The story out of this yearís South By Southwest music
conference is that further consolidation of the five major record labels is inevitable.
Current scenarios project the big five ó Warner Brothers, EMI, Universal, Sony, and
BMG ó becoming an even bigger three as early as this yearís end. (You can now add Appleís possible buy-out of
Universal to this picture.)
For the last three years, the music industry hasnít been well. In
2001, for the first time in history, shipments of records declined, and that decline
has only gotten worse. As of this writing, 2003 shipments of CDs lag behind 2002ís
dismal levels by 7%. Experts assert that the CD is dying; some say quickly. This is
due to many factors ó more than can be listed, let alone explained, in this editorial.
Whatís uncertain is how the industryís old model of distribution will change, or
what the new model should be. And there are other uncertainties: Record stores are
closing by the handfuls (over 500 retailers have shut their doors in the past six
months; Best Buy is selling its Musicland/Sam Goody chain only two years after buying it), and labels are slashing jobs by the hundreds. Attempts at preventing
piracy and Internet leakage of forthcoming releases are reaching manic heights. This
in an industry where, in 2002 alone, 25,000 individual releases failed to sell even 100
copies each at the combined 900 stores owned by TransWorld Entertainment Corporation. Think about these numbers, and youíll have an idea of the glut and disorganization plaguing labels and listeners alike.
But all is not doom and gloom. With regards to music itself, the opposite is true.
Iíve been associated with the music industry for fourteen years, and in my experience
the albums released in 2002 were rivaled only by those released in 1991 in artistic
quality, quantity, diversity, and excellence. Contrary to what you may have read in
other publications, or may have assumed from their lack of coverage and enthusiasm,
new music ó whether the classical programs of Michael Tilson Thomas and Hilary
Hahn, the progressive Jazz of power piano trio The Bad Plus and trumpeter Dave Douglas, or the inspiring rock and pop rattling forth from artists like The White
Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Zwan (all of whom have been recently reviewed in TAS)
ó is providing us with more reasons than ever to be passionate and hopeful about the present and future. And, with continual advances in production and
technology, reissues are breathing new life into classics ó in many cases, allowing us to
hear works previously unreleased or long unavailable, as well as unimagined nuances
in familiar recordings.
To this extent, we can embrace all thatís good about CD, and whatís even better
about the potential of Super Audio CD (and to a degree, DVD-A). SACD isnít going
to solve world problems, but when done properly, it brings us closer to the music,
and hence, nearer to its emotions, truths, and meanings. in a world where itís
harder to find honesty and integrity, for me music remains the constant, the universal
communicator. Knowing no boundaries, it surprises, reveals, and delights at every
opportunity. This is why, for nearly two years, TASís Music Section has taken the
position that well-rounded coverage isnít an option; itís an obligation that, along
with sincere, timely, and informed criticism, we owe to you, our readers. We
wouldnít have it any other way.