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How the crash will reshape the music industry 

Wednesday, Apr 8 2009
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Richard Florida's March cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, "How the Crash Will Reshape America," offers bold predictions on how the financial meltdown will affect our economic infrastructure. Florida surmises that cities with well-educated residents and diverse economies, like San Francisco and New York, will gain strength, while post-industrial towns like Detroit and St. Louis will swirl down the toilet. It's a great read — if you don't live in Detroit or St. Louis. The crash will certainly reshape the recording industry as well, albeit in completely different ways. Let's have a look into the old crystal ball to see what will happen to the music business.

Sparked by iTunes' recent decision to raise the prices of hit songs, revenues from recorded music will decline even further. The company's 2010 increase to $1.99 per track will spark a nationwide revolt, causing Flo Rida's latest single, "Conga" — in which he raps over the Miami Sound Machine song of the same name — to sell a mere three downloads. The drying-up of major-label profits will also strike a fatal blow for music magazines. Following Blender's recent demise will be the shuttering of Spin, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Ukulele Magazine, Flute Talk, and then, when the last remaining batch of GWAR fans expires around the time of Malia Obama's first term, Metal Edge.

No longer able to count on proceeds from music sales, rockers will sign increasingly dubious endorsement deals. Guitar Hero will launch a Groupies series, licensing Usher for its initial offering, Love in This Club. The members of Wilco will agree to wear Banana Republic sweaters on the covers of their albums. The Kills' Alison Mosshart will be forced to smile in public as Crest's new spokesmodel. Previously tour-shy rappers will perform together on increasingly oversize bills to maximize revenue. This trend will be highlighted in 2016 by the Asher Roth/Lupe Fiasco/Rick Ross Jr./Lil Lil Wayne jointly headlined "It's Crowded on This Bus" tour.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation's merger will inspire the consolidation of other ticket dispensing outlets. This will make a night out more convenient, expensive, and odd. For example, those seeking to attend Green Day's 2030 sold-out rock opera, American Incontinent, need only visit the newly merged StubHub and Craigslist Web site, where they'll be able to purchase tickets at a mere 300 percent of face value and find a leatherclad she-male to bring along as a date.

The major labels, meanwhile, will eventually combine into one company and will drop all of their artists except for Panic! At the Disco and U2, who will join forces under the name P.U.! Recorded music in general will be distributed entirely through mobile devices. Subscribers will be billed directly through their phone companies: $20 a month will allow you unlimited downloads, and for an extra $10, Lily Allen will record your outgoing message in a mockney accent.

Geographically, New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville will lose their prominence as music industry hubs. Rising rents and the failure of the barista stimulus plan will drive working musicians out of these metropolises in droves. Meanwhile, bedroom recordists like Wavves, Jay Reatard, and Deerhunter will force their kid sisters onto the streets as they move back in with their parents and reclaim the biggest closets. Using increasingly sophisticated home recording equipment and subsisting on $15 a week parental allowances, the acts will create new indie-rock meccas in San Diego, Memphis, and Atlanta. These scenes will usher in a new era of underground music. Unfortunately, that golden age will unravel when Ryan Adams and Adam Duritz, in their continuing efforts to regain long-lost hipster cred, descend and begin rehabbing colonials. What a long, strange trip it will have been.

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Ben Westhoff

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