What? Am I crazy? Well, maybe, but that has nothing to do with this post. Why should stores charge more for digital downloads? Easy, to make up for the fact that they would no longer be selling as many tunes.
Why would they be selling less tunes? Well, this is the crux of my post: There's too many under produced, unoriginal tracks being sold online. If, like me, you're a DJ or electronic dance music enthusiast, then you have no doubt had the displeasure of spending hours on Beatport trying to weed through endless amounts of poor quality tunes.
With the switch to selling tunes digitally rather than on vinyl or CD several years back, something big happened. The cost of physical production was removed. No longer did record labels have to pay to have their music printed, nor did the online stores have to pay a stocking fee. Suddenly selling music became all about profit, with the major expenses no longer an issue. It's the long-term overall affect it has had on the quality of the music that is the issue.
So what effect has going digital had on the music? One needs to understand the gradual process involved. Let's look at it from a major label's perspective. They no longer need to pay to have vinyl printed. All they do is upload their mp3 or wav files to their distributor or directly to the online stores, and voila, it's ready to be sold. Sadly, the selling price of digital downloads is so low that the profit margin is somewhat less than with vinyl. So, in order for the label to remain equally as profitable as it was before, it needs to sell more copies of its tracks. Sure, moving to digital meant that more people could be exposed to, and have access to the music. But this isn't enough. Labels need to sell more music to stay profitable. And the way labels went about it, was to sign more music to sell. This means current artists would be producing more music more frequently, or that new, undiscovered artists would be signed up to sell their productions.
It's all too common these days to see an artist do really well with one tune. It sells like hot-cakes, so, not even a couple of months later, that artist releases another, very similar sounding track. This process repeats itself until eventually people grow tired of the sound. In the mean time, that artist has been busting out a swag of similar sounding tracks. Look at the likes of Activa and Sean Tyas. Their sound grew very popular and so they were unleashing tracks at an inconceivable rate. Sadly aside from the first couple of releases, the rest were fairly unimaginative. What mattered was that they sold.
Had there been less pressure to release so many tunes to keep the income stream flowing, then perhaps more time could be spent on upping the creativity and producing something truly unique and memorable.
What follows next is the so-called halo-effect. A certain 'sound' becomes well-known and popular. What manifests next is a series of 'copy-cat' artists and tunes that borrow very heavily, if not totally from the original, high selling release. What we get are numerous tracks that sound very similar, all of them released in quick succession so that they hit stores while that 'sound' is still popular. Again, due to the need to get the tracks out quickly and consistently, the quality and originality of the tunes suffered.
When vinyl was king, it cost so much to do a run of 2000 records, that the label had to be 100% certain the track was worth putting on to vinyl. Track submissions would be heavily scrutinised before being signed by a label. They needed to know that they would make their money back. Typically, most releases on vinyl were unique, imaginative, and sold really well.
So, what happens next? We get to where we are today. I like to call this the second-halo-effect. Sadly this one really hurts the music the most. Due to the fact that the 'copy cat' tunes have been getting hammered out now for several years, many new, young producers coming into the scene are only being exposed to those lesser quality tunes. Thus, their inspiration is somewhat uninspired music. What follows is even more music that really misses the point. Today Beatport (and other stores) is littered with tracks that, while technically fairly good, lack any real emotion or connection. Most end up an array of weak melodic layers that verge on euro-dance or cheesy progressive house. The 'trance' is gone. And these tracks get signed because labels need to sell more tracks.
It gets even worse though. With the advent of digital-only record labels, young, aspiring producers and DJs have been able to start their own labels for very little or no up-front costs. They then sign budding producers to their labels and release their tracks. The tracks are often poorly mixed, poorly mastered (if at all) and lack a lot of compositional quality. The online stores aren't going to reject them, because more tunes means more sales. I must make one noteworthy exception to the negative aspects of small digital labels. Every budding artist should have the opportunity to have their music heard and to be able to sell it. But I don't think the big, online stores are the right place for it. I think these budding artists should work with bigger labels to refine their sound before adding their tunes to the mix. Anyway, more on my ideas for the situation below.
What we've ended up with is that the big labels have slowly, over time dropped in quality and consistency, while completely new labels have appeared that are also very low in quality. There are still some incredible tracks released, but they're definitely spread very thin amongst a sea of average tunes.
So what can be done? It needs to be attacked from two points. One, record labels (the big guys) need to pull back on the amount of tunes they're releasing and stop signing so many less than adequate tunes. They need to enforce a higher standard of quality and originality. Two, the online stores need to raise their standards, ensuring only high quality material is released. To make up for the fact that labels and stores would be selling less volume, the price needs to go up. Double or triple the current price. If the average quality of tunes goes up to match that of the more rare high quality tunes of today, then the higher price is worth it. We need less copy-cat material, and more well though out, emotively connected compositions.
But what of the young, aspiring guys who will no longer have online stores as an outlet to showcase their early productions? I feel a new platform needs to be created. I have had good chats with fellow DJ Rossco, who's idea was to create a new store-like platform for releasing and showcasing new talent for free. To be honest, this idea is worthy of several separate posts. So I'll finish with this: Up the price of music. Stop signing and releasing so many sub-par releases. Keep the stores for high quality music. Create a new platform for showcasing new talent.