Read this: a history of the MP3, arguing that it’s more influential than vinyl

techmoan reviews a lot of cassette decks. The trouble with new units, I gather, is they all seems to use the same rubbish mechanism. Garbage in, garbage out). This would be worrisome if I had an extensive tape library, and I don’t.

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If you think music is thriving now you are either delusional or never experienced what that actually looks like.

The mp3 devalued music being sold, to basically nothing. Now “music” is almost never about what is contained in audio information, it’s part of lifestyle marketing crap because that’s the only way you can extract any money from it. If you have a sufficiently large social media following you can possibly make money touring all the time… which is of course detrimental to the art of writing and recording incredible music.

It’s a very sad state of affairs when every musician who does that as a full time job is more likely to get a big paycheck from licensing their music for a commercial than they are to make any money from selling that record to people.

Think about what this kind of a shift in the purpose of music means to the result.

Nothing you have said is the fault of the mp3. It’s all the fault of an unsustainable and exploitative music industry.


Now that I’ve had some sleep and more time to think about this, a few more points.

Before you “think of the artists!” consider this: digital music distribution has democratized music distribution to where anybody can easily sell their music anywhere. You can record your music and sell through BandCamp, SoundCloud or dozens of other services. It’s easier than ever to get your music out there to a worldwide audience.

Not everybody is in it for the money, and in the past you would never hear them unless they got signed to a label or they got really lucky as an indie.

And, yes, in general streaming is a bad deal for artists - I will not deny this, but again this is the fault of an exploitative industry, not the technology.

Then there’s this:

It’s been this way for the past 80 years plus. You struggle to get picked up by a label, the label signs you with a huge advance which you see none of because it all goes to pay for producers, recording studios, album pressing and distribution, and it’s your fault if it doesn’t sell. It’s up to you to contend with a grueling touring schedule to generate profit and come out ahead - if you’re lucky. Many aren’t.

Sure, touring is detrimental to writing and recording. This is why Brian Wilson famously quit touring at the height of the Beach Boys’ prominence as did the late Avicii in a more contemporary example. Touring sucks, and not everybody is built for this.

There’s a reason the saying, “real musicians have day jobs” exists. It’s always been very hard to “make it” as a musician, and even if you do it’s harder still to be profitable. The story of, “band sells millions of records and has nothing to show for it” is so well worn at this point it’s practically cliché.

But, again, this is the fault of the industry. This happened when people were buying records, it happened when people are buying CDs, and continues today.

The purpose of music hasn’t changed, the artistry hasn’t changed. Only the technology and means of distribution have changed. This is not a bad thing.

I know first hand how hard and brutal the industry is. I have many friends and immediate family that are a part of the machine from the talent and production level. I’ve heard and seen it all. But I can assure you that the exploitation of artists was going on well before digital medium became the de facto standard.

Don’t take my word for it. Steve Albini has written in great depth and with great eloquence about why the music industry sucks:

That essay reads like it was written yesterday, but this was written in 1993.

Then he followed it up with this speech in 2014 on how the Internet has saved music:


You’re coming at this from a place that is way higher up the food chain. I’ve been involved in DIY electronic music for over two decades. Twenty years ago an artist could press thousands of copies of every record and if they were self releasing clear multiple thousands of dollars profit.

Pressings now are mostly in the 300-1000 range which is somewhere between barely breaking even and making a few hundred dollars.

The same was true for many other DIY artists releasing in genres based around physical media like records.

If you didn’t buy the records there was no way to get the music.

Now everybody streams and nobody makes shit. Anybody with actual talent who doesn’t care about touring abandoned ship a decade ago or more.

This has zero to do with the major label or big indie level artists.

You’re blaming streaming and digital distribution when it seems to me like you’re the one that’s failing to adapt to the times.

Nobody is forcing you to use streaming services. You can sell music directly through any number of services and get to a worldwide audience without the overhead of pressing and distributing physical media. And if you want to sell physical media there’s no reason you can’t continue to do so - but as you’ve noted, the audience for this has largely dried up.

The industry is cutthroat no matter what level you’re at. The medium doesn’t change this.


Exactly. Digital distribution and formats have transferred some of the industry’s profits to big tech, but the industry – just as Albini described it almost 30 years ago, with its gangster business model and creative accounting – is still there exploiting the artists and fighting any innovation it sees as a threat to business as usual.


So did the Beatles, actually


I’m having a hard time thinking of any artists (except Kate Bush) who have avoiding touring their entire career. It’s a shame more artists don’t have that choice if touring is the only way they’ll make a profit.


Andy Partridge of XTC is notoriously extremely stage shy. They did shows in their early days but later on they didn’t do many if any at all.


Enya is one of the top selling recording artists in history, selling some 80 million records. She has never toured.


In his later years I think George Burns basically lived in his tour bus, but most of us are not cut out for it


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