Prince or Penne
While this is a tenuous connnection lemme give it whirl. This splintering effect, in a less menacing form, and driven by the sensory overload and ever increasing speed of everyday life, is the really the answer to the what's happened to the music business. Where there was one, there are now many. Want proof? Let’s look at the current Top 200 Album chart in Billboard. Here are the top 10 artists in order, one to ten: Kanye West, 50 Cent, Kenny Chesney, soundtrack to High School Musical 2, Hannah Montana 2 (soundtrack), Fergie, Nickelback, Colbie Caillet, the various artists Now 25 compilation and finally, coming in at number ten, new restaurateur, Justin Timberlake. And speaking of Timberlake and his former squeeze, let me add my two cents to the furor surrounding this troubled former Mouseketeer: it looked like booze to me. Remember that despite appearances, Frank and Dean often drank apple juice onstage. Booze and dance routines just do not mix.
By the way, Timberlake's got a new New York restaurant, Southern Hospitality, that's clearly geared to cater to the older edge of the crowd that buys his records. As a lifelong devotee of bad southern cooking (and by that I really mean good), I visited this greasy romper room. Everything in the joint is deep fried, and the bar in there is so loud, full of plasma TVs (the new bling) and Coyote Ugly-like J-Lo wannabes dancing on the bar that the ambiance is reminiscent of dining at a picnic table in the Port Authority-at-5 pm on Friday. But back to the list.
It's no surprise that every one of those records is aimed at kids, teenagers with disposable income. So the downloading and CD buying audiences are one and the same? Interesting. Even more intriguing, comical some might say, is the fact that Kanye West (enough on the whining) and Fiddy Cent are arguing over sales figures that are both below a million. Who cares? The real decline of the business can be measured by the fact that they are selling less records to a world where the population has increased significantly since even Thriller was released. Less records to more people. Course they'd say that was the scourge of downloads cutting into their business… but that's another story.
But to most other people who are either over 21 or addicted to music with a slightly more adult tinge, the music business of the Top 200 is completely disconnected from their reality. Or they relate to just a piece of it. Is Justin Timberlake ever gonna get a serious review in Stereophile? Very doubtful though in a staff ridden with guilty musical pleasures, let me just mention one act, The Carpenters, you never know.
My point is that while the business looks to be a general malaise, within many of the splinters there is health among listeners. Perhaps not like it was during the glory days of the record business, before computers instead of record players became the leisure activity of choice, but still healthier than you may have been led to believe. You may have never heard of Fergie but you know who's who in the blues world. Fans of classical music are as close sociologically to Kanye as they are to the NHL. In jazz the separation happens within a single genre. The reissue fanatics who prowl dusty little holes or megastores or megasites looking for the next batch of Van Gelder reissues they know are due to come this Tuesday have nothing to do with Chris Potter or worse yet, smooth jazz. The variety of forms that you can obtain music in and on these days has also stoked the focused obsessiveness of anyone absorbed in music. Ariel, our intrepid intern, a young man enamored of the rococo charms of Rush who I introduced to the pleasures of Philly Soul…ah, that sounded a little pink pussycatesque, let me try again. Who I turned on to…no, no, who learned about the music of Gamble and Huff through me, better, is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. He's a downloader, a CD ripper and a CD buyer. When he gets interested in a performer, he's off doing all three.
Conclusions? Yeah the biz is a mess and a long way from making any sense again but instead of incessant complaining in this blog, I'm finally saying something positive. Seeing light at…no, I won't use that particularly unfortunate clich, but you get the idea. It all ain't lost yet.
As a coda, I just spoke with a friend here in New York who closed his record store and has decided to go into the restaurant business. So opening an Italian restaurant in New York, where there happen to be 10,000 already, is easier than record retailing? I guess everybody’s gotta eat.