Same old song- NOT!
Amateurs and professionals take note of changes in the music industry
By Naughty Mickie
With the advent of the Internet, an ever-expanding amount of retailers and a new power struggle, the music industry has seen changes in thepast 10 years unlike any before. The ability to create, produce and market music has changed hands from the elite to the common man.
Retailers are "bringing desirable cutting-edge technology to the guy cutting demos in his bedroom," said songwriter/artist Michael McDonald last February at the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Los Angeles, Ca.
Pomona, Ca. musician, John Raber is one of these "guys." Raber is currently using a computer program called Cubasis VST which allows you to input music you play yourself, such as guitar, or grab music off of the Internet and mix it to your taste. After completing your project you are able to format it into MP3 files and put it back out on the net or burn it onto a CD which may also be marketed.
"Basically you can do the whole thing yourself at home," Raber says.
Prior to this, Raber recorded music live in his garage using the traditional, but now-limited method of an assortment of microphones and a mixing board. The new computer programs allow the artist to record 32 tracks or more, even a full orchestra, at retail prices as low as $70 for a good quality program.
"It's a lot easier to get a better sound on tap with the computer program," explains Raber. "The only disadvantage is that you can only record one track at a time, which would not be ideal for a band, but it's good for a home musician."
Raber downloads parts of songs off the Internet and puts them together to create new compositions which he then uses to practice his guitar licks.
Teddy Heavens, lead guitarist for local cyberpunk band Rebel Rebel, notes the
advantages for home musicians too.
"We've always gone into a studio in order to use a producer. Most producers don't just do it on a computer because they want to get certain sounds. Most people who do it on a computer have acts that you don't really need live instruments. Or if you're doing it all yourself, like a one-man band thing.
"The difference is phenomenal because there are a lot of independent artists now that can survive," Heavens continues. "Before, you relied a lot on a record company. And even now, record companies are starting to buy up all these sites that are pushing the latest technology -MP3s- they realize that they have to cover themselves on that. The computer has basically revolutionized the industry."
Jeff Pilson, bassist for Dokken, also agrees that the biggest change in the industry is "the incorporation of technology into music and new ideas."
Retailers have been keeping up with the changes in the industry as well. Dave Gudal of the Guitar Center in Covina, Ca. recalls the time when it would cost upwards of $500 to record. Now, according to Gudal, there are many quality products at affordable prices which are making it possible for even first-time buyers to produce at home.
Retailers are not only being hit by changes in recording, but also by accessibility of instruments.
"Music retail has moved into what we call 'big box' stores, chain stores like Wal Mart," says Todd Trent, vice president of Ontario Music in Ontario, Ca. "The public is getting involved with entry level products, but the professionals come to the music stores. The big box stores are increasing the music pool by getting more people to play music."
Lee Garver, owner of GMW Guitar Works in Glendora, Ca. says, "It's becoming more 'big box' stores like Wal Mart and the Internet. Small businesses need to specialize or get on the Internet. Right now, though, I have more work than I can handle."
Garver's company utilizes the Internet and gets another edge on the market by buying used guitars, "hot rodding" them and then selling them for less than a dealer.
"Competition makes it tough," says Garver. He explains that there are about 75 Guitar Centers in the United States, not to mention Carvin and Sam Ash. But Garver wonders what is fueling the industry.
"There's a lot of demand and consumption. Big bands (like Van Halen) are gone, so there is no drive for the kids to play guitar. I keep asking, 'Who's buying this stuff?'"
With better availability it seems that everyone is putting their fingers into the musical pie.
"It's easier to buy instruments because there's better music stores too. You have Guitar Centers almost like K-Marts, they're everywhere," says Heavens. "They're very accessible and a lot of good companies make low priced models."
When it comes to instrument sales, the Internet has raised the hackles of some retailers. Many dealers are dependent on rental and orchestra instruments to make their money. The Web provides access to instruments from dealers around the world, giving consumers the added benefit of sales without taxes. Schools, which are receiving support through the local community, are taking our tax dollars and spending them in other states when making purchases for their music departments. But still, retailers have come to accept the Internet as a basic marketing tool are artists are not far behind.
"For marketing before," says Heavens. "It was print ads and fliers pretty much; mailing lists. A mailing list has always been done. The thing is now you have an e-mail list so it's even easier to contact people and it's cheaper because it's free other than your service. Now you can go and promote your Web site where you can put everything you have, all of your merchandise, samples of your music, you can put basically everything on there. It's like a virtual record. People can come there and you can have video there- anything you want on there. It's pretty much unlimited actually."
Rebel Rebel has always done a lot of their promotion themselves. but other bands, such as Baldwin Park, Ca. based Full House, have found an easier tact. Full House used CD Labs to reproduce their latest recording, "Beer 2000," and bought a package deal where the company set up their Web site and made their release available on other sites such as Amazon.com and CD Now. The band also puts out fliers and promotes in other ways.
The personal touch is still very crucial in the music industry.
Heavens speaks about his winter tour of the East Coast, "The computer thing is cool, you can have your Web site, you can have your e-mail, but people are more likely to help you if you're personable. When they show up and they see the face behind what you're doing and you make the effort. Like when I went to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Long Island and everybody was real receptive because they were like, 'Somebody from L.A. came out here- what are you promoting?'
"I'm promoting my site instead of promoting a record. And your site never goes out of date because you can update it constantly. A record you can only do once and it doesn't have a long shelf-life. A Web site changes constantly, you can put live tapes on there, you don't even have to have a CD, you can just record yourself live and put it on there."
Heavens emphasizes that the Internet and the human touch work best together.
"Actually the Internet has opened up a lot more doors because you can do a lot more for no money as opposed to sending out all kinds of stuff. On our Web site people can view promo photos, old write-ups; they can sample the music.
"When I was back East, a lot of times, the DJs couldn't get the CD quick enough because they have to go through the music directors. I told them to go to the site and they'd hear the music and say, 'C'mon down.' And when you get there, they are appreciative because you are there in person. So I think that's the difference, you can do a lot of stuff on the net, you can build your fan base, but to get your stuff moving you have to get played on the radio- radio is still king. But you can go on the radio and promote your Web site and people can go back there directly. I got back to L.A. and I had tons of orders off of it."
The movers and shakers of the music industry aren't missing a beat. Many record companies are grabbing on to the power of the Web and trying to keep control of their artists.
"A lot of record companies now want to control it," says Heavens. "It's part of a standard contract right now, the record company owns your Web site. Sony does it, Warner Bros, does it, even independent labels are doing it. We've been offered deals where that's part of the deal. It's almost like your publishing, you don't want to give it up because it's part of your income. Even if you're a big band and you have a fan base of 10-20 thousand people, you sell to them and you keep the majority of the profit- there's no middle man."
Major artists who have spent their lives in the industry are also noting the shifting of power and attitude.
Singer, Ronnie James Dio (Rainbow, Black Sabbath), speaks openly, "To me the biggest change is always the fact that the people who run the record companies only care about how much money they're going to make at the end of the day and not how to take a band that has a lot of promise and develop it. It's black and white- black and red really is what it is. Your sales are in the black, then that band's okay."
Dio continues, "I think it's become a disposable industry. It bothers me that bands have become like Bic pens, once their ink is gone they're all used up. Accountants, CPAs, control the industry- people with real musical flair and feel don't any more."
Many artists are becoming disheartened about this attitude and are encouraging individuals to grab control.
Dick Dale, surf music guru, says, "The industry is controlled by the people who control it. Anybody with any talent should get out there and hustle and save their money and take control."
Local artists are also becoming savvy to this way of thinking and don't feel threatened by the "big boys."
"People are always going to want to see live bands," says Heavens. "That's one of the disadvantages of video like MTV, bands have lost mystique. But on the Web site, you can still control what you give people, you can give them a little bit- kind of 'old school,' the way it used to be. Bands used to tour; they would do radio, people would want to go see them, then they'd buy their products. Now they can buy directly from the artist."
The final result of changing technology has become a hot topic throughout the industry.
Says Heavens, "You can do anything on the Internet, the content part isn't good, but the quantity is, more people have the opportunity to put their art out there. But the content is still at the same level, you have to weed through it. I call the World Wide Web the 'Wild Wild West,' because basically you can go on there and make it what you want."
"I don't think there are enough smart musicians out there to take (the music industry) any place, but back," says Dio. "There just aren't any good ones any more. The good ones were the Deep Purples, the Led Zeppelins, Jimi Hendrix, you know the ones I can mention and mention and mention. Those are the ones who made a difference. They're the ones who created it all. They gave you a standard that was so exceptional. That's the difference between maybe Green Day and Deep Purple.
"The current trend is just mindless; senseless to me. Whereas Purple, Zeppelin, they played music. They really played- Jimmie Page, Ritchie Blackmoore. How can you compare the guitar players from today's music? You can't, you just can't. Another thing is you don't hear music that is thoughtful, that is professional. I just hear too much amateur stuff."
The music industry has taken many punches over the years, but it always seems to bounce back. Despite mixed reviews, the outlook is still positive for the years ahead.
McDonald sums it up best, "The future shines so brightly for the arts in America. Arts are not a luxury, arts are a necessity to function in society... Arts allow us to communicate, crossing cultures and religions."
Musical instruments are becoming more accessible to the general public. The following is a comparison of current prices for beginning and professional level electric guitars in Southern California.
Best Buy: Beginning guitar - Rokaxe $90
Fingerhut catalog: Harmony guitar with Accolade amplifier $200
The Fret House, Covina: Fender $150
Gard's Music, Glendora: Fender $140
Guitar Center: Fender $140
Ontario Music: Generic $99; Fender $130; guitar package including video, amplifier, picks, strings, etc. $270
Sears Wishbook: 30" red guitar with amplifier $80
Styles Music, Pomona: Peavey $170
Wal Mart: Instruments available seasonally, no price available at this time
Professional guitars, base price
Carvin Guitars: American product $400
The Fret House: American product $700
Gard's Music: American product $600
Guitar Center: American product $600
Ontario Music: Offshore product $400
Styles Music: American product $500