By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
This month marks not only the close of the year, but also the end of a decade in which we saw the way we create, listen to, and consume music become faster and easier for artists and fans. But all that progressive technology has also left us with broken business models, artists whose music is regularly stolen from the Internet, and inferior quality against so much quantity. SF Weekly writers Jasmine Block, Ezra Gale, David MacFadden-Elliott, and Lars Russell interviewed locals from the artist, DJ, tech, and recording studio sides of the industry to get their reflections on how far music has come in the last 10 years, and where it needs to go next. Jennifer Maerz
What's the one music-related invention that has made the biggest difference to you in the last decade?
Artists and DJsHeadnodic, Crown City Rockers: Musicmaking is so quick and easy, and the delivery of songs is effortless and free. It's a double-edged sword. Music had gotten dispensable because of it. Our attention span is so small that we need to put out a new song every few days in order to stay relevant. I think quality is suffering over quantity, but I'm just an old curmudgeon.
Sonny Smith: Pro Tools. It was a big help, but there were too many trappings with it, too many chances to obsess, and too many chances to sit in front of a computer all night. I had to get away from that bullshit. So I got into tape, which is where rock 'n' roll started.
Logan Kroeber, the Dodos: Well, it's got to be the iPod. It certainly brought about a lot of change in my line of work. Also, the Line 6 looping [guitar] pedal has made a lot possible for our band, especially when we were just a two-piece.
Chet "JR" White, Girls: Computer-based recording is definitely the greatest invention in the last 10 years. It's given people the tools to make a professional-sounding recordings without needing a studio.
Claude VonStroke: The computer sequencer, hands down, whether it's in Reason or Cubase or Sonar or Logic. The technology behind the sequencers allowed me to create the music that was in my head, [helping] me focus my ideas in a way that made a lot of my biggest tunes possible.
Odessa Chen: Pro Tools. Being able to practice and then hear it back in such high fidelity (as opposed to a cassette tape) right away makes it easier to equate the "feeling" of singing with what that singing actually sounds like to other people.
Juan Manuel Caipo, Bang Data: The development of audio/recording/editing software, along with digital distribution and online retail/music-sharing technology. The fact that we have been able to produce music at a fraction of the cost and distribute it worldwide is pretty unbelievable. Yeah, we still have to work hard maintaining good quality and getting the word out by becoming self-promoting warriors, but it's fun and well worth it.
DJ Jeffrey Paradise, "Blow Up": Without a doubt it would be [vinyl emulation software] Serato Scratch Live. I was really late to accept Serato because I'm a real vinyl enthusiast, and the search for rare records is something I loved. Serato makes that process much much easier, cheaper, and faster. It's wild.
DJ David Paul, "Prince vs. Michael": Instead of hauling cases of records on tour I can travel with just the Serato box, control records, a laptop, and a small bag of records. It also allows me to spin songs that were previously CD-only releases.
Eric Frederic, Wallpaper.: The iPod. We see music returning to its original state as an almost intangible presence. You can't see it, can't touch it, but you sure as hell can listen to it. You can also store thousands and thousands of [songs] in a handheld device, which changes the way people think about albums (versus singles), for better or worse.
DJ Kush Arora, solo artist, "Dub Mission": MP3s freed people of the money decision of buying something creative. The commercial music industry is crumbling because people's spending habits are no longer preventing them from exploring creative avenues in music. But labels also can take risks without losing their shirts on physical manufacturing.
TechKevin Arnold, founder and chief executive officer, Independent Online Distribution Alliance: The iTunes music store. It's about the commercialization and the creation of a digital music marketplace, and iTunes was certainly the biggest impact there.
Bryn Boughton, founder and chief marketing officer, IRIS Distribution: iTunes enabled labels to sell, but also really made it easy for you to consume music digitally as a mainstream music consumer if you weren't a real technologically-savvy person.
RJ Pittman, director of product management, Google: iTunes, paired with the iPod, really opened up the world's eyes to where this is all going. In terms of continued portability of music, the next piece has to be the rise of the 99-cent download. The rise of the legal à la carte model has dramatically shifted the way we think about and approach the way we listen to music.
Tim Westergren, founder and chief strategy officer, Pandora Internet Radio: Probably the iPhone, because it is essentially allowing personalized Internet radio to become fully mobile. It's setting up Internet radio to be the future of radio, period.
StudiosJohn Vanderslice, musician and owner of Tiny Telephone: Definitely the MP3 codec. That's what shattered the power structure and the false gods. In the '90s, there was a hierarchy that a lot of bands believed [in]: You would sign to an indie label and then move up to a major label — like going up from triple-A ball to the majors. That, thankfully, doesn't exist anymore.
What will be the biggest issue facing the music industry in the decade to come?
Artists and DJsHeadnodic: How to keep it an industry. With less monetary value put to recorded music, it won't be long until corporate America has the only dollar left, and before long, artists will be like NASCAR, with corporate sponsors throwing money at them to say "Bacardi" or "Hennessy" in a song. Oh, wait ... too late.
Sonny Smith: Creepy empires like Amazon.com. Who's selling what, and who is reaping your profits? Vinyl is exciting, like limited editions in the art world; small amounts are made and sold, then they sell out. If there are multiple pressings, you can keep track, whereas with CDs and digital files, there's no collectability aspect; there's never any end to it.
Logan Kroeber: The music industry has plenty of trouble coming its way in the next decade. There's a generation of kids who are growing up downloading everything and never owning any CDs or LPs. When all of us record-collecting dinosaurs start to fade away, the business model is gonna look pretty rough.
Claude VonStroke: The biggest issue this decade will be the same issue as every decade: crappy music getting popular.
The Jacka: Rap is re-creating itself again, like the beginning stages, [when] it wasn't as commercial.
Adam Theis: There are all sorts of little problems — like people not getting paid — but the main thing is that there isn't really a model to follow. That's going to be a huge problem for a lot of people, but that's also going to be a great advantage to a lot of people who have imagination. I think it's exciting, especially for bands who are doing different stuff.
DJ David Paul: Computers and the concept of "free" music. Computers made it easier to make music, but it has also made it easier to take music. I'd like a free computer, but if I try to take one from the Apple store, I'm sure I'll be arrested.
Kush Arora: The key holders of the music industry of the '80s and '90s still hold the top level of marketing and cash, and yet the indie music industry is completely self-sufficient. Setting up live venues in each city that can support the financial model of touring will be as important as weeding out old folks who keep screwing it up for everybody else.
DJ Jacob Sperber, Honey Soundsystem: Whether it's the digital-free-sharing music renaissance or the "war on fun" over live music venues and nontraditional underground events, things are a-changin'. It's gonna get real unpretty and then real, real fun.
DJ Jeffrey Paradise: Big record labels obviously took too long to adapt to the digital age. Now it's so easy to make music and to get it out there to people, the barriers to entry are so low that we are flooded with a lot of mediocre music.
Eric Frederic: Bands and labels are focused more on publishing, merchandise, and tour profits. You can't download a concert experience or a T-shirt. Creating unique real-life experiences and tangible objects that can be sold will have to fill the void left by album sales.
Odessa Chen: The growing expectation that music should be free. People have resentment toward the music business, and rightly so, but without money going to the artist, lots of musicians will be so busy working day jobs their output will decline, and we'll all lose out on their voices. As a small independent musician who doesn't have a label and doesn't make money touring, music sales enable me to produce more music. An indie CD can cost about $10,000 to produce. I'm not sure people really understand that.
Juan Manuel Caipo: Labels, promoters, and radio need to coexist and embrace the indie mentality. People will download new music or listen to [a band] on Pandora for free, and if they like it, they'll buy a concert ticket and a shirt next time they come into town. The industry will have to figure how to offer people more for their money.
TechPhil Bernosky, senior director of electronic media at Dolby Laboratories: The music business struggles to find a growth model. No longer is good music a scarcity, it's now a commodity simply because all the talent in the world can afford to create professional content. When it is no longer a scarce resource, the price necessarily drops.
Kevin Arnold: The biggest challenge is to settle into the new digital world as a business landscape. The physical decline will continue, and we still aren't quite there yet, with regard to the majority of the music sales being digital. The second phase of change is gonna be the really challenging part of the overall transformation.
Bryn Boughton: The good thing for the industry is that music consumption overall is up. People are streaming and listening to more music than ever — that's good, but how can you actually create a business out of that? That's the quandary.
David Hyman, founder and CEO of MOG.com: There's going to be a massive switch from purchasing to subscription models where it's all you can eat, it's all in the cloud. Possession isn't that exciting when it comes to a digital file. Labels had to deal with the transition from CD to download, and now they're gonna see the complete disappearance of the download.
Tim Westergren: Licensing. The biggest obstacle right now is a portable, simple mobile licensing structure for music.
RJ Pittman: You look at things like subscription models, which haven't worked very well, and you see a lot of companies providing free streaming services, which are great, but they're very difficult to sustain financially because the ad revenue isn't keeping up with the licensing costs of giving away music.
StudiosTim Green, Louder Studios, the Fucking Champs: A whole new generation is being raised on an inferior medium (MP3s), and most often listening on shitty players, computer speakers, and even cellphones. Thus the audio quality standard is lowered, and the demand for high-quality recordings is diminished. I've already seen recording budgets drop significantly in the last eight years. All right, I'll get off the soapbox ... these kids today, etc.
John Vanderslice: How do bands deliver their music? People are completely ignoring the idea of a release. They'll put up content, tour, do a remix record for free, and then print up a 7-inch [laughs], and why not? The 45-minute album is an arbitrary limitation, [but] without the cues, how are bands going to identify with a completed work?
Jeffrey Wood, Fantasy Studios: Music is so overly used in all advertising, people have devalued it. We spend time trying to make the sound great, and then people play it on an MP3. Because music has been so devalued, how do you bring it about in a new way — on the Internet, on television, or in a film, morphing it with visuals, moving into other formats besides just music.