheap used CDs. (That last category is important to remember, by the way. My experience shows a rapidly depreciating value for older or forgotten music on used discs. The Amazon Marketplace, for one, is essentially a CD rental operation for those customers willing to schlep their resales to the post office several times a week). In that typical month, I'll amass 15-20 CDs worth of material, or about 200 tracks.

The blended cost? About 40 cents a track.

1 comment:

casanguinet said...

My soon-to-be 21 year old niece has asked for LPs for her birthday.
I'm so proud!