Posted by: martinworster | December 14, 2011

133. DINOSAUR BOXSETS

Boxsets: the final throes of the music industry..?

There seems to be a trend of late in the music industry for record labels to release deluxe box sets. Super duper mega box sets including multiple DVDs of unseen footage, tens of CDs of unreleased tracks and live performances, T Shirts, signed booklets – anything the record label can lay their hands on that has a vague whiff of the band on it. They’re like career retrospectives for the almost extinct dinosaurs – The Who, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, U2 etc etc – desperately trying to cash in with an ageing demographic of hard core fans who are prepared to fork out for something they probably won’t even take out the wrapper. There such a fervent and slightly weird core of trainspotter / music-fetish fans out there who lap this stuff up. And it is an almost religious fervour, like the pious and faithful getting hold of religious relics – a lock of hair, a scrap of tunic – anything to validate their fandom and connect them to the source of their worship. 

It can be viewed cynically as a last ditch attempt to extract the final dough from what is – in it’s old fashioned, conventional sense – a dying industry. Like the last nervous twitches of a corpse before the final flat line.  CD sales are steadily down year on year since the early 2000s – why buy, when you can get it for free? 

As a music journalist working in the late 90s early noughties I was probably one of the last of a generation who worked in what can be termed the ‘old skool’ industry. I often feel nostalgic for this industry and time. Of course the internet was around but it was before the iPod and really fast home internet connections enabling fast download of albums. It was even pre-Napster. People still bought CDs. Record labels had multiple departments and money to throw around on media junkets and industry showcases. The club promo department would mail out records and CDs to journalists ahead of release in the hope of earning favourable reviews. Arriving at work it was like Christmas every day as I was met with piles of records and CDs. PRs would take you out for lunch, dinner, invite you to gigs, offer you exclusive access to artists for interviews. Happy days indeed.

There’s just not the money for this anymore. It’s not like it was. In many ways, despite the immense freedoms it offers, the internet has ruined quite a few things. Music just doesn’t have the same value it did. I often see record labels or bands trying to entice you with ‘free downloads’. That barely piques my interest. In fact I sigh inwardly. You basically can’t give it away.

Before the days of mass free music and Spotify you’d really cherish the CDs and records you bought. Listening to them repeatably, often till they would wear out. Plus you might buy two or three CDs a month so the whole listening cycle was a lot slower. Now I have all my new releases lined up to listen to digitally and it’s hard to plough through them. Wow, this really is turning into a cynical aging moan of the ‘I remember the days’ ilk. But, oh, I do remember the days. It’s such a massive onslaught of music now (everyone’s an artist with their full scale studio on their MacBook Pro) it’s hard not to feel slightly exhausted at the deluge and trying to keep up. Spotify does help. And despite what they tell you – in my own experience – using Spotify means I buy less physical music.

There are a few bright spots to come out of the negative effects of the internet on how we listen and consume to music. The growth in vinyl sales is one. People want something tangible they can hold onto. Plus the sound is far superior. In years to come you can still hold and cherish the black discs and there covers. What can you do with your MP3s in twenty years time?

The other positive is the live circuit. Again, people and audiences are looking for tangible and real shared experiences – hence the massive rise in the concert circuit and festivals, particularly in Europe. Plus, bands have had to offset their reduced earnings through lower sales of physical formats with touring and merchandise.

On a personal positive level, I guess the all pervasive influence of the internet is what subliminally pushed me to finally pick up a guitar. I like machine made electronic music but making it involves looking at a screen – which I do far too much off – and doesn’t seem as real and organic as plucking on a six string. There are no shortcuts with learning a guitar – which I like and dislike equally. You just have to put your time in and pluck away. Plus it makes you realise how, despite the massive explosion of popular music, there are endless G, C and A chord combinations still left to mine.

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