Rage Against The Machine

In Aural Robert in the April issue of Stereophile, Amoeba owner David Prinz and I discuss his label, Amoeba Records, and his ongoing program to reissue Gram Parsons live sets. Needless to say however, I also talked with him about the ever more bizarre situation that the record business now finds itself in. As the owner of the biggest and best independent record stores on planet Earth, his opinion carries more than a little weight. Here's a sampling of what he said about the biz and the specter of iTunes.

"I feel like it [the record business] is in really dire straights right now, but it's a spirit that can't be killed and no matter what forces are out there trying to do that, it's not going to work. Everyone has music that matters to them and no matter what, there's going to be a way that people get spiritual nourishment from music that's for sure.

"Right now, it's looking bad, I don't see how new artists can break anymore. I'm trying and it's impossible."

"Maybe what we need to get out of is this rigidity and control that people who don't really care about music have been exercising over people who do."

"I feel we're close to a major shift in the way people get music, listen to music and appreciate music."

He say he's working on a download site that replicates the experience customers have shopping at his stores—which for me would be something akin to getting high on retail—although that seems like a very tall order considering the hold that iTunes now has over the business.

"There's no question iTunes cannibalizes the business.

"When iTunes first started out and was doing about one percent of the music business, the CD business was down five percent, so they said we're only down four percent because iTunes is making up one of those points. Okay, good.

"Then when iTunes was two percent they were down seven percent. So they think, `Oh, we’re not [down] seven, we're down five.' Then when iTunes was three percent, they were down nine percent. Every time iTunes takes a point they lose two. Right now, iTunes is about five percent and they're down fifteen percent.

"There has to be answer for the industry that doesn't do that; that's more of an album oriented sales philosophy than a singles oriented sales philosophy."

Although he's full of optimism (he has to be), he's clearly aware that in some ways, he's already the last man standing.

"I hope there's plenty more answers. I don’t want to be the only person out there. That's too much pressure."

Chris Wall's picture

I like to think that some artists exist for whom the constraint of a 3 or 4 minute pop song is not enough to express an artistic vision. Even though most albums out there are not, at least overtly, a concerted work, there is something that draws them together in a collection.Experiencing that collection as a whole is something that keeps me buying CDs. Well, that and the whole sampling rate issue.

adam's picture

I have no doubt that when a truly original music talent emerges in this new era, we'll forget about the troublesome transition and just start looking forward to new releases in any form again. The problem right now for the music industry is that the music generally sucks.

katryan's picture

There are other options than just getting your music in a compressed format from iTunes. Music lovers can stay passionate about their favorite musicians and still get high quality digital files from sites like MusicGiants.com. In it's exclsuive Super HD catalog (as in 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound, full albums are what is available. When the sound is that good, a fan should want the whole album.

jim.voz's picture

"There's no question iTunes cannibalizes the business."I disagree,I've yet to find friend, family member, work associate who has yet downloaded music from iTunes in fact I was given a gift certificate for free downloads and gave it to my coworker's 10 year old daughter. Is it possible that our iPOD's are full of our own ripped music collection that we don't have the time nor the desire to invest into new music because we've yet to get through our current collection as we revisit older tunes.