Tonight we learnt that HMV, a mainstay of the UK high street has gone into administration. I am not someone who usually takes an interest in business, and I try as much as possible to steer clear of economics, because I know very little on the subject. This one has actually filled me with sorrow and raised my blood pressure in the process.
I am sad partly because it means I cannot just browse the shelves and pick up a CD, DVD or video game on a whim anymore. Remember that feeling you used to get after buying something new and the anguish of having to wait half an hour before you could get home, rip off the cellophane, get a whiff of that ‘new thing’ smell and stick in in the appropriate device? The next generation will never have that if HMV goes under.
Whilst I recognise that HMV led to the downfall of the independent record store, the fact that it is now on the brink itself represents a far bigger tragedy. The internet has finally succeeded in ruining music. In recent years, the lack of interest in physical copies of records has helped destroy the concept of the ‘album’. This has been enforced by the internet’s constant reminder that music should come in 3 minute, instantly downloaded, 79p (or free if you know where to look), streaming, easily digestible chunks. People only release albums so that they can later re-release it with 3 extra tracks tacked on the back of it, each featuring Nicki Minaj, Kanye West or Skrillex remixes. We live in a world obsessed with fast food, and whoever calls the shots in the music business has decided that music needs to go the way of the hamburger. When was the last time somebody released a concept album, or an album that contained 4 tracks, each clocking in at ten minutes long? If you did that now iTunes would laugh at you all the way to the bank as they paid you about 90p.
The internet was the death knell for the record store, where people could discover something new or something old and obscure without having it forced down their throats. I understand that HMV didn’t exactly help, but the fall of HMV marks the end of the final stand of the high street record store, and that is a very sad thing indeed. The internet is the only option.
We are now hapless to the designs of Apple, Amazon and the other faceless online conglomerates. Before you accuse me of being anti-capitalist or anti-consumerist; I have no qualms with these companies making money. I have a problem with the way they devalue art. People forget that music is an art form. Commercialisation of music has got progressively worse since the 1950s, but we’ve always had the option of ignoring the promotions thrust before our eyes of who they want us to buy, and just picking up a record and saying ‘cool, only David Byrne would think of putting that on an album cover’.
Of course, people still have a choice. Independent artists actually have a lot more exposure due to things like Soundcloud and Youtube. There is potential there. The problem is, the executives know this too. That’s why they’ve bought out these sites.That’s why the biggest videos on there are childish showers of faecal matter like ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘Baby’ by the iTunes poster-child, Justin Bieber. They’ve found ways to manipulate everything.
I love pop music. I’m not afraid to say that I am a sucker for a catchy hook as much as the next person. I don’t only own albums of one genre or one era, or only listen to music that failed to reach the top 40. There has always been commercial pop music. But now, it is not even written for the passion of music. It is written purely as a means to an end; the almighty dollar. It speaks volumes that the biggest paid ‘musician’ of 2012 was Dr Dre. How did he make his money? I don’t remember him finally dropping the follow-up to ‘2001’. He made his money by endorsing headphones. Where is the real music? It’s out there, but it’s becoming harder and harder to find.
Sure, we have social media for people to use to promote their bands but all the internet has really done is make it easy to steal people’s work. Why should artists bust a gut to make a great piece of music when it just gets put on a torrent site somewhere or buried under all the crap that Apple wants us to buy?
People may call me old-fashioned, but it is no coincidence that album and single sales have deteriorated rapidly since the advent of the online music retailer. The online music retailer that only cares to line its own pockets, rather than promote or pay the artist. Tonight, the music industry was dealt a massive blow. I don’t propose to know the solution, but somebody is going to have to rethink the way music is distributed digitally if we are ever going to restore some pride to the lost art of music.
I’m off to smell some vinyl.