Elvis Costello on the Music Business

L. Bird pkeets at hotmail.com
Tue Mar 22 16:18:08 CST 2005

Includes Who references:


Yahoo! News
Big Music's Last Waltz

Tue Mar 22, 1:50 PM ET

By Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Staff Writer

The Who declared that rock is dead, so long live rock. Elvis Costello named 
the murderer --

Slideshow: South by Southwest Festival  (Includes Billy Idol and Robert 

Liverpool's second-most acerbic pop star isn't the first person to make this 
observation, but after nearly three decades of paying the rent on vinyl, 
tape and silicon, he is familiar enough with the way the music industry 
works to know when the vital signs are off. Costello, who made his remarks 
at the just-concluded South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, 
Texas, said the end was nearer than many think.

"As soon as broadband is big enough, the record (retailing) business is 
over," Costello said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "They will have 
to change or die ... It's going to be about five minutes to the end. All 
bets are off." Costello also said that "music chains like Tower Records had 
'let the spirit go out of it.'"

There are a lot of doomsayers out there preaching from the laptops about the 
end of music, but Costello bears listening to; after all, he's the one who 
writes the book.

OK, that was a bit cute. But the artists and industry bigwigs who gathered 
at SXSW last week certainly accomplished much hand-wringing in the few hours 
a day they weren't hitting the music clubs along Sixth Street, as Michael 
Grebb reported for Wired.com. "In some cases, talk focused on opportunities. 
But in many other instances, panelists warned about the perils and 
uncertainty that face both the artistic and business sides of the industry 
-- especially when it comes to peer-to-peer file sharing," Grebb wrote.

It's a familiar lyric for anyone who's followed the whole 
file-sharing/P2P/piracy debate over the past few years. There's the 
concerned voice of the music industry, claiming also to speak for the poor 
(or rich) artists trying to make or keep their daily bread: "It's stopping 
new artists from coming forward, and it's killing mid-level artists across 
the board," said Jay Rosenthal, a music attorney at Washington, D.C.-based 
Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe and a board member of the Recording Artists 
Coalition. And then there's Wendy Seltzer from the live-free-or-die school 
at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who, Grebb reported, said "lawsuits 
against those who trade or enable the trading of copyright music files 
online will continue to have little effect on P2P traffic."

That's just a fine impasse, isn't it? Hopefully, we tech writers and 
reporters can keep it in place for a few more years or else there won't be 
anything cool in technology to argue about anymore. That might not happen, 
though, as the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) prepares to hear oral 
arguments next week about whether Internet music-swapping services like 
Grokster and Morpheus break the law simply by existing.

Whatever the outcome in the case, all the posturing and arguing at events 
like SXSW is well-intentioned but ultimately irrelevant. I'm not a lawyer. I 
don't compose or play music for money and my livelihood doesn't depend on 
the survival of the music industry, so I'm at liberty to be cavalier about 
this: Composers will continue to compose, musicians will continue to play. 
The smart ones among them will find ways to get rich or at least make a 
living, and smart businesspeople will find new ways to exploit the ones who 
can read a score but not a balance sheet. That in turn will preserve the 
centuries-old tradition of singers writing songs about getting screwed 
because they're singers. And that will give Jay Rosenthal, Wendy Seltzer and 
others like them reason to keep fighting over the future.

See? Pete Townshend was right. Rock IS dead -- long live rock.

Now for some quick sidenotes from SXSW:

* Mike Grebb's piece in Wired also reported that lots of folks in the 
business are putting their faith in ringtones: "Scott Andrews, senior 
director of internet and mobile entertainment for royalty collection agency 
BMI, said ring-tone revenues are expected to double from $250 million in 
2004 to $500 million in 2005. 'This is a business that has scaled very 
quickly,' Andrews said. He added that potential synergies with other mobile 
technologies such as Bluetooth wireless could create even more opportunities 
for artists. 'Can you imagine being at a concert and saying, "OK, everyone 
turn on your Bluetooth. We're going to send you a ring tone for free just 
for being here at the concert"?' Andrews said."

* Amy Phillips spotted a hip 2005 take on how we viewed technology in 1977 
with a quick review of Hot Chip playing at the Elysium. She posted it on 
this blog maintained at the Village Voice Web site: "They sound a lot like 
the Junior Boys (smooth R& B meets IDM lap-pop), but they are also way 
goofy. One guy is about 5 feet tall and looks like Gary Wilson, one guy 
looks like a football thug, everybody else is skinnindie. They all stand in 
a row at the front of the stage playing synthesizers, which reminded me of 
Kraftwerk. And their dancing was so bad it made mine look good." Now is the 
time on Sprockets when we dance!

* Former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant ought to rejoice in the endless 
variety offered by the Internet. At one point during his sojourn to Austin, 
he pined over the narrowcasting of modern music, the Hollywood Reporter 
noted: "I hate the idea that the jukebox is based on five songs, mass 
popularity," Plant said. Yeah, Bob, and if they would just stop playing "The 
Immigrant Song" every time I go to the bar then they could make room for 
something else. Oh well, it would probably just be Billy Joel anyway.

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