The record business is in the doldrums because sales are plummeting. Digital technology has made music easier to make and copy, with the result that recorded music is about as readily available as water, and not a whole lot more exciting.
This seems like bad news, until you pick up a copy of Time Out. Then you realise that the live music scene is exploding, for, unable to make a living from records sales, more and more bands are playing live. That experience can’t be put onto a memory card—and people are willing to pay for it, and to pay quite a lot. Concert attendances are at an all-time high: recordings are increasingly ads for live shows, and live shows have become once again the real thing, the unduplicable.
Similarly, outdoor festivals have mushroomed. There are more than ever, and they’ve become temporary communities—somewhere between circuses and communes and summer schools, offering political debate, craft workshops, tai-chi lessons, comedy, visual arts, theatre, bookshops and, most importantly, the chance for people to meet and match and discuss. The music is almost an excuse for the consolidation of a new society. That, after all, is the traditional job of pop music, and it’s good to see it back.
The duplicability of recordings has had another unexpected effect. The pressure is on to develop content that isn’t easily copyable—so now everything other than the recorded music is becoming the valuable part of what artists sell. Of course they’ll still want to sell their music, but now they’ll embed that relatively valueless product within a matrix of hard-to-copy (and therefore valuable) artwork. People who won’t pay £15 for a CD will pay £150 for the limited edition version with additional artwork, photos, booklet and DVDs. They often already own the music, downloaded—but now they want the art. They’re buying art, and they’re buying it in a new way. That suggests to me the possibility of a refreshingly democratic art market: a new way for visual artists, designers, animators and film-makers to make a living. So, as one business folds, several others open up.