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Music Downloading Killing Music? No Way!!

I know the recording industry is suffering right now, CD sales are plummeting and Tower Records is no more. It's true that duplication, downloading, piracy and bootlegging are taking the music business out of the loop and musicians are suffering as a result.

Here's my take on the whole thing. It's probably controversial and will annoy some people. For that, I apologize in advance. There is a positive outcome hoped for here though.

A well executed live performance can't be pirated. Video sure, but a live interactive performance that people go out to experience is still the ultimate overall entertainment form-- or ought to be. You can't completely bootleg live entertainment, personality, showmanship and charisma. The musicians who survive this changing world will be those truly able to entertain live audiences, and willing to gig and tour incessantly. Kind of a long term career thing y'know. BB King still tours over 200 days annually, and he comes from a segment of musicians who decades ago were ripped off of their royalties or sold their songs for $5 apiece. BB survived, and so can anyone who has what it takes as an entertainer, in spite of changing technology.

All musicians are gonna be forced to get better, to communicate better live, to enhance their shows, their musicianship, their look, props, choreography, etc. This will result in greater entertainment value for people going to concerts and clubs, and possibly create opportunities for more venues, and reasons for people to get off the sofa. This will also separate the mediocre musicians from the stellar ones. Nobody likes crappy shows anyway. Some of the biggest richest rock superstar legends ripped off their fans in the 70's & 80's by getting on stage so messed up they couldn't play. I don't feel sorry for them.

A downside is that all of us benefiting from the affordability of today's quality home recording technology and marketing channels don't enjoy so much advantage. Unless we can entertain live. But consider the practice tools we do have! Perspective is key.

Historically, prior to the phonograph, cinema, radio, TV or the web, musicians could only use the stage and traveling, for their livelihoods and fame. They really had to entertain live audiences. There was very little alternative leverage.

The daunting challenge today for performing musicians is in competing with TV, theaters, internet, iPods, home and car audio systems, thousands of other bands and a huge variety of recreational choices. But live music is still more prevalent than ever before, meaning people still like to go out to clubs and concerts regardless of the multitude of recreational choices. Perhaps if the quality standard of live performance increases, the older couch potato demographic might also get out more. Remember that musicians and music existed prior to recording technology, and that the technology didn't create artists-- nor did the music industry infrastructure.

We should see more chain venues like House of Blues and BB King's Blues Clubs in more cities, which feature and sponsor top live music acts. More legendary artists who have the wherewithall, i.e. The Stones, Clapton, U2, etc., should also establish club chains providing regular work and touring circuits for qualified younger bands. These establishments could also provide a broad range of merchandising options-- clothing, dining, gear, specially packaged recordings, anything to promote their brand, products and featured artists to the public. HOB already does this, but I feel this could be a growing trend and help replace the conventional, dwindling distribution & promotion channels.

Though it's unfortunate that many artists are suffering economically at this point, it's also true that many greedy corporate music industry execs must find new lines of work. Being non-musicians themselves and therefor unable to perform artistically, their options in the music field may become more scarce than the options of real musicians. Maybe they can manage the restaurants or something...

Lots of live venues and recorded music-- re-positioned as a sub-product to live performance- and musicians in charge of their merchandising with greater choices of quality venues to work in, could theoretically grant greater business control to musicians than ever before. This is somewhat dependent upon the ratio of greedy pigs to creative & caring business minds who care to be involved or not involved.

Either way, the legendary Delta Blues musicians never had the opportunities of today's working musicians, in spite of how horrible things are now.

The very technology which enabled the industry to exploit musicians, may eradicate that greedy sector of the industry. Signed artists have always been at the mercy of the label's willingness & energies to promote and distribute product. And sales of that product only returned a small net fraction to the artist. The labels took an unethically disproportionate bulk of the profits.

Superstars, who represent a tiny minority, will take a big hit unless they've invested wisely and protected their assets. Most real working musicians have had to scrape by anyway. If the gigs get better and more frequent, good musicians will gain more opportunity to perform and promote themselves. So the solution has more to do with creating & promoting live performance opportunities than in how to prevent unauthorized duplication of recorded material. The technology currently available to every individual has freed recorded music for better or worse. Artistic emphasis on live performance is an alternative where immediate quality alone determines viability.

Whether artists are major label or independent, they have to be able to provide live, meaningful, quality art that attracts and builds an audience following for them. The days of bling and extravagant rock star lifestyles may be threatened and changing, but quality musicians communicating with live audiences aren't going away. Fame and riches were never guaranteed. If you need a guarantee you'd better get real good, otherwise become an orthodontist or an attorney. Record label exec is no longer an option.

Some think that people are less interested in music because the public has more forms of recreation available today. I don't totally buy this, because music is a spiritual thing that moves people and shouldn't be considered a comparable option to paint ball, video gaming, fantasy football, casino gambling, bingo, quilting, pastry classes, cheese making, civil war re-enactments, AA meetings or whatever else people do for fun.

When the expense accounts and jobs of major label execs are threatened; people devoid of actual creative solutions for artists-- that's when the media spin starts plotting the demise of music. Don't count on Rick Rubin to save the industry or the artists. Instead, get out there and gig, entertain the people, treat 'em right and work very very hard to improve your craft.

Everybody has to work. And after work, they need to go out dancin!
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