Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Sad State of Jazz Album Sales

An article in the Wall Street Journal today speaks about the slump in Jazz sales in 2006. While classical and country music have increased, Jazz sales are slipping away, down from the paltry 3% of all album sales that it used to achieve. Once again, as they say every 5-10 years, "there are signs of rebirth" in the jazz music arena.
But let's take a look at the three albums that the WSJ says are notable new albums:
WYNTON MARSALIS: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary
Well, after a month of release, the newest album from the "King" of retro jazz cannot even muster 10,000 units sold. It used to be a jazz album that sold 50,000 was considered a "hit". Of course, the low sales might stem from the fact that Mr. Marsalis decided to "rap" on one of the cuts, or it could be that people are just tired of his pontificating.
A jazz marketing dream, combining the new-aged ramblings of Pat Metheny with the just plain ramblings of Brad Meldau is bound to trigger album sales, enough that the record company has released this, their second collection. Don Heckman in his recent review of the concert here in LA by the quartet said: "it was easier to admire the virtuosity and inventiveness of both players than it was to feel any sense of involvement. Despite the firepower, the talent and the marquee names on the bill, this was a program in which — unlike Simon's "The Odd Couple" — the two disparate elements never found a fully engaging (and engaged) way to interact with each other."
See the complete review

KIM WATERS: You are My lady
Well, I dunno this guy, but he has put out 9 albums over the last 9 years, FOUR of which include the word "love" in the title (this falls into the "know your market" category of successful marketing). Sad to say, even here in the "smooth jazz" world the heat is off- after three weeks on the market Kim has sold 6,100 copies.

Now, I am not casting aspersions on anyone that can sell over 5000 albums in less than a month. But I do think that the sales of jazz music will continue to slip, as long as people continue to turn out formula-based albums. It is time to break out of the mold. Play the Coachella Music Festival, anyone?

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Genie is still out of the bottle, and EMI rubs the lamp

Today EMI Music announced that they would allow people to buy digital downloads with no copying restrictions. All I can say is, it's about time, don't you think?
Here is the Wall Street Journal article from today.
Having been around since (and an original shareholder - that was a good ride for a while), I always really agreed with Michael Robertson - the record companies let the Genie out of the bottle when they created CDs. Once they released the music in digital form, the bits and bytes get hard to hang on to. And, if the record company was very happy to take our money when we converted the music (vinyl albums) we owned to digital form by purchasing the CDs, shouldn't we have the right to move it from there onto our computer, iPod, Walkman or wherever? Do they have the right to charge us again every time we move it to a different machine or format?
YES, I know the argument that this doesn't solve the problem of people illegally sharing song files or downloading the music without buying it. But suing college kids probably isn't the solution either. If the music has value, people will pay for it - once. If they like it, they will come back for more. And if you give them unfettered access, they are more likely to pay the $1.00 entrance fee, knowing they get to keep the music with them, wherever (and however) they go.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

April 1, '07 - The downfall of record companies, the rebirth of music

April 1st – we have just entered the second quarter of 2007. Amazing.
The newspapers report that CD sales are off 20% from last year. Digital sales are up, but not nearly enough to offset this loss.

The record companies, in the meanwhile, are all setting up Digital record Labels, focused on putting out individual downloads by composers, or from TV shows or movies.

But the bigger question is: who needs the record labels anymore? Actually, while we are at it – who needs radio anymore? We seem to have reached a TIPPING POINT in the music industry, where the idea of buying a $12.00 (or $18.00!) album to get the one song you heard on the radio just makes no sense. Buy the songs you like, pop ‘em into your ipod, and plug it into your car and go cruising – no more ads, no more Cd jewel cases to crack. Makes sense to me!

But what happened to that time of discovery – when you would sit down for 30-40 minutes and get into someone’s audio vision of the world. When not just a song, but a SET of music put together by an artist could carry you to a whole ‘nother world? The ideal is still there – I still want to share that kind of experience with my listeners, and not just a three minute snippet of what I do and who I am. That is why I love jazz – we are in another time zone with it (maybe another place and time). I hope you will still come along with me when the moment appears.

March 1, '07 - Satellite Radio Monopoly?

I was a very early subscriber to XM Radio, and they always have had really great jazz programming (and have the good taste to program my CDs as well!) But then I leased a new Volvo, and the car came with a free 6 month subscription to Sirius Satellite radio, so I switched. It also came with an auxiliary input for my IPod, so the choices instead of ad-based radio are multiplying.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of gripes with Sirius. I find the programming much less interesting than what I had on XM, and it all feels a lot more “robotic”. I know, with 100 stations I didn’t think they really had 100 DJs sitting in booths all day long spinning discs, but at least on XM they found a way to make it at least SOUND like there is a real person there and they care if you are listening. Plus the digital sound files that Sirius uses sound like they are of less quality than what I got on XM, plus there are numerous digital “glitches” in some of the recordings (most people probably don’t notice, but it drives me bonkers). And the signal is less steady than XM, with lots of drop-outs.
So I was all ready to switch back to XM when the free trial ends, but THEN they announce that XM and Sirius want to merge. What is that about? Why would XM radio want to saddle itself with all that debt that Sirius took on by giving Howard Stern $500 million dollars? (Come to think of it, that could pay for a whole lot of DJs on the other stations...). What happened to the good old days when a company is consistently losing money like Sirius is, and they GO OUT OF BUSINESS, instead of being merged with the competition? Oh well, I guess it is the American way, merge and shuffle the numbers to protect the guilty...
Meanwhile, has anyone bought a CD lately? Can you find a store that still sells more than the TOP 30 of what you don’t really want to listen to anyway? Since December after Tower closed, I have purchased all my albums on Itunes, burned them and printed out the cover art – it is simple, fast, and cheaper. The times have changed, and will continue to do so.