the way the music died [home]
photo of the billboard charts
homewatch onlineartistsperfect stormdiscussion
Join the Discussion:Do you agree with those who say the music business is in big trouble?  What do you think the future holds?

Dear FRONTLINE,

The Internet has become the Pearl Harbor of the music industry; unfortunately it has no H-bomb with which to retaliate and no enemy to blame.

Downloading "free" music is a hassle. But, unless the music industry offers us, the consumers, a much better alternative, we'll put up with it.

Because we are not going back to CDs or FM radio to satisfy our music needs.

I would not mind, however, paying a monthly fee for the privilage to download any and every song that I want, without delays and/or extra fees.

Jorge Rodriguez
Wilsonville, Oregon

Dear FRONTLINE,

I enjoyed aspects of your lucid profile of the music industy. We have needed an in depth look at the Jurassic period of dinosaurs for quite some time.

To All the forum posters who are upset about the emphisis FRONTLINE spent on how absurd the modern process of making corperate musical sausage looks up close; Where's your sense of Irony ! One such poster was from Seattle;; how can this be? /^>^ Poor lad needs to go watch the film SPINAL TAP again.....

Skyscraper betrothed accountants aimlessly pading around posh
executive suites, working feveriously to package their next
big figment of their financial imagination.....seems an accurate documentary to me !!

It's really quite simple. Musicians directly hire such silly Mega corperations, and so they get what they deserve.

Music will always be healthy. The business of presenting and distributing this music will always be preverted when it is born from the top down, instead of from the bottom up.

Sarah Hudsen is a prime example. She seems charming, has talent, and her father raised her well. But she needs to play coffee houses 5 nights a week around the world for 5 years. Then, if she's got the goods, fear not, she will be noticed. The evil mindless conglomerate technique is trying to create something from nothing to push their margins, instead of making the effort to notice all the talent already out their, and do the real work of getting it to the public.


Erik Dannevig
Seattle, WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I've read all the viewer comments in this discussion. While I can understand the criticism that this program "did not go more in-depth into this and that", I saw this episode as a good primer, introduction and basic summation about the current state of the situation from the vantage of the major labels.

It was a good way to bring viewers who don't normally follow the music industry up to speed as to what's going on, and to spark further discussion about this matter -- and that's what's happening right now.

As for why a no-name, unknown, struggling musician was not profiled...maybe the point was that in this day and age, it's only those who are ALREADY connected somehow in the entertainment industries who get a serious shot with the major labels. That's the feeling that I got from watching this show. Virtually every major pop star to show up in the past couple of years seems to have had an inside connection to the business.

Howard Wen
Dallas, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

Although a well done and much needed look at the music industry, you failed to miss the backstory that is most troubling to those who understand how radio really works, and that is the subject of "promotion money', paid by major labels via cutouts to radio stations in major and secondary markets, and the stifling effect this decades old system has on the growth of the business, and the lack of will by the Justice Department to really look into it. They seem to be preoccupied by looking for suspicious young Middle Eastern males these days.

In fairness, no recent administration has been any better, allowing this to grow into a nightmare for new and independent artists.

Jeffrey Beals
Seattle, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree with those who thought this program was a little thin. Not really up to the standard I've come to expect from Frontline. After it was over, I still didn't know "the way the music died." There were a few hints, but no follow up or in depth exploration of any of them. Seems like the comments from record company and management types about how they have to get hits and how much money it takes to market an album, etc. was being presented as legitimate issues rather than as part of the sickness of the music industry.
There is much in the music biz that is sick and a genuine investigation into the issues would be very interesting. I hope Frontline will consider do more on this topic, but please investigate, don't just interview a bunch of people saying all the cliches we have already heard. If they are cliches because they are true, then what about it? Who are the money mongers? What really happens to talented musicians who are ripped off by the recording companies? Where have our choices gone? What else may be going on here in addition to talented musicians simply offering their quality music to those who want to listen? And especially, how is the music business different today that is was when American popular music was practically divine (late sixties, seventies)?

R Cook
Sunnyvale, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

The closing shot of "The Way the Music Died" appeared to present the two artists - Sarah Hudson and Velvet Revolver - as the underdog and establishment concoction, respectively. In fact the opposite is true.

Hudson, daughter of a famous songwriter (I'm old enough to remember The Hudson Brothers variety show in the late seventies), had just the kind of producer-driven pop sound that has made careers for Avril Lavigne and Pink.

Velvet Revolver is a bunch of aging men who stumbled onto rock stardom in the late eighties and early nineties by virtue of being just plain good. While one of the Velvets butchering the word "expletive" was hilarious in a Spinal Tap way, Hudson came off as not especially insightful either, talking about her career in empty bits of industry jargon she probably absorbed from her father and handlers.

If Velvet Revolver succeeds while Hudson fails, it may have to do more with what the public is yearning for than with the varying degrees of label support each artist recieves.

Jason Moss
Eugene, OR

Dear FRONTLINE,

One of Frontline's great strengths is its ability to give context to events that the viewer may have heard of but never considered how those events fit into a bigger issue. At best, this program explored two bands/singers efforts within the larger context of the music industry.

The better show would have been the current music industry's problems in the larger context of the art of creating good music.

The bits about the industry's reaction to Rap and Hip-Hop hinted at these deeper issues but failed to really address them. Why wasn't Frontline asking the music industry types about "quality" instead of just letting them blab on about what will sell.

This program should have been titled "Gee Whiz, Marketing an Album is Hard"

Edward Bryant
Chicago, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

As I see so many other viewers have already told you, this production was full of hot air and no real substance. I was excited when I first read about your program on slashdot, and I was really looking forward to watching it. I just did. Now I feel sick.

Patrick Gray
Clearwater, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

I felt that your program "The Way the Music Died" was a very good look at the way that major record labels do business today. However, I take issue at the scope of your broadcast. By focusing on the elements of the music industry that are in decline, you paint a picture which is not entirely indicative of the industry itself.

As a fan of what some term "jam" music, I follow bands such as Phish and Widespread Panic, who have developed large touring bases. From this, I have discovered dozens of bands who make their living under the radar of major labels and corporate radio. These are bands not supported by MTV, and yet through hard work, determination, and talent have managed to pack clubs and arenas and make quite a killing.

I feel that this sort of existence will become the norm for musicians, with touring revenues quickly outpacing record sales, until eventually CDs will become loss leaders, selling at a few bucks apiece. Recordings themselves will become mere advertising for bands outside the corporate system. When an artist comes to town, there will be several thousand people, who picked up the recordings for a dollar or two or even stole them off of the Internet, lined up to pay 30 dollars for a concert ticket, with most of that money going into the hands of the musicians who make the music rather than the stuffed shirts who sell it. In fact, Dave Matthews Band is already following this model, making much more on touring than they are making in recording royalties.

John Emery
Memphis, Tennessee

Dear FRONTLINE,

Hello, from New Mexico!
Although FRONTLINE touched on several important points in THE WAY THE MUSIC DIED, It was ironic that one of the artists the show tried hard to portray as being "good" (Sarah Hudson) highlighted one of the major problems with the entertainment industry ñ nepotism.

...The fact that she grew up wealthy in the heart of the entertainment industry with an over-bearing Hollywood father who just happens to be a record producer with massive connections doesnít mean she deserves to be a star. If FRONTLINE was trying to use Sarah Hudson as an example of whatís right with the industry, theyíve done just the opposite. It is people like Sarahís dad and her PR handlers who are actually responsible for the declining tastes of the record buying public. Itís truly a shame that the only people who ëmake ití any more in music or movies are either closely related to someone in the industry, or they manage to sleep with the right person. Actual talent has very little (if anything) to do with it. THEY are part of the problem, not the solution!

Jason Darensburg
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Dear FRONTLINE,

The music industry in America has neglected whole genres of music, not just artists. For example, house music is huge in Europe. In America there are no local radio stations (a few large cities have them but they suck) or MTV exposure for that genre or any other genre of electronic music.

Real house music DJs can select all the top tracks and and know what people like, even if the dance floor thins out. Without radio or MTV it takes time for people to warm up to some tracks. Some people do not feel comfortable on the dance floor unless they are dancing to a song they know.

In dance club scene, the most popular songs are 4 years old. Every DJ has played that song every weekend for the last 2-4 years and now people know it. But for someone like myself that's constantly buying new house music CD's, I've heard that track a billion times and I'm ready for the new stuff. So that puts me on a completely different level than the person that listens to the radio. So now their is a big divide in the dance music scene.

The scene is divided by those who go out of their way to find great music (very few of us) and those who follow the herd and just listen to what they are told is great new music on MTV or the radio.

This whole issue with the record companies, MTV, radio, etc is much deeper than a few struggling artists. It's whole genres of music completly ignored.

Angela Saxby

Dear FRONTLINE,

What a disappointment. Instead of an expected, thoughtful, perhaps thought-provoking Frontline special on the state of the music industry (as advertised), I watched a full-length, PBS promotional video created to help launch the career of Mark Hudson's daughter Sarah.

While she may or may not have a long and successful career in the music industry, problems and solutions for/with the music industry were hardly represented or even debated. Seems like Frontline needed an hour to kill. Who let this disaster get on the air?

David Steffen
Saint Paul, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree that there has been a Perfect Storm. We have been in the midst of a pandemic dumbing down of the senses in every aspect of American culture.. When a child grows up watching Art as diseminated through television, only the worst can possibly occur. Evertyhing becomes a disposabable experience. Teachers should be the real Rock, and Movie stars, as instilling in a child the compassion to dig deeper is what is sorely lacking in this culture.. I see kids now watching Rock stars cribs, and that being a motivationg force to go into music. What could be worse?

What this piece doesn't focus on, are the many of us in this business who have been in it for the duration, ( i.e. since the era of Woodstock), and have had to find a way to survive, because when you are true artist it is all you can do. Not beccause of the numerous Corvettes it has allowed you to post outside your garage. That story would be the natural evolution of this piece. Hopefully one of the Corporate execs will greenlight a project that tells the story of falling in love with music, and finding a way to do it, when all the power brokers deem you not worthy.

Jon Pousette-Dart
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

Part of the problem with major labels is that they are convinced that in order to make a good record, one must spend millions on recording and promotion. But rock and roll, hip hop, punk, etc. became the cultural forces they are by rebelling against the very forces that drive the logic of major labels.

There is a moment just before the labels expliot and overmarket a musical form that it truly becomes a cultural force, after that moment, when the record labels have streamlined the product in order to reach it's absolute maximum marketing potential (by squeezing out of it any and all creative or political content so as not to offend or off put the blandest of consumers), forget about it .

You can still make a decent record for less than $10,000, buy a cheap van, load it with gear and tour the country, sleep on fans' floors and make just enough to pay for gas and food. College radio stations still have enough cultural sway that with a little help from them, you can expand your audience. You may not become millionaires, sell out stadiums in Columbia and then whine when it's all gone, but in the end you'll still have your soul and you won't be left miffed scratching your heads like Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan.

Major labels will never again produce "quality" music. To borrow a cliched line from one of their cliched creations, "Cry Me a River." This fact neither surprises nor bother me. What will bother me is if there is a problem on the "lower" end of the spectrum, if suddenly, the youth of the culture suddenly stop doing it for themselves, and for the sake of unadulterated expression. There is a subject worthy of documentary.

Ryan Devlin
New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program and viewers would have benefited greatly from a discussion with these musicians that have turned their back on record corporations. Great music is still being made its just harder to find.

RJ Ness
St. Paul, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

Frontline got closest to the real story in its portrayal of Nic Harcourt at KCRW.

The magic of music can still be found in noncommercial, community-funded, radio stations. As a volunteer at one of those stations, WTUL New Orleans, I invite listeners to discover that musical surprises that have the power to inspire, transform views on life, and pull off the road to listen, still happen--every day. And it doesn't have to take a lot of money. WTUL does it on less than $20,000 a year because students and volunteers operate the station on a university owned FCC license.

The people who want to make their millions on hit sensations that go to the top of the charts and get played on 1200+ Clear Channel stations are part of the problem. They have bought into the whole marketing gimmick of the business, and I applaud their failure.

The alternative can be found in the integrity of stations like WTUL, surviving on a duct tape and a prayer, but giving life to people who care about music...

Brian Denzer
New Orleans, LA

more

 

home · introduction · artists' stories · interviews · perfect storm · inside the music business · watch the full program
poll: how do you get your music? · discussion · producer's chat · press reaction · tapes & transcripts
credits · privacy policy · FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted may 27, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
headphone photo copyright © corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

 

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS