Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tech: How technology changes music

There were at least four CD shops last time I worked in North Sydney. I can't find any now.

It would be a surprise to find this was entirely due to music downloads, but that would be a big factor. Certainly, CD sales have been plummeting over the past few years.

Concurrent with that trend, I noticed severe price drops in back-catalogue classical music, later reflected in popular music too. The price fall has even resulted in frequent discounting of current releases. And of course, the flipside of the market squeeze is fewer CD shops to browse in.

Another technological earthquake: the ability to burn tracks to CDs in normal CD shops. This digitisation trend gives us convenience, but it also gives us lower quality - when you choose the MP3 route.

So technology influences art. Both these changes mean that over time, best-sellers will be individual tracks that have the greatest instant appeal. The economics of music is changing; we will witness a sharp decline in the production of album-length music.

Although distribution channels are changing, who benefits? Anyone can put up music on a site, but that doesn't translate to high-volume paid downloads. The net may not be quite the great leveller people touted. High-traffic channels will still be what counts, but radio will share the traffic with web sites. Record companies are stretching to re-define their roles, yet there will always be a place for the intermediary that finances and produces the music. Since they're in it for the money, they'll follow the changing nature of demand, and focus - even more - on the short attention span.

So the losers will be
a) traditional distribution channels - CD shops;
b) music that takes time to grow on you; and thus, perversely
c) the discerning punter, who has far greater convenience and price - at the cost of quality.

The dust hasn't settled yet.

No comments: