By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Album sales were down 6 percent in 2005, although some of that has been made up by increased sales of downloads. The idea of reducing prices seems to have passed without any lasting effect. New major label albums hover near the $20 list ceiling, although bestsellers get aggressively discounted, with a handful of first-week titles at Best Buy for $10. Retail channels, Internet excepted, continue to narrow. Wichita doesn't have an independent record store, and it's nearly impossible to find used discs of any sort.
At the end of 2005, my favorite used-record store closed its doors after 40 years. Snide online posters gloated that they were glad the store was disappearing because of all the "rude" and "stuck-up" teenagers who worked there. As I saw it, those teenagers were some of the only human beings I knew who actually gave a shit about music.
Los Angeles, California
Just when you think the major labels have sunk to their lowest, they sink lower. Shame on BMG for their criminal acts of spyware/malware. Shame on Universal for their stunt of charging outlets for promos. Shame on the RIAA for once again failing to protect the artists.
Is this the same company that invented the Walkman? Sony not only "protected" its CDs with a tricky bit of software that could really fuck up your hard drive, its new digital audio players only started to recognize MP3s this year, and these players still weren't able to play legally purchased files. What is their digital strategy? Why in hell would they want to make it easier and safer to just go out and steal music?
Sony plants hidden spyware on computers and users are rightfully outraged; months later the topic is still simmering in chat rooms and boycotts are everywhere. I thought no one buys CDs anymore.
When bands such as Death Cab and the Decemberists sign to major labels, it might not affect their own songwriting, but will have a profound effect on the music that comes after. And this is not even mentioning the heavy-handed involvement of marketing companies, licensing companies, ad agencies, and countless other corporate entities looking to get their hands on the cash cow that is "indie cred."
Brooklyn, New York
Down here in Nashville, the year was spent assessing 2004's Gretchen Wilson-led redneck revolution. Our biggest stars remembered that they used to be country singers, while our biggest labels went looking for young artists who could tell Skoal from Red Man in a blindfold test. The result: a few hits, a few misses, and a whole lotta pandering. Just like every other year in Nashville, come to think.
Numbers for this year's bestselling pop albumsMariah Carey's Emancipation (5M), Green Day's American Idiot (4M), 50 Cent's Massacre (4M)still pale next to the $$$ and #s DVDs and now videogames put up. "Pop music," even at its most popular, is still niche. You can nitpick about how people interact with music, how sales don't reflect consumption or effects, etc., but the thought really puts a damper on all that "social power of music" stuff some of us feed ourselves to keep going with this gig.
The highlight of the record companies' year was that the movie industry's slump was so huge it overshadowed their own.
Los Angeles, California
On May 28, the Billboard Modern Rock Top 20 singles chart included the following bands: Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Beck, Oasis, Audioslave, and the Offspring. Garbage, Korn, 311, and the Bloodhound Gang all also had hits this year. And people wonder why modern rock radio is dying! Hello, your top artists all peaked a decade ago. Would you sell more ads if you just changed the format to Greatest Hits of Depressed '90s White People?
What happens when the Stones, McCartney, et al. retire from touring? Who will fill their (very expensive) shoes and fill stadiums and arenas at such steep prices? In a word, nobody. Concert industry mavens are almost as worried about the future as their major-label counterparts.
San Diego, California
Thank you, MTV, for interrupting one of the few magic moments of live rock spectacle to happen during your entire wretched existencePink Floyd at Live 8to shoehorn in a few more commercials. You savvy businessmen deserve Ashlee Simpson.
Despite its crassness, American Idol got kids to look up Dusty Springfield, Chaka Khan, Martina McBride. It excited a lot of fans about music and singing all over again, which is more than commercial radio or video stations could say this year.