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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,

definitly one of the least impressive Frontline episodes I've seen. No mention of 'death of the commercial single,' target demographic marketing, radio market research, song hook within first 15 seconds, influence of the movie/dvd business model, cult of celebrity, only a minute on P2P filesharing...on and on.
The one scene that just killed me is the interview with Sarah Hudson's A&R person Joanna Ifrah. She actually used the word 'Grammy's' in front of Sarah...thought that was just cruel and negligent to even hint she had a shot at a Grammy. She also talked about how they "wanted someone real, not like the bubble-gum beauties of Britney/Christina/Jessica"...problem is every label out there has 2-3 Sarah Hudson's on their roster, all looking for the next Alanis/Avril. Sarah was adorable (father was annoying) and talented, though I fear she's gonna get wrecked by the process.

Kevin Carney

Dear FRONTLINE,

I watched the program on the Net from Australia. I work in the music industry and have for 30 years (a Reaganomics refugee for 20). Watching it on the Internet is just one example of how technology has changed the music and media industry but the content was rivetting and the result of this program is that quite a few people in the industry will watch it globally, time shifting, rather than those who would have caught it in real time on a local station.


The story is quite the buzz over on this side of the Pacific Pond--especially since we in Australia must overcome the tyranny of distance to make our music work in the US which is our largest export market for contemporary music. Still we must fight for radio airplay, press, recognition and investment when it is far cheaper for a record lable to pick up a band from Arkansas than take the risk on one from Sydney.

Congrats on a great program that realy hit the issues your audience wanted to absorb--not necessarily the ones the industry wanted aired.

PHIL TRIPP tripp@immedia.com.au

Phil Tripp
Newtown, NSW Australia

Dear FRONTLINE,

Downloading ultimately increases record sales as any kid will tell you... once they hear something they like, they BUY it. My own band Mastermind has sold over 60,000 units with no marketing support by being one of the earliest indie bands on the World Wide Web. Mp3's are blessing to the underground artist and the big ones as well if they would embrace it instead of fighting it.

Of course self-important record label types blame everyone but themselves for failing sales... but go back to letting music lovers run record companies and you will see new growth not seen since the 70's. The real problem is there is so much clutter to wade thru looking for gems as these labels pump more and more crap into the pipeline. This one goes for indies as well.

Bill Berends
Central, New Jersey

Dear FRONTLINE,

I found your documentry to be, overall, intriguing and enjoyable, and agree with many posts before me that this was, indeed, a good _starting point_ for anyone interested in the inner workings of the music industry today. One of my deepest criticisms, however, has to do with the lack of _actual criticism_ presented in the feature.

Having an industry-worker say that file-sharing killed record sales side-by-side with OutKast's manager placing the real blame on flat out "bad music" was a brillant ten seconds. Likewise, the insight made by the L.A. radio DJ regarding what was theoretically a business merger between Scott Wyland and the majority of Guns and Roses was another piece of thought-provoking material.

Future coverage of the apparently over-beaten dead horse that we like to call the recording industry should feature more insider observations and smart documentary editing like the two moments mentioned above.

Eric Fields
Scotch Plains, NJ

Dear FRONTLINE,

This program appears to have the same issues Frontline dealt with the 2001 program "The Merchants of Cool" which focused upon the multimedia conglomerates selling to teenagers. Rather than blaming downloading, cds or other reasons, the music industry is just the victim of the all mighty dollar that it chases in pursuit of the cool.

A. Cohen
Southern, Nevada

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a rock/metal music fan for many years, radio and big labels do not dictate my music buying habits at all.

I bought three CDs directly from Scott Mosher musician/graphic designer. I bought two CDs of Vanishing Point from Australia after chatting with the lead singer and the guitar player online. I bought one CD from Black Majesty from Australia and chatted online with both guitar players from the band. I bought one CD of Sun Caged from Sweden after an online forum discussion with the guitarist. I could make a list a mile long of music I purchased directly from the artist's website. Most of these artists use independent labels to package their product. I bought many CDs directly from the artists at a concert.

I have downloaded from iTunes but I prefer CDs. Digital media and personal online service is taking over. People working for big labels should start training for a new career at their local Burger King.

Alisa Kirby
Fairbanks, Alaska

Dear FRONTLINE,

Being an Independent Songwriter and a fan of the usually in depth Frontline I was extremely disappointed in "The Way The Music Died."

The best comments were made by musicians that have been around for over thirty years for god's sake! You briefly pointed out the revolution created by rap, but didn't interview the most influential people at the heart of this, like russell simmons (showing a couple of photos of him didn't really do the trick). Ironically, the one person who made interesting comments about the current state of music was a writer for Rolling Stone, a magazine that once was the voice of great music but has blatantly sold out to the highest bidder in the past fifteen years. It is no longer interested in good music but pretty faces and hot bodies on its cover (note the recent Britney Spears special issue; all Britney, all the time).

The program's lack of discussion on the current problems and possible solutions for the music industry was especially disheartening. It spent a minute amout of time discussing the internet and the inability for smaller market artists to reach a broader base due to the corporate consolodation of labels and radio.

I and a number of other fellow Indie musicians were looking forward to a serious discussion of the problems facing the music industry, but sadly all we saw was a promo for two artists already a part of the label machinery and a wishy washy overview of the current music scene.

nick bischoff
Venice, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program seems to have overlooked one major problem, possibly a bigger one than music downloading. Without a high speed internet connection, music downloading can be time consuming. However, most computers have a CD burner that can quickly and effectively make unlimited copies of a CD. Unfortunately many people, teens and adults alike, simply have their friends burn copies of CDs rather than going out and buying the CD themselves. What incentive is there to purchase a CD from any type of retailer when a near perfect copy can be obtained for pocket change?

Karen Schaaf
St. Louis, Missouri

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'm tired of listening to these whiners.

Musicians are alive and well, performing live without radio, mtv or major label backing. If anyone reads the financial statements for EMI last year, they'll see that they (and the other major labels) are still reaping huge profits, though not as much as before..... for which we hear the cries of 'illegal downloads killing the bottomline'. I suggest the public's hesitance to buy is subconscious resentment for uninteresting music, bad sounding audio, untalented artists and the unwillingness to improve the conditions by the labels.

I'm not going to fault Britney Spears because she makes an 'appealing' video and it drives people to buy her cd. 19 million units later, Norah Jones' first record is still selling strong, taking everyone by surprise. She didn't have to do more than walk on the beach fully clothed for her mtv airplay. Norah outsold Britney by a long shot. People will buy what they want. They will download what they don't feel is worth buying.

It's Darwin.

The new "glamour career" is video games... soon the wannabies will be aspiring video stars bleeding that industry for their fame.... and leave music to the those of us who still care.

I've made a living as a music producer and engineer for 20 years. I think it's a GREAT time to start a label.

Cookie Marenco
san francisco, ca

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for putting this program together.
The good news is many indie artists are creating great original material and it is availbale from the artist's website. XM and Sirrius are playing indie music everyday.

Market forces will prevail as always. As for me, I turned off FM radio long ago. I stopped buying quantities of CD's because I am very happy choosing from 100 channels on XM. And I buy CD's from the artists themselves from their websites. This may be the future.

Ron Randall
Dallas, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

there's the occasional allusion to this "internet piracy" thing and bad music, but where's the controversy? Where's the facts? Where's the insider information that I've grown to know and love from frontline? This report was not how the music died. It wasn't even a fair account of the music business in general today. It wasn't much of anything, really.

I am thankful that you interviewed one of the few remaining saviours in Music, Nic Harcourt and the brilliant team at KCRW. Of course, you don't exactly have to scour Los Angeles to find this NPR station with over a million listeners.

Cameron Bill
Chicago, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

Interesting program. You hit many good points, mainly that talent is being fabricated and packaged based on some calculated formula rather than being sought out and promoted. The corporate mentality has destroyed radio and music. As a teenager in the late 70's I saved every penny to purchase LP's and now as a 40 year old adult with more resources I stand around in the record store and can't find anything worth buying.

Bill Laskowski
Spring Grove, IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a frequent viewer of Frontline, I was pleasantly surprised to see this topic discussed on your program. As an aspiring artist shopping for a Major Record deal that also holds down a corporate day job, I could identify with each and every interviews perspective.

I feel that the business has changed to the point where you need to present yourself not as just as an artist but also as a small corporation that needs big brother marketing to achieve that coveted commercial success. Without commercial radio play, exposure to major media outlets and the ability to Get into the Game, most artists are left on the outside looking in. This makes faith and the love of music the only two things that one can reliably count on as an artist.
The amazing thing about the music business is that it is not an exact science and there is no wrong or right way to go about it as your show proved. Like all successful businesses, no matter what the size, the one that embraces change and adapts to it most efficiently will be the one that ultimately survives.


Brendan Thomas
Boston, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

So many issues relating to this topic which I have read in the past number of years were totally missing, or only given brief mention, and no critical analysis.

Apparently Frontline is facing the same problem as the record industry - insisting on getting a piece out by a deadline date, rather than insisting on quality and professionalism.

Another disappointment courtesy of Frontline and PBS.

Reginald Van Gleeson
Miami Beach, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

The program's content seems to have contradicted it's premise, which was supposed to have been how the business, in particular the marketing side of the business, has ruined the quality of the art.

However, much of the program showed Sarah Hudson and her A&R person's attempts to package her. The A&R person talks about how unique Sarah is but judging by her image in her video, parts of which were shown, they seem to be merely trying to re-create Cyndi Lauper. That's part of the industry's problem, not the solution!

This episode was not at all focused and really missed the target. It was all over the place.

Crosby was right on the money. Basically, the industry was once run by musicians who cared about music. Then the suits took over and their only concern is the bottom line.

John T.
Nashville, Tennessee

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posted may 27, 2004

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