Burn Baby Burn
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.
East Arlington, Massachusetts
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.
Fairport, New York
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
Kerosene is the full-fledged realization of the dream of the Dixie Chicks. All Jacked Up is the full-fledged realizartion of the dream of Anheuser-Busch's marketing directors.
Little Rock, Arkansas
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.
Kanye's outburst was like a dream version of Chuck D's old quote about hip-hop being black America's CNN. For a few minutes, anyway, NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC were black America's hip-hop.
Peter S. Scholtes
My last couple picks for best single have ended up in television ads, so maybe that will be how Art Brut reach the U.S.A. in 2006.
This will be remembered as the year American Analog Set released a comp for Tylenol, the year the Hold Steady starred in a Target infomercial, the year SXSW was featured on The Real World, the year the Pixies returned to play Clear Channel venues.
Brooklyn, New York
Weirdest ad campaign: those Hennessy "Never Blend In" billboards with Marvin Gaye, who could not be here today to collect his royalty check, as he was shot to death by his alcoholic dad. It's like sticking Brian Jones into an ad for swimming pools.
Brooklyn, New York
50 Cent was everywhere, releasing everything from an autobiography to a feature movie to a videogame to vitamin water. He even managed to release The Massacre twice.
San Francisco, California
The Massacre remains a work of diabolical genius, as hypnotic and cybernetic as a rampaging femmebot could ask for. Call it the official soundtrack of BET by any other name, darkling evil empire who's hired Reginald Hudlin, Nelson George, and Selwyn Hinds in atonement. With bated breath we all wait to see what they'll be able to squeeze in between the hydraulic ass cracks of the network's wall-to-wall motorbooty parade.
I'm no marketing guru, but I can't imagine a real record business in 10 years. It wouldn't exist if it didn't already exist. I still like CDs as a format, just not one to buy. I have a burner on every computer and stereo I own. I can borrow CDs from friends and copy them. I can borrow CDs from the library and copy them. I can copy old CDs I own to preserve them. And my new laptop has Lightscribe technology, so I can burn the song titles on the front.
I know a guy who never downloaded a free piece of music. He was quite proud of this. A big iTunes fan he was. Then last August a buddy introduced him to LimeWire. Now he can't stop comparing the power and high of downloading new and old songs on LimeWire to crack addiction. He fell in love with music in a whole new way. His iPod filled up completely. He downloaded a new song, tracked down its cover art, and updated his collection before he kissed his wife or hugged the kids at night. He only buys TV shows on iTunes. For now.
Dimitry Elias Léger
Weird thingword in Billboard is that legal downloading, after growing steadily over the past few years, has leveled off in recent months, way sooner than anybody expected it would. So maybe it's not as future as everybody thought it was.
Sunnyside, New York
If you think the average 15-year-old's iPod cost him $5,000 to fill with tunes. I'll show you a 15-year-old who borrowed his parents' CD collection.
I have no problem with record companies putting out copy-protected CD so long as they mark them clearly and charge no more than five bucks for them. If I'm not going to be able to enjoy full fair usage of the product (like being able to copy the disc to play in my car, or burn it to my iPod), I shouldn't have to pay full price for it.
Los Angeles, California
Every now and then I run into an acquaintance on the street and we talk for a minute and let's say she says "what have you been listening to?" and I say "I love Miranda Lambert's album" and let's say she goes out and buys Kerosene a week later. Here's what I noticed: No one from Sony's marketing division comes to my house and gives me 99 cents. So I feel like there are two logical possibilities, one of which is simply never to speak positively of any products ever, and other is to wonder why the fuck I would ever pay 99 cents for a song I could just download free? and to never calculate an appropriate payment for commodities as long as they decline to calculate an appropriate payment for my marketing efforts just you know as a civilian, not as a music critic or anything.