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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,

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Frontline has fallen flat on its face with this one, and I suspect the cause is that producer Michael Kirk has completely bought into the corporate music business's ideas of what constitutes success and artistic worth. Reading his comments in the producers' chat section confirms this. As someone who has worked in the non-corporate music business for the past 25 years, I am very well aware that there is another and quite different reality that he is apparently completely dismissive of.

During that time, the number of small independent record labels has just plain exploded, as has the number of musicians with access to good quality recording equiment, at the same time that access to radio exposure has greatly diminished, the number of major labels has shrunk, and the quality of those major labels' output has become rankly homogenized and dumbed down. The gulf between the two has become a yawning chasm, and the response of the corporate music world has been denial, precisely the same sort of denial that Kirk shows.

If Frontline ever decides to revisit this topic, please find someone who has a grip on reality to produce it.

Steven Tupper
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Isn't the behavior of the record companies comparable to organized crime? Aren't the kind of illegal activities that they use for standard business practices what the Federaal R.I.C.O. statutes were designed to punish? Wishful thinking on my part I guess the Golden Rule applies here; He who has the gold, makes the rules...

Norman Funk

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for an excellent presentation. With all of its lawsuits
and advertising the RIAA is fighting a propaganda war in a
desperate attempt to derail a future in which they have no place.
On the other side, there are numerous groups working to
expedite their demise. See http://downhillbattle.org

Edmund Bulhourne
San Diego, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Like many others who have written, I feel that your program tonight has only touched the tip of the iceberg in the music industries problems. Unfornately, it is hard to dictate taste. That is all it is.

Velevet Revolver will be a hit, I 've already seen them in my town. But, I have seen groups that have failed because of lack of support from their label because their flavor of the moment has turned sour. People who truly love music will seek out the good stuff.

I would like to see more indepth look at the FCC and Corporations owning the radio stations and the NY Times report on downloading has had on the music industry.

Bill Fisher
Bloomington, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

While I applaud the coverage that you are giving to the growing music controversy,
I am saddened that the topic is glossed over without talking about the big elephant that is in the room. Used CD's.

While the amount of new CD's is declining, the amount of stores that carry used CDs have doubled since the early 90's. Since the industry does not report sales of used CDs, they cannot tell you if this is hurting sales.

While large chains like Wal-Mart and Virgin do not carry used music, many other stores do. In San Francisco one of the largest independent sellers of music, Amoeba Music, devotes more than a third of its floor space to used CDs and DVDs. All you have to do is look out over the sea of shoppers to recognize that more than half the people in the store are in the used section.

As a music collector myself I will first look in the used section for the music I want before venturing into the new section. I recently got rid of some extra CDs and got a store credit for $150. While I may have taken that credit and bought 2 or 3 new CDs, the vast majority went right back into used CDs.

People regularly buy music, burn it onto their computer then go and sell the CD only to buy more used and new music. Which would a college junior want a wall full of plastic CD cases that is hard to move, or a full computer hard drive that he can walk around with?

People are not buying less music. They are buying less NEW music.

Tom Risse
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Bottomline, I haven't bought a CD in 5 years. Bands are not given a chance to grow now. The industry has a "flavor of the week" philosophy in order to retain the consumer's attention span. The era of the "great" album is over. Music is overproduced and polished today. Traditionalists often prefer a raw sound. Most new bands are terrible in concert, retaining fans for one ablum and nothing beyond that. The music industry has all but squashed the artist's creativity.

Tommy Callaghan
Sandusky, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree with a lot of the complaints about the show, but think that it maybe wasn't meant to be as comprehensive a report as it was advertised. It tried to show the contrast between two very different, comtemporary approaches to making a hit record. Of course, a lot was left out as has been mentioned already.

I suggest you do a follow up, heck, a series even; that explores some of the other aspects of the industry and comments on where the future might be going. The Indie artist is a good place to start. I look forward to hearing more from Frontline on this subject. A whole different show could be done on the Classical music industry.

Guy DeRome
Morgan Hill, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Wow! What a great set of articles and interviews here. I can't wait to see the whole program.

I recently released my own indie Christian project (with a major label budget, I might add!), and through CDBaby have been able to get it into all the major digital distributors. it's been fascinating to watch the dynamics. If you look closely, you can really see where things are headed, and it's going to be very cool.

Your site is the first place I've seen that has really captured many of my personal observations--both the negative and the positive. Thanks, and again I can't wait to watch the program.

Mike Shaw
birmingham, AL

Dear FRONTLINE,

I eagerly tuned in to "the Way the Music Died" only to be sadly disappointed. There was so much you missed.

There is an immense amount of GOOD music -- fringe genres, indies, folk and world music, jazz, etc. -- completely ignored by the Big 5 ... and ignored by Frontline as well. Why?

Besides a few words about Clear Channel's chokehold on the radio spectrum, where was the analysis of media concentration? Shouldn't there be a story somewhere about how a handful of giant media conglomerates are using their wealth, lobbyists, and ever-growing intellectual property rights, to strangle innovation and competition?

John Kwasnik
Sacramento, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I loved this program. It was fantastic to get David Crosbyís wisdom on the subject. He made some great points about how the industry has changed. I think the advent of Clear Channel and MTV have totally blown the soul out of music. They push artists with uninspired lyrics, stock sound clips that have been used thousands of times, and a focus on a part of culture that is increasingly disturbing ñ unattainable beauty and wealth.

Music is food for the soul, and there are a lot of artists ñ real artists ñ who are providing the youth with nourishment. They do it the old fashioned way. They live it, they love it, and they tour their asses off to make their dreams come true. People today just want to be the next American Idol ñ the quick ride to the top. Real musicians know that it takes a lot of work to make it truly happen. How can people call Jessica Simpson a diva! Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday ñ they are divas, it requires soul. It is something that cannot be manufactured.

As for the loss in sales to the industry. Boo hoo! Someone during the program said that it is the quality of music that is keeping them from selling. That is so true. Not only that, but when your favorite artists are going bankrupt because they werenít smart businesspeople, it is really hard to feel bad when pirating. Youíd almost rather just go to a show and give them the cash.

So, who is stealing from whom? May more artists become independent producers. Grassroots bands like Spearhead, and String Cheese Incident are way ahead of the game, they know that music is a fan-based industry, and this is what makes them successful. I feel thankful that I live in a place where I can get great music easily and donít have to rely on the radio stations to tell me whatís hot. Mr. Crosby said it best,î they wouldnít know good music if it flew up their noses and died.î Bless his heart for having the courage to speak the truth.

Sean Carberry
Seattle, WA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was disappointed at the lack of objectivity in your "Music Died" program. Frontline took swipes at MTV and Clear Channel, and allowed artists like David Crosby to blame unnamed corporate bean counters for popular music's demise. I doubt MTV, Clear Channel or the bean counters would agree they have destroyed popular music, but we never heard their story, however lame it might be.

Frontline's assertion that music downloading is a red herring seemed naive. Finally, Frontline upheld artists Sarah Hudson and Velvet Revolver as endangered talent. But these artists demonstrated a big problem with today's music: They have nothing new to offer. Hudson sounds like every punky pop princess of the last decade - Liz Phair, Fiona Apple, Avril Lavigne. Revolver looks and sounds like a cross between the Sex Pistols and Motorhead, bands that reached stardom in the 1970s.

John Woolfolk
San Jose, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have liked the Frontline shows in the past but this one on the music biz was just plain awful. Why did your show feature an artist who has a rich and successful father and the Velvet Revolver group?

Why not talk to people making music today and young musicians who are starting new and struggling to make it.
Most of the people you interviewed were just trying to promote themselves.

Exceptions were from David Crosby and the guy from Outkast whose comments were suprisingly fresh and insightful.

If the music biz has problems it is because of the likes of people like Goldberg, Guido and Dave Marsh, leave them out of next time.

Sid Smith
Detroit, Mich

Dear FRONTLINE,

I agree with some of the other messages I read here.All I can say about showcasing Velvet Revolver and Sarah Hudson is that you verified my decision to seldom listen to commercial radio. How sad is it that the VR producers more than willingly trust the "safety net" inside the lead singer that will keep him from self-destructing?

And what was the point showing Sarah Hudson attempting to break into the business? She's already IN the business, as cousin to Kate, niece of Goldie and daughter of a Hudson brother. She is hardly indicative of a musician struggling to "make it." I just don't get why she was on the show at all. I found the program frustrating, and rather pointless. Luckily, this is a rare reaction, for usually I find the programs very well done. I'll definitely skip the rerun of this one, though.

Leslie Quade
Milwaukee, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

I'm a serious audiophile. I feel the market for good music is large but the music industry is not doing anything to address the QUALITY of that product.

The reason Napster and downloads made a dent is because they provided the customer with what they wanted. Not 11 bad songs and one good one on one CD. The record companies have a gold mine in their vaults if they could get up off their greedy butts and make it avaliable in a quality medium, with no compression, expansion or what a "audio engineer" wants to process it with.

LESS IS MORE! The more you process an audio signal the worse it sounds. I primarily listen to classical and I realize this is an even smaller market. But the last three CDs I bought were a disappointment!

The Record Companies don't listen to their customers. They only listen to the bottom line and the documentary unerlined this well even on the ROCKSTER beat.

James Guillebeau
Springfield, Missouri

Dear FRONTLINE,

I had one minor qualm with your otherwise brilliant coverage of "The Way the Music Died." Some recent articles have made a point that I didn't see covered here -- that "The Perfect Storm" isn't actually costing record companies anything. While the RIAA's system for tracking sales shows a decline, that's supposedly based on shipments, not sales. Separate systems for covering actual sales show constant growth. The difference allegedly comes from the fact that large retailers aren't holding inventories anymore, which is true in most industries.

For coverage of this story, see http://arstechnica.com/news/posts/1084492882.html.

Richard Bowers
Manassas, Virginia

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posted may 27, 2004

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