Another one bites the dust
On Wednesday, Gramophone announced that it will be ceasing operations in Singapore. Gramphone, which had as many as nine outlets just four years ago, ran only one store at The Cathay as of late. However, that proved unsustainable as well, and it is now the latest casualty here after American music giant Tower Records folded in 2006, and homegrown retail chain Sembawang Music Centre, which closed down in 2009. HMV came close to being another casualty earlier this year. However, thanks to a Hong Kong-based private equity firm’s buyout deal, HMV remains open today. Local record shop, That CD Shop, seems to be surviving, but lately they have begun selling cupcakes in their outlets. Is that really what record shops have to resort to these days to stay alive?
I had to collect my unsold CDs from Gramophone yesterday, and was greeted by this sign posted on the façade of Gramophone’s last outlet at The Cathay. Gramophone was one of the few record shops in Singapore that supported local artists, so I am saddened that it had to go.
So, just what exactly happened to the recording industry that caused such a fate for record shops?
Well, the advancement of technology and shift to the digital world is probably the main reason for the demise of the recording industry. “The music recording industry was built on a brick-and-mortar distribution model: the record label signed an artist, produced and published an album, and the vinyl was off to the store for purchase by the fans. But today is the day of the digital download,” says Susan Laves.
iTunes turns 10 this year but it has been one source of frustration for the music industry. Gone are the days where people saved up for an album, bought a physical copy and listened to it over and over again. In today’s day and age, iTunes has revolutionized the cheap digital single, so it is hardly necessary for people to invest in an entire album’s worth of songs anymore. After all, don’t we usually just have one or two favourites from every album? In 2012, there were 1.4 billion digital singles sold, dwarfing CD sales by a factor of seven. This phenomenon of buying digital singles was aided by the invention of the iPod. People relished being able to download a song instantly and take it anywhere with them.
More recently, streaming services such as Rhapsody, Spotify and Deezer have made it even less necessary to purchase songs on iTunes. Endless playlists available at one’s fingertips negate the purpose of downloading songs on iTunes, coupled with limited storage on our phones. I, for one, have also migrated to using Spotify. $9.90 a month seems cheaper than buying all the digital singles, and it’s letting me discover more music with their radio and playlist functions. Artists and record labels receive a measly sum of 0.4 cents (USD) per stream of their song, so it is still not particularly viable for the content creators.
However, piracy is no doubt the worse of two evils – filesharing, downloading music illegally, or use programs such as YouTube to mp3 converter to obtain the audio of the songs without having to fork out a single cent. This problem is incredibly difficult to solve due to several reasons – first of all, these listeners don’t mind that the quality isn’t perfect. Also, the risk of being caught is minimal. They are also of the mindset that music and movies etc should be made free, so they see no reason to spend money on it. Piracy is definitely a serious issue which the recording industry faces. If the content creators are not being compensated for their work, it means they cannot continue to do what they do. And this is manifested in so many forms – from the closing down of record labels to record shops.
Despite the recording industry dying, music isn’t! Recording equipment is available at a more affordable price than ever. The cost of producing and distributing music has fallen. This has led to a shift in revenue distribution. While in the past, the big record labels were reaping the majority of the revenues in the recording industry, in today’s environment, the smaller artists are also able to make a decent living, recording, touring, selling merchandise etc. With social media, these smaller artists are able to get their music out to a wider fan base even without the muscles of a million-dollar marketing campaign.
In light of these developments in the music industry, fans now have a wider choice of music to listen to. Gone are the days when they were forced only to listen to the pop music on the radio stations, they now are in charge of their own musical tastes, with no lack of accessible platforms to seek out new music.
So, as songwriters, artists and musicians, we’ve got to think creatively on ways to make money in this new age. Since we are neither record labels nor record shops, the future looks brighter for us if we can tap on the hungry oasis of fans looking for new music. I’d say we should aim to create great music and we will find a ready audience for our music! Then again, whether they’d pay for our music is again the crux of the issue….