I was planning on my own post on the Emily White/David Lowery/Everybody Else In the World dust-up, but Jay Frank at FutureHitDNA.com, in an essay reprinted by Billboard, has done the job far better than I could have, and provides some real numbers to back his conclusions up.
The most important points (to me, at least):
…there are too many artists competing for shrinking dollars, largely due to the shift from albums to singles. Despite the economic number that David Lowery quoted of the number of professional musicians falling by 25%, if you took “album releases” as an indicator, it seems like the number of pros has increased. In a decade, we’ve gone from about 30,000 albums being released to over 77,000 last year. And that’s just albums going thru legit channels. The problem…is that 94% of those releases sold less than 1,000 units. Indicators that I have examined showed those low sales aren’t because of people stealing them. They come from too many releases causing most people to not even realize they are out.
The first time I saw Lowery’s estimate of the number of professional musicians failing, I thought, “Thank God. It’s time to clear out the deadwood.” That’s a callous way to put it, but there’s is a real difference between the number of people who are making records and the number of people who should be making records.
Having a download on a hard drive…single or album, purchased or stolen…this is the 2012 equivalent of “buying a CD with one good song on it”. People are smart and will legally stream something before any sort of ownership decision solely because they don’t want their hard drive cluttered with music they don’t like.
This is the paradigm I lean towards more and more myself: listening to new records on Spotify and then buying the stuff that has lasting value. By buying I mean physical copies, at least for albums, vinyl if it’s available and not overpriced (which it often is).
(As an aside, I also want to note that I buy every record I review in the Hot 100 Roundup; I do download those rare records that have made the chart based on radio play and aren’t yet commercially available, but I always make a point of buying a copy as soon as they’re released. Piracy may not be destroying the music industry, but it’s still piracy.)