Elvis Costello on the Music Business
pkeets at hotmail.com
Tue Mar 22 16:18:08 CST 2005
Includes Who references:
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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