MUSIC NAVbarz 2
IS THE CD DEAD YET?
My Take On The Moses Avalon/Bob Lefsetz Debate

By Polar Levine, August 2, 2006

My old pal and fellow music biz kvetch, Moses Avalon, is currently engaged in a debate with blogger Bob Lefsetz about whether or not bricks & mortar is a thing of the past as a means of distributing music. He presented both sides in his July edition of Moses Supposes. Lefsetz says, "Most people have never heard Rihanna or Cassie and could give a fuck.看There's no curiosity in the old system.看It's like watching cricket instead of the World Cup. Those days are THROUGH! Not completely, but the old systems have been MARGINALIZED!" Moses says he sees things "less radically and with a diminished deterioration of copyright laws. [He] also question[s] the time-line for the technocratic wet dream of a world without labels or rights agencies as being so far in the future that it's not worth considering for a typical career that will likely last about 15 years. For [him] it's still about chasing the dollar offered by the big labels and their oligopic way of doing business." Since Mose invited comment, how could I refuse? You can see Lefsetz' statement and Moses' response below my comments.

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My own opinion overlaps both arguments. Lefsetz seems to present himself as the national spokesman for the crazed reactionary music geeks that inhabit movies like Hi Fidelity. I'm sort of one of them except I don't take myself quite so seriously or assume that we geeks are anything but only a tiny sliver of the music consuming market. Compared to the market-niched mainstream listener there's far less likelihood of consensus among us geeks in matters of taste but we all really dig the torment. Like Bob, I don't give a shit about the stuff played on Clear Channel but that doesn't mean that millions of others have any problem whatsoever with the status quo. Bricks & mortar and CDs are not going to disappear any time soon. When I visit my family in the burbs I can't help noticing that all the malls and discount outlets have full parking lots at all times. People like to shop on their feet. Shopping has become one of America's primary modes of entertainment and a leading drug of choice as an antidote to ennui. That includes browsing in records stores or the CD section of Wal-Mart.

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Market paradigm shifts are not new. Technologies appear, are embraced by early adopters, break through the resistance of threatened industries, reach the market tipping point and then, ultimately, replace the old paradigm altogether. But lots of time passes between the tipping point and the demise of the geezers.

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In the case of the recording industry, the horse and buggy team fighting for its life also happens to be made up of corporate behemoths with platoons of lawyers and lobbyists trying to finesse the system to their advantage. When you have legislative gatekeepers like Senator Ted "the internet isn't a truck... it's made of tubes" Stevens inserted into the drama, we can expect a nasty pile-up of trucks and tubes speedbumping the digital superhighway. And legislatures hang out with CEO types, not musicians (I refuse to count the songwriting Senator Orin Hatch as an exception). You can guess where their sympathies lie.

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Though I agree with Moses that b & m and CDs will be around for a long time, the evidence he presents is based on his observation that Tower Records has short check-out lines but Amoeba is booming with used CD sales. That argument actually does more to support the other side. It tells me that digital downloads of both the illegal and legal varieties have eroded the market for $17 CDs. Consumers are willing to pay no more than the $10 that they fork over to iTunes. They do even better at the used CD bins. Sales of used CDs, like illegal downloads, deprive the record companies and artists of revenue which makes legal downloading services a safer alternative for the industry than the status quo. At some point the labels will discover that investing in a new infrastructure will provide better returns than continuing to throw millions of dollars at politicians and the courts. But I expect the gutless (trucks) and the clueless (tubes) to allow the ship to continue to take on water or just sink along with the b & m retailers who are riding in steerage. But it will probably take a lot longer for the ship to hit bottom than Bob Lefsetz anticipates; and it will hang in there only by wheezing out the lowest common denominator.

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Here's what I think is the most likely scenario: Remember when cable was supposed to put an end to the networks? Yet after all this time the nets are still going strong despite a considerable drop in viewer count. I forsee the continuing pattern of major labels and their cohorts, the commercial radio cartel, continuing to focus on market certainties which entails the dropping of artists that are not expected to provide mega-revenue. A leaner stable comprising mainly of media-friendly music entertainers, including those fed to the labels by American Idol the all the AI clones that are sure to pop up, will allow the major label dinosaur to prosper. That will leave everybody else to create The New Paradigm -- a robust co-existing alternative music market that has been taking shape online. It will be able to function cheaply and see healthy profits by catering to a smaller but equally hungry global market. Hopefully that will serve to create a situation similar to the 60's development of the early FM radio format that appealed to a whole generation fed up with lite pop. And maybe this time it will last longer. What could be better for us music geeks?

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Polar Levine
Yankin' The Food Chain at Polarity1.com

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THE LEFSETZ LETTER JUNE 2006

http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/index.php/archives/2006/06/27/ch-ch-ch-changes-2/)

I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac A voice inside my head said don't look back You can never look back
"Boys Of Summer" Don Henley

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1. Retail
Last Wednesday night, on my way to dinner at Il Sole, I drove past Tower Records.看 Tower Records used to be SO busy, such a cultural hotspot, that they bought an additional parking lot on the other side of Spago.看 But at eight o'clock this evening, there were EMPTY SPACES in the MAIN parking lot, right next to the store.

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Tower Records used to be a destination, it used to be the pulse, it used to be where music lived.看 Now it's a graveyard.看 Inhabited only by those who didn't get the memo, who are still buying CDs.

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Used to be that not only was every space in the main parking lot full, cars were lined up in the spaces BETWEEN the spaces. Traffic was backed up on Sunset.看 You had to wait to get in to LOOK for a space. Inside the store you were confronted with piles of vinyl albums by artists only you thought you knew.看 But then MTV made it only about the cream of the crop, Top Forty eclipsed album rock radio and everything but the hits became irrelevant.
Then came Napster.

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I don't want to hear another fucking word how bad MP3s/files sound. If you're that fucking concerned, buy the biggest iPod you can and fill it with Apple lossless files.看 Or download FLAC files from the Net. The only people bitching about the sound quality of files are those NOT USING THEM! Lamenting the death of the CD. Isn't it funny that these same people and their progenitors foisted upon the public the horrific 8-track and not much better duplicated at high speed cassette? Eliminated the far superior vinyl record and delivered the too-low sampled to sound good CD?

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Furthermore, who killed the stereo business?看 And, ever listen to today's CHEAP stereos?看 They sound light years better than what could be afforded for the same price back in the seventies.看 And the iPod sounds BETTER than MOST people's stereos.看 So, to complain about sound quality is to show your ignorance.看 And it's about convenience anyway.
There's no convenience in getting in your car and driving at four bucks a gallon to an emporium that doesn't have what you want and if it does, sells it to you along with ten shitty tracks.看 People would rather stay home.看 Oh, there's a market for indie stores.看 Hell, there are stores selling all kinds of antiques to collectors.看 But the CD is in a death spiral that nobody will talk about.看 As they continue to try and reap the final financial rewards before the wall is hit.

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It's like Napster never happened.看 The concept of more people owning more music at a cheaper per song price never happened.看 What we have is ostriches.看 Ignoring the fact that most music is acquired FREE and just pointing to the Luddites who DO pay.看 I don't care how helpful the employees might be, it's not about FIXING brick and mortar retail, it's about ABANDONING IT!

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2. Top Forty Radio
Nobody listens to the radio.看 Oh, of course this is untrue, but be clear, RADIO IS NOT WHERE IT'S AT!

.How can you tell?
Just ask somebody if he knows the big hits in the Billboard Hot 100.看 Oh, you might have READ about Paris Hilton's track, or Kevin Federline's, but unless you've got the intelligence of a gnat, you've done your best to AVOID CONTACT WITH THEM!

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There's a whole subculture.看 Growing by the minute.看 Of the disillusioned and disenfranchised.看 Who've abandoned traditional media for the Net.

They don't care about Mariah Carey.看 They don't care about Christina Aguilera.看 These are SIDESHOWS!

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Musicians don't want to debate the merits of Sony BMG vs. Universal.看 Don't even want to get into the advantages/disadvantages of Frontline vs. the Firm.看 The only people who care are those entrenched in the old.看 People who're living on fumes, in the realm that USED TO BE!看 Oh, it's not that these firms are going out of business, are irrelevant, it's just that they and their charges no longer control the landscape, no longer are aspired to by musicians.看 That's the old way.看 Now it's make music, put it up on the Web and see what happens.看 As opposed to getting a lawyer who'll hook you up with a manager and a label.看 After all, acts don't TRUST the old infrastructure, it doesn't look like THEM!看 It looks like their parents.看 People out of touch who are only interested in the bottom line.

.Most people have never heard Rihanna or Cassie and could give a fuck.看 There's no curiosity in the old system.看 It's like watching cricket instead of the World Cup.看 Those days are THROUGH!看 Not completely, but the old systems have been MARGINALIZED!
MY RESPONSE

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MOSES AVALON's Reply
http://www.mosesavalon.com

Bob,

You're very right about Tower Records and what a great analogy BTW--" Inhabited only by those who didn't get the memo, who are still buying CDs." Excellent!

But did you drive past Amoeba? Packed on a Saturday night when everybody should be necking under the Hollywood sign. Instead they're buying used CDs by the truck load. Why? What memo did they miss? Why am I in there every weekend as well. Because for about $6, I can own 14 songs at better quality than I can from iTunes.

Less than a year ago I would have been right there with you in the CDs are soon to be roof shingles thing. But now I see a renewed public need for them.

iTunes is not much better than Yahoo in terms of the concept of "renting your music." It's just that iTunes is far hipper and has the illusion of ownership. But eventually people get tired of paying for the same music over and over again as formats change, and the illusion wears off.

iPods will change too someday and the old formats won't likely work in the new machines. Or, your computer will crash-taking your collection with it. Or, in my case, I do need the full bandwidth to make me feel happy listening to music (an occupational hazard from being a former engineer) I don't have nearly enough room in an iPod to store more than few albums. But someday I will. When that day comes I'm going to be happy that I have the actual CD to re-burn at full bandwidth.

Yes, my CD collection is alive and well and for Tweeners like me I like being able to get Fleetwood Mac's Greatest hits for less than 42 cents a song at Amoeba, ($6divided by14 songs) -- full bandwidth and I get to keep it FOREVER.

Someday there will likely be a new iPod format that expands the range and imagery on CDs. Everyone will want that. I'll be thankful to have a collection that can not be victimized by glitches or planned obsolescence at that point. So if you're giving away any CDs because you think they'll be useless in a few years, I蘚m buying.

Ironically, it蘚s because the iPod that CDs may get another 10 years of life.

MOSES AVALON
http://www.mosesavalon.com

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