Part 2 of our series on the value of music is by Bud Caddell. Bud is a strategist at Undercurrent, blogs at WhatConsumesMe, is a popular fellow on twitter, and is an all around brilliant guy when it comes to the digital world. We’re thrilled to have his guest post.
The Value of Music
Has music suffered from inﬂation?
In the 50ʼs, a postage stamp was three cents. Today itʼs fourty-two. In the 50ʼs, a gallon of gasoline was around twenty cents and you could buy a tricked out Ford for two grand. The price of a 10” record, offering around three minutes of playback, was $2.85. A 12” record, up to eight minutes of playback, was $4.85 (source: http://www.ﬁftiesweb.com/ pop/prices-1950.htm). Adjusted for inﬂation, $4.85 in 1955 is worth $38.34 today (source). But I can buy a single song right now from iTunes for 99 cents.
Sure, youʼre not pressing that vinyl and youʼre not shipping it out to stores, but everything today, especially producing and promoting music, a band, a single, an album, is astronomically more expensive today than it was then. So why is a single so much cheaper today?
Hereʼs another question, whatʼs the top album in the country right now? Do you know? Without looking, I donʼt know either.
The industry loves to blame the digital format and piracy for the erosion of their business. And as long as they do, theyʼll continue to go the way of the dinosaur – and good riddance. Simply put, music is less culturally relevant today than it was in the 1950ʼs. Bob Dylan wonʼt be reincarnated. That popularity with that cultural message doesnʼt happen anymore. Why? Well, for one, the industry today doesnʼt think like John Hammond did. They arenʼt looking for Dylans. Moreover, todayʼs mainstream is an emaciated corpse of its former self. Our interests and musical genres themselves have splintered. The industry saw demand slipping so they raised the cost of the concert ticket. They hope to sell the song for nothing so youʼll hear the band and want to pay the $50 to see them live. They practically asked for their own irrelevance.
I apologize for the obligatory Radiohead reference, but they sold eight million dollars worth of box sets for In Rainbows. Who cares what percentage of people paid nothing for the album. The promotion and the material were remarkable. They were relevant. And they were entirely fan focused.
Before the Beatles, popular artists didnʼt expect to amass a fortune by playing music. They played to earn one fan at a time. The industry still promotes to a mainstream theyʼve drastically miscalculated. They spend large amounts of money to accrue fans that donʼt exist. And they actively commoditize their own products. As an artist, if you let the industry set your price, youʼre going to fail.
Pricing is relative. I wouldnʼt spend one indian nickel on whoever wins this season of American Idol. But I have my wallet wide open for the next tune by the Fleet Foxes. And my price point isnʼt set at 99 cents either, no matter how much industry people tell us that it is. Give me something worth paying more for and Iʼll eagerly do it.