Column: Grumpy Old Man Muttering On the Park Bench

We would like to introduce a new feature here at BBBD: columns! The first piece is pseudonymously written by "Grumpy Old Man Muttering On the Park Beach." Needless to say, he's been a music consumer for quite a bit longer than anyone here at BBBD, and hopefully his take on the pop world will represent a refreshing change of pace for this humble web publication.

The way I see it, the record companies protest too much about the devastating fall in album sales. The way they portray it, and the way all us listeners seem to accept it, is that this is the "end" of the music-industry business model. No, it is not at all an end: rather, it is a return to the prior business model, which has been around a lot longer than the current one (which I'd arbitrarily date to "Dark Side of the Moon," the first monster-selling concept album). The prior business model, which in the USA ran from roughly 1900 to 1975 or so, was all about selling singles ... not albums. It's 1910 and the family has gathered around the piano, to sing along with Sis as she plays "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" ... reading from sheet music for that one song (no one had to buy a whole Leo Friedman songbook). It's 1930 and the family is sitting around the Victrola listening to a 78 of "Embraceable You" -- okay, there is a second song on the flip side, but no Gershwin album in sight. It's 1960 and budding music-enthusiast Billy is listening to a 45 of the Beatles' "Help!" -- he didn't have to buy the album. (Extra credit question: what was the b-side?) Then came hippies (lots of leisure time) and drugs (too stoned to move) and we all had the inclination and opportunity to stare at the wallpaper and listen to Floyd for an hour or so (not counting skips). I don't know if Capitol/EMI asked for all those songs at once or if Pink Floyd offered them, but the record companies sure fell in love with the album concept: pay radio stations to flog one catchy single, then insist fans buy the whole album (with the 10 other dogs) to get that single. Voila! Average sales price goes from 75 cents to 10 bucks! Push one song, sell 20! Profits soar! So, no wonder the corporations aren't happy now: digitization of music not only allows it to be copied more easily (a big problem), but it also allows listeners to break up the album, and maybe that's just as big a problem: now we have to sell a million singles at a buck a pop instead of only having to move 50,000 CDs for $20 each. Sorry, guys, but yes, it's harder to do it that way. And, like I said before, this is (roughly) how everyone had to work for the 75 years prior. So the "new" order today ain't so new: it's a return to where we were. And I am quite sure that if we made money before with it, we can do it again. Just ask iTunes.


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Anonymous scrum said...

Help? 1960?

The B-Side was, of course, "The Majestic Cloud Passeth, Lo," a favorite of mine.


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