May 2003

The Kids Are Alright
Learning from the next generation

Who's really going to determine the future of the music industry?


by Paul D. Lehrman

The following is an unedited (more or less) transcript of the interviews I did with a number of young people about their music listening habits and tastes, and their take on what the music industry can be doing to help itself in the face of online distribution and piracy. Also included is my original, somewhat longer, introduction.

My literary career started more or less in high school, when I specialized in incendiary articles for the school paper about then-fashionable topics like war, racism, drugs, and music (gee, not much has changed in 30-odd years...). One day I wrote a particularly outrageous satirical piece, and asked the editors to use a pseudonym in the byline. They hesitated, but then I assured them that if anyone asked who actually wrote the piece, they were free to disclose my true identity.

The article caused a huge uproar. Letters were written to the local newspapers, meetings were held, committees were formed, parents got upset. The article contained not a single grain of truth, but that didn't stop anyone from overreacting to it. Grave statements were made by administrators about how "the author" came by such damaging knowledge. But nobody ever bothered to ask any of us who the author actually was, or what the article was really about. The tempest boiled for months, wasting lots of breath, time, and even money, before it gradually faded away, having accomplished, of course, nothing, except making a lot of people look very foolish.

Which sort of reminds me of what's going on in the record industry these days. Sales are down, and listeners are downloading music. But outside of that, despite the hot air, apocalyptic predictions, and high-toned moral judgements being tossed around around, but no one seems to really know what's going on.

Maybe it's because no one has asked the people who are really going to decide the future of the music business: the kids. The 18-25 demographic is a crucial one for any market, but especially for entertainment. Young people are forming the tastes and preferences that will rule their buying habits for the rest of their lives. I see lots of efforts being made by media companies to influence their tastes, not only through traditional multimedia ad campaigns, but also through through guerilla marketing techniques like finding the "coolest' kids in a crowd and buying their sway over others. But i don't see much effort in finding out what normal teenagers and young adults really think. So I asked. And I got some really interesting answers and insights.

I talked to seven young people, four men and three women, aged 20 to 22.. Six are in college, one is a high-school dropout. They come from all over the country. Some are looking to pursue a career in music, others are just enthusaistic listeners. They all have two things in common: they are highly articulate when it comes to talking about music, and they think the major record companies and media outlets are doing a miserable job of providing them with the music they want to hear. I won't pretend that this is any kind of scientific sampling–these are students at my school, students of friends, and friends of friends– but that doesn't mean that what these kids have to say is any less valid. We need to listen to the, because, like it or not, our future depends on them.

The participants (not their real names):

Terri: from Texas, in her last year of college as a music industry major, and looking to have a career in music marketing. She plays the piano "for my own amusement."

Christopher: from Los Angeles, graduating this year with a degree in electrical engineering. He has also seriously studied songwriting, and plays in a band.

Amelia: from New York, a psychology major. She plans to go to law school after college.

Rob: from Pennsylvania, majoring in biomedical engineering. He's also a singer, and works with a semi-professional a cappella group.

Wayne: from Tennessee. He didn't finish high school, and now works with cars. Many of his friends are going to music school, and his stepfather is a successful studio session player.

Anna: from Chicago, an environmental engineering major, also very interested in cultural anthropology and ethnomusicology.

Eric: from Massachusetts, enrolled in a music industry program, plays bass in a band "for fun." He's the only one in the group who's married.

Insider: Where do you get the music you listen to from? Do you pay for it or get it free?

Christopher: Lately I’ve been downloading a lot, and my housemate has a very large commercial and burned CD collection so I just borrow CDs from her. Someone will say, you have to check out this song, or this entire album, and either they give me the album, or they burn it for me, or I download as many tracks as I can.

Rob: The music I listen to regularly is off of CDs, but it has a lot to do not only with my interest in the music, but also the convenience of it. When I'm at my computer or when I'm traveling, I listen to mp3s downloaded from one of the P2P services. Sometimes when I’m going on a long trip, instead of waiting to rip all my CDs to MP3, it’s often just faster to download it and burn it directly onto an MP3 CD, so you don’t have to do all that compression stuff.But if the computer's off, I pop in a CD. About half of the music I listen to is downloaded.

Amelia: I usually buy cd's burn them from other friends, download music and also listen to the radio. I download more than anything. I used to get CDs a long time ago, and I still do get them if there’s an artist that I’ve liked for a long time and they come out with a new CD. But if it’s just one track I like, I download the song, burn it onto a CD, and tweak it on the computer. I pay for maybe 30% of what I listen to.

Anna: I don’t download anymore, since Napster shut down, and I don’t listen to the radio, since I’m not from around here so I don’t know the radio stations. More used than new, but both. There is nothing I enjoy more than buying used CD's. I would much rather spend my money on a CD than clothes, and nothing makes my day like a cheap cd.

Eric: When Napster was getting put down, and Metallica and stuff were making so much noise, I thought a lot of the bands were crybabies, so I stopped listening to a lot of the mainstream stuff. A lot of the local bands I just know, so they give me their CDs. They just give them away for promotion, to get their sound out. I haven't bought a CD in a long time. The Grateful Dead have a lot of sites where you can download their live shows for free. It's not like it's illegal, because they post them. I download them as SHNs, and burn them onto audio CDs. The Grateful Dead shows are too long for MP3s. I don't have an MP3 player in my car. I don't really use Kazaa much any more. I used to, every once in a while, but I go through newsgroups now. You get the whole CD, you don't just pick and choose one song, that might be that song, or it might not be.

Wayne: I don't buy new music -- mostly. I used to work at Tower, so I try to go to Tower, but along with everybody else it's too damn expensive.

Terri: I listen to the radio when I know a station that's good. I haven't found a good station up here. Radio gets old, bland. Pretty much on the Internet, Kazaa. I have listened to Internet radio, and I was surprised that it sounded so clear. I just listen on my computer, I don't have a CD burner. I don't buy many CDs. The last time was a few months ago, for a gift.

Do CDs cost too much? What would you consider a fair price for a CD?

Christopher: Under nine dollars.

Anna: for used CDs about 7.99, 8.99, new ones I try not to buy them over $14.

Rob: Sub $10, unless it’s a new release and I’m really into the band, then I’ll pay $16, $17. There have been times when I was going to the CD store to get one $17 disk, and then I end up not buying that, but spend $20 on two disks that were much less.

Eric: I think a lot of labels are putting out their older discs at cheaper prices so they can say, "this is our average price for a CD, it's $14.99". When in reality, everything that's out there that's new is $18.99.

Wayne: You pay $20 and there would be two good songs on it. You get home and you're pissed off that you bought it. Go to used stores mostly for vinyl. It sounds better to me than CDs, depending on my mood.

Terri: Well, for the price of a CD I can eat for a week. I'd pay nine or ten dollars. You can find those, but it's usually used CD stores, or some that are really old, that I don't want to listen to.
It has to do with the economy and people need to re-evaluate what's expendable and what they need to save for the future. There's a little more fear, I think.

Eric: I honestly don't feel that going out and buying a CD is worth it now. They came out in 1983 and they really haven't changed that much. Any other company that would still have the same product for 20 years wouldn't be in business, without upgrading their product a substantial amount. Like the DVD, or some other material that goes along with it. to not really change a product for 20 years and expect epople to pay the same price as they did when it first came out, is kind of absurd in my eyes. The CD is just, like, WAVE, there's just one product, there's nothing else to pick and choose from. It's saying that we own 80% of the market, and we can do anything we want. This is the product, you buy it. And it came to a point where, we don't have a say in it anymore?

Are you happy with the sound quality of the music you download?

Wayne: I don't really hear the difference between the MP3's I download, and a CD I bought in a store. On the vinyl, the ranges are bigger, instead of a flat sound, it's more spread out, more of a live feel. It does sound better.

Rob: I’ve downloaded enough now to hear the difference. I used to think that MP3s sounded good, and I do think they sound good, but when I started getting MP3s and then the CDs, I’d hear all this other stuff. Some stuff is pretty subtle. The quality for me with MP3s, especially if it’s a really carefully made album, with really good engineering, it’s just not worth it to like that band and throw it to an MP3. I’d rather just listen to the original.
Napster seemed to have a lot more high-quality or high bitrate MP3s than Kazaa does for some reason. When it gets pretty objectionable, I’ll go out and get a CD.
When I initially find out about a new artist, I typically copy/rip a CD or download mp3's from P2P. The funny thing is, the more I listen to an MP3 of an artist (and the more I've listened to MP3s in general), the more I notice little compression artifacts like poor stereo separation or what I would describe as a smearing of sound on higher frequency content like hi-hats. So, I'll typically go out and buy the album, turn off the PC, and listen to the disc with headphones.
If I'm listening to downloaded MP3s of an artist that I really like, chances are good that I also have a purchased copy of the content.

Amelia: Sometimes you get bad ones. We’ll download it and say to each other, "Wait a minute--does that sound right to you?" And then we’ll just find another version that’s better. We just do it by ear. You can tell. Sometimes there’s a difference between the better MP3s and the CDs, but not really. I’ll download a song, and then I’ll listen to a friend’s CD, and it’s "well, same thing to me."

Chris: I remember the first song I downloaded back in high school, and I thought it sounded unbelievable. I was amazed this could be a 3-megabyte file, instead of 80 megs. Now I’ll sometimes forget it’s compressed, and I’ll listen to a song, and I’ll think this band is great, but the sonic quality isn’t very good, and then I’ll think, oh, MP3. Maybe the CD version is really good. But I’m listening on eMac speakers, so it doesn’t really come into play.

Terri: The audio quality on the downloaded stuff is fine. I have a pretty good speaker system, so it's not like wimpy computer sound, and that makes up for any lack in quality. I don't really notice a difference betweeen when I play CDs and when I download stuff.

Eric: I don't think there's much of a difference. A lot of programs out there can convert MP3s into WAV files, and that creates a clearer sound. It's pretty much a notch below the quality you're getting from a CD.

What happens when you leave school, and you're not given a broadband connection for free any more?

Chris: I become much more frugal in what I listen to. I spend a lot more time listening to the CDs I already have.

Terri: I can't imagine not spending the money for a somewhat speedy Internet. That would drive me insane. You want to use it for Internet anyway, so the music is a bonus.

Rob: I would probably not have had nearly as diverse music tastes. Over the past few years, I've switched back and forth between a high-speed connection and a modem, and my musical interests have expanded at a more rapid rate when I have had access to a broadband connection.

What do you think of the music that's being produced by the major labels?

Eric: I feel this is kind of a good thing that's happening to the major labels, that this is coming about. They're going to have to realize that they'll have to rely more on their employees being the band. There are a lot of pop stars that make a lot of money, but there are also a lot of bands out there that are suing the companies they're contracted with. You hear the RIAA complaining that people are stealing music, that they're not paying for it, but then you see their employees, like Incubus, trying to sue Sony to get out of their contract, because they're not getting as much money as they should be, because it's not being split in a fair way. That goes along with a lot of peoples' feeling toward the industry. You're pretty much screwing the bands that we like, so you can keep more of the money, so why don't we, as consumers, do the same to you. The industry needs to realize that they need to treat the band, the product they're promoting, better.

Terri: It seems like so much publicity has been geared towards the industry, that unless they drastically change the way they're working, their efficiency and the way the treat their artists, people are still going to just think, screw 'em. So many more people are aware of what is going on, that there's going to have to be a change.

Wayne: The music hasn't been so bad -- it's good. But I don't know where they get these singers, they're whining and pissing and moaning about nothing. They're writing about the same shit that everyone's been whining about for so long. They sound like they're getting their asskicked while they're trying to sing. I won't buy that. That's why ewveryboidy I know hasn't bought any newCDs in a long time. It's for lack of a better word propoganda. You flood everybody with something more and more, and after a while you think you like it. People are going to have to start thinking for themselves. I think a lot of it now is just stupid. Hopefully when we mature, these problems will take care of themselves. We're just running around like a chicken with its head cut off looking for the right clique. People think when they buy a CD they're geting a life.

How do you hear about new artists? Can the record labels do more to get you to listen to new artists?

Eric: On a DVD you have coming attractions for stuff that's the same genre. You could do that on a CD or on the Web. These guys are coming out with a new record, and you'll be interested in it. If the labels could figure out a way to get together with Kazaa, so that when you type in a band you like, a popup comes up for a different band.

Amelia: Usually I get recommendations from my friends who taste I like, or I see a new artist on television. When artists first come out, you’ll hear them on the radio or see them on TV, or there’s an article in the paper.

Terri: How are you going to reach people? What are people really doing? I think radio is never going to go away, but as a way of pushing new people, I think it's going out. Maybe commercials on TV, kids are sitting and watching TV. Or doing popups on the Internet. Whatever they connect to, different things will pop up that will let you to listen to something for ten seconds and see if you like them. You'd buy a word in a search engine, and when someone looks for it, it shows all the new people in that genre and what they're doing, and you can listen to a little snippet of it.
Isn't that how you grow a fan base? By familiarizing a person with a band. So that would personalize it to the listener, to be more familiar and connect with the band. That would be a marketing ploy for them to keep buying.

Chris: I like to look at lists: a customer bought this one, he also bought these. Go to that, listen to the samples, hey, that’s not bad. Read some of the editorial reviews: this CD was at the top ofthe indie rock charts in 1994, and they were a really influential band and this should be in your collection. Okay, so I go out and I get that. From email lists I get announcements about different shows, or people open up for other people, you get into them there.

One of the main things I do when I’m on the P2P networks is I search for a particular song. I find a connection that’s fast, and the guy has six of the songs by the band I want. So I listen to more songs. So I discover a band, and I download that. The other day I discovered the Doves, and they’re really good musicians, and I started reading about how Bryan Adams want to use them as a back-up band, so next time I’m in a record store, I’m going to see if they have the Doves album.

Rob: I’ll read articles about the bands that I like, and if I read in an article of another band that’s one of their influences, or is like them, I’ll go and check them out. A lot of times it’s then going onto the point to point software, and checking out what’s there for download.

Eric: if the industry got together with, say, Kazaa, and try to figure out a way -- they give away so many CDs to radio stations, there are 22 million Kazaa users in the US. If they could figure out a way to get together, when they type in a band that they like on Kazaa, a popup comes up for a different band.

Can radio help. or is it a lost cause?

Terri: People are in their cars and travelling, and they want to listen to music, so it's never going to go away, but as far as pushing new things on the radio, like, up here I never listen to the radio, so pushing something new for me would do absolutely nothing.

Eric: I don't think XM and satellite radio are going to do that much, because people aren't willing to pay for a CD right now, never mind a fee every month for a radio station. They do offer a lot, but how do you get 10-15 dollars a month out of seomone's pocket when they can listen for free. Yes, they have to listen to the commercials and stuff, but I feel like everyday radio now, they need to push new stuff. the industry has to do more with radio stations. I don't feel like the radio stations are doing this now. I don't think Clear Channel is doing a very good job. You don't hear a lot of new music promoting on it.

Wayne: I turn on the radio and immediately turn it off. I'll go to the oldies station or the classic rock station in hopes that they'll play Zeppelin. Radio's dead. It's like a busted wheel. It's paid advertisements for crap. I listen to the music channels on cable. You hear some good stuff every now and then..

Does downloading help or hurt the music industry?

Eric: I feel like it helps. For people to see a band that they really like start to flourish, and make it, and go places, instead of hassling with the record labels, that would be a better feeling. I think that the industry is going to have to rely on the live shows. They're going to have to get a cut of that. They're going to have to depend more on their acts than they have in the past.

Amelia: I haven’t been to a concert in so long. I haven’t had the time. And most of the artists I’d like to see, either they’re horrible performers, so why should I spend money on that? I might as well just turn on HBO and wait for them to come there.

Wayne: I don't think it's bad to download. They fucked us for so long, I don't feel bad for them. Me and my friends are trying to find a solution, but there isn't one right now. Everyone's split on it -- everyone wants it for free, and the music industry wants to keep on gouging us. We just all have to grow up.
I went out and bought a Lamb CD, the CD came out in 1995, and it was $21.99 at Tower. I bought it. I support the artists that I like, if Tool put out a CD I wouldn't download it, I would buy it. But if there's one song on there I like, I'm not going to buy it. If CDs were ten bucks I would be more inclined to buy somebody else's stuff. If they would regulate it, so they couldn't gouge us any more, I would buy more people's music. And you just can't beat the convenience of downloading. You don't have to go anywhere. You don't even have to go to Blockbuster--you can start downloading a movie in the morning and watch it when you get home at night.

Chris: I’m a big proponent of performance royalties. I think that bands should exploit that as much as possible, make Muzak versions of songs, try to get them to play in Gaps -- it’s just a check that comes in from the Gap Corporation. It’s how I would be making a living if I were a musician. It’s hard to get your CD sales to such a grand scale that everyone gets paid for it: the record company, the artist, the producer, the engineer. You do it more independently, the artist, the producer and the engineer end up getting the money from the album sales. If I’m going to be an artist or musician, you don’t really have a choice. If you don’t do it every day, you’re going to feel ill about it. So get that nine-to-five, that gives you free time and doesn’t take too much energy so you still have creative potential when you come home. You’re going to be making the music anyway. Whether people listen to me or not, I’m still going to be recording, still going to be writing. It would be nice if that’s all I had to do to be financially stable, but the way things are now, there are so many commercial filtering systems that I have to go through to be heard, that it seems impossible. So maybe for the really independent stuff that doesn’t have mainstream commercial viability, maybe you shouldn’t be expecting that huge record advance or distribution deal, or your soundtrack or Gap commercial. If you’re good, you’re good, and you’re going to make a living doing it. The first artist that comes to mind is Ani diFranco. She started her own independent label, and she’s very successful. Her fans are really loyal, and she sells out every show she does. I think more major artists look up to her -- I saw an interview with Dave Matthews in which he says he really admires what she’s done, and wishes he could have done that, if he could do it all over again. If you’ve got it, you’ve got it. In the mainstream world, I know it has a lot to do with image, but when you’re in the independent world, image is less important. I think one of the reasons why Ani is so successful is because of her image -- as a big picture she just works.

Are there advantages to having a CD versus downloading an alubm?

Amelia: The booklet. I read a lot about artists, so the booklet has pictures, and credits, and thank yous. And nowadays a lot of songs are samples, with every song they tell you who they sampled from, so you can go and listen to the original that links you into the type of music that you can listen to also. And also lyrics, if you want to know the words of the song. And for me, I have all my discs together in a little zipper container, and I arrange it so I have the covers outside and the CDs inside, which looks kind of nice.

Rob: I have a couple of friends who have record collections, and it’s really satisfying for them to go over to the shelf and take out a record and put it on the turntable and put the needle on. And for me, the same thing goes for CDs. Go to the rack, take out the CD, put it in the player. And you’re notjust hearing one song by the artists, but you’re hearing the entire picture of what the artist has to present. With some CDs the tracks lead into one another, and there’s no gap between them, that’s preserved. And I’ve never seen that with MP3, except I got an MP3 once that was an entire album, but that’s really inconvenient because you can’t access the tracks. There’s no indexing. But I like to take the CD off the shelf, and listen to everything the artist has to say to you, straight through. My CD player has this thing that remembers what CD you have in there, and lets you skip certain tracks, and I used to use that for songs I didn’t like, but then I realized that I didn’t like using it. I’d much rather have a more holistic insight into what they’re trying to say.
I think with a lot of artists nowadays, and since the ‘60s, when you’re buying a CD you’re not just buying the song, you’re buying what they stand for, or their ideology in some respect. A lot of the songs of the ‘60s. like psychedelic music, I wouldn’t call musically very interesting, in the strictest analytical music sense, but I enjoy listening to it. It might have been very popular primarily because of what it stood for. I think that there’s a whole debate over why you should like music, and I can’t answer that, but a lot of people still follow that. Eminem is wildly successful primarily I think because of the shock value, and that’s something that goes along with the music. With popular music, different artists are grouped together who stand for the same ideology. And that’s generally a pretty positive ideology, and I think that may be why people like it. Because it’s up. For that part of the industry to be successful, it has to market that more. And I think they have been, more than the music. They use auto-tuning all over the place on voices now, and people don’t care. But if you listen to Aphex Twin, I don’t even know what his ideology is. It’s just this weird electronic music, that I sometimes enjoy listening to just for musical reasons.

What would get you to spend more money on recorded music?

Rob: If there were more albums by bands I liked. One thing that would definitely make me spend more on music is that if there were extra content, I would pay for it. One thing that comes to mind, which I personally would find interesting, would be if they could give you more than two tracks, so you could mix it yourself. If there were a band I liked, I would have no trouble spending $50 on a disc that had a lot of tracks I could do that with. That would be really cool. I would play with that to no end.
It would be cool if they did a "making of the CD" like they do on DVDs. Everything’s very processed on the CD, and I’ve downloaded some things which have outtakes from CDs, and they’re pretty cool. You can hear them talking at the beginning. It would be good if they didn’t clip them so tightly, and you could hear more of the personality of the artist.
One thing that would certainly deter me from purchasing CD's would be the addition of excessive watermarking to copyrighted recordings. If there's something on a track that has the potential to color the sound of the recording, I feel like I'm better off downloading a high-bitrate MP3 than paying for the CD.

Eric: The industry needs to put other materials in with the CD and then they can charge 15 bucks for the disc. I would suggest three different things. One is tab music. You see all the commercials on TV for "music makes you smarter", that's a booming industry right now, and I feel to go along with that, you put tab music in there, so that everyone as a whole would know how to play it -- not like music notation. So one day you can buy a band's CD and you can learn their songs right off the bat. I know that you can go to tab sites and download, but this is kind of like all-in-one shopping. I think a lot of people go through stages where they want to pick up a guitar and learn how to play, and they never really end up playing, but try to learn a couple of songs.
Two, when they came out with PC-enabled CDs, with interviews with the band, I thought that was a great idea. They should put that on every disc, instead of one in a hundred. Like a DVD. You look at TV and the Osbournes, and it's like the greatest show on television right now. To go along with that, industry should make a behind-the-scenes about producing the CD, to see what the band's doing. This is why they took a year to do it in the studio, and this is how they wrote the song and this is how it came about. People would start buying stuff like that for 15 or 16 bucks. I think if they started charging $20 something, that would just be out of range.
One thing I was thinking about with the DVDs, is the coming attractions on the disc itself...the industry can set it up to show they really care about the consumer. To attract them to their Website, you play the freeware that they provide. You come to their site, so they can promote more stuff. You download the freeware so you can watch the DVD on your computer. It makes more sense. We're giving this to you. This is our gift to you when you buy the CD. You come to our site, and we promote other bands so you can check 'em out, and maybe buy their CD or DVD.

Wayne: If it's quality music, I'll support the band. If I like it, I'm more inclined to buy it, to show support. If seomthing is out just because it's trendy, I'm not going to spend money on it, I'm just going to download it. Whoever Rolling Stone is the god of rock and roll and is saving rock and roll now, it's just not it for me. To me that stuff is just as bad as the Backstreet Boys. They go in to the studio and saay this is what we want to do, and the label says it's going to be this way, and that's the way you do it. It's just being a whore.

Amelia: I can’t think of any reason to spend more money on music. If there were better artists, more artists that I liked, I would buy their CDs. I would download it first, of course, but then I’d go out and buy it. But there are so few that I like.

Chris: CDs under nine bucks. If they’re under ten bucks, they would be 9.99, but you say under 9 bucks, and they’re going to be 8.99. Avril Lavigne did a CD for 7-8 dollars, and they sold 4 million of them. I think seven, eight, nine dollars is a decent price to spend on music. So I’d buy more CDs, even to the point that the dollars I was spending would increase from my total budget.

Terri: I think they should cut back on all the people they're paying. Marketing is a big thing, they should keep that department, but it seems like they pay a lot of people to do, what exactly? (laugh) They need to have the musician...why do you need executives, legislative executives? why? They need the musician, the manager, maybe; it seems a lot of bands need a business manager and that can pretty much be it. The people that are marketing them, and that's all. they don't need hundreds of people, not with the Internet, and fax, and the telephone. They don't people in that mass. I think that would cut out a lot of the money that they're having to spend, and that would be a little more fair towards who's doing the work and who deserves it.

Then are the record companies necessary?

Eric: They are to an extent for being able to market a name nationally or worldwide. But that's pretty much all they're good for..

Terri: If you have an image to support something, like Rogers & Hammerstein songs...If people hear that there's support by somebody for this act, they tend to connect that with, "oh that must be good." If they can fix their image so that it's seen as a good thing that they know music and they know how to support it, then they're needed.
Bands can sell CDs off the stage, or on an Internet site. If I hear a recommendation of a band by a friend who likes them, I'm ten times more likely to listen to them then if it's just sitting in a store somewhere. I don't just go and look at random CDs in a store. I go there for a reason.

So you're giving meaning back to the brand.

Eric: Exactly.

Terri: I think if one of the major five labels, it might be a little scary for them, but i think if they were to just step out from that whole circle of monopoly, and say, you know what, we're a good company, we're going to treat our artists right and we're going to do reparations or something, and this is what our name stands for. I think more people are going to honor and respect that. And in turn they'll get more artists and consumers that way.

Eric: I think the RIAA is going about it in totally the wrong way.

Terri: It's a slap in the face.

Eric: Exactly. It's like, no you can't do this, this is illegal. If you keep saying that, more and more people are going to download it. Just to piss them off more. Looking around at sites like that, there are so many out there that say "Boycott RIAA" ir "RIAA sucks." The more they get involved to represent all these companies, the worse the companies look.

Terri: They're too old. They're too far behind the times.

Eric: They're trying to represent themselves as promoting new ideas, when really, they have none.

Terri: They're not promoting to the right demographic.

Eric: The scariest part for them is that they can't point a finger at anyone. They can't say, the guy on the street corner, he's downloading the most. This business exec, he's downloading the most. It's everybody. They should realize that and just go ahead with what the consumer is screaming at them for. The new numbers for downloading are showing that what they're doing is not working.
If they got their hands on it when it first came out, they could have done anything. There would have been infinite possibilities. But they let it grow too big for them to hop on it now.
The thing that really shows me how badly they're doing is this new "kidpop": reissuing their old catalog for kids, so that the baby-boomer parents will buy it.

Rob: I think that things have to change. As negative and depressing as that is, I think that some parts of the industry are just not going to be around much longer. My dad told me there was a place near where he grew up that made stagecoaches. Even in the age of cars, that’s all they made. And they were around even up until my dad’s lifetime. They were this completely stubborn company, that’s all they made. Of course they went out of business. If someone wants to make money in the record industry, and the industry’s changing, it doesn’t make sense for someone to stay and do what they’ve always been doing.

Chris: My grandfather was a studio musician. Back then he would play in the background ensembles in movies, when they’d come out and dance. That job isn’t there any more. You can’t do that.

Should the record labels set up their own downloading networks?

Rob: I wouldn’t pay to download an MP3. I think that what they should do to make people buy CDs should be what they did with VHS, or at least what I read they did. Originally VHS players were just for people to tape off their TV. But then the studios went out and saturated the market and made VHS tapes of everything they had, movies and all kinds of stuff. If the record companies would just saturate the MP3 market with free or very easily duplicatable copies of the songs set at, like, 96 kilobit or some really low quality, I think that people would download it and notice the difference in quality. People who are really interested in an artist and hear a really bad quality MP3 floating around, they would go out and buy the CD. If there were plenty of really bad-quality MP3s floating around, I don’t think people would bother making really nice encodings of them.

Anna: I personally don’t like having to have your computer on all the time if you want to listen to music. I think that if a record company’s really looking to make money for an artist, I don’t think selling MP3 singles on the Web is going to do it. I think their main objective should be to gain loyal fans, who are going to be fans of the artist, not the single track. That’s why I prefer CDs, because you see more of the depth of the artist when you listen to more of the songs. If they’re looking to have a solid fan base, the way to do it is to sell the artist, not the single.

Eric: if the industry got together with, say, Kazaa, and try to figure out a way -there are 22 million Kazaa users in the US. Maybe the wouldn't post the featured song on the CD. Or maybe they'd put up just one song, not the whole disc. They might want to try to set up a network through a label, instead of through Sherman Networks. But not like Pressplay. With Pressplay you pay ten bucks a month, and then when you download a song it's a dollar. That's crap -- it ends up being more than you would pay for the CD if you went out and bought it. I don't even understand why they came out with that.

Terri: They could offer something more than just the music from the site. Like a drawing: win Dave Matthews tickets, or go backstage, or meet the press, something that's going to attract people who say, "Wow, I might be able to do this extra thing and get involved."

Copyright ©2003 by Paul D. Lehrman