Stuck like a Broken Record

Last weekend my wife and I attended the annual gala of the Rotterdam Philharmonic. They performed a piece  by Beethoven written over 200 years ago. Their tools of the trade were mostly pieces of wood, horse hair and the odd bit of copper.

They were awesome.

I think it is nothing short of a miracle when 100 or so people (I didn’t count them) can come together and produce something this powerful.

After the show and dinner I ran into an old friend of mine who  works for one of the big four record-companies. Being a curious person I couldn’t resist to ask her how her company would be dealing with people downloading ‘her’ music and not paying for it. What innovations were they working on?

“We’re not worried about that, Bas.”, she told me with a smile, “Downloading MP3’s may be cheap and easy, but real fans of classical music still apprciate only the best quality available. They simply won’t settle for MP3 quality, they’ll want to own the real thing, real CD’s. “

Apparently she didn’t get the IFPI memo that in 2008 alone an estimated 40 billion songs were downloaded illegaly. That’s 40 billion songs the big four did not get paid for. This fact aside her argument made very little sense to me. Here’s why:

Physical media are irrelevant.
Remember when people would ceremoniously search through stacks of pretty album covers? When the found the one they were looking for they would carefully take that treasured vinyl disk from it. A true connaiseur would hold it aloft, have the light skim its surface and give it a quick squint-eyed inspection. Sometimes he would gently blow off some imaginary dust before meticulously putting the black disk on the record player.

Remember that scene? It’s how we did thing last century.

People under thirty or so do not cling on to the idea that you need something phycial to own a piece of music. They really don’t care if it’s stored on their laptop, their phone or somewhere the web. They just want to be able to listen to it wherever they are, whenever they want. I cannot for the life of me envision a future in which my two year old son will seriously start a CD-collection. I don’t think anyone can.

People don’t care about quality.
For most of us just good enough quality is just good enough. We listen to FM radio, Ipods,  youtube and other crappy sources though cheap earplugs or flimpsy laptop speakers. 99.9% of the time we don’t need prsitine 32 bit, 192Hz digital recordings. And even if we do, what’s to stop people from downloading super high quality music files exactly in the same way they download crappy MP3s?

My friend wasn’t convinced however. She confidently told me her industry was ‘cyclic in nature anyway (I am not making this up) and things would get better in time.

There’s a gigantic elephant in the room.
Pretending it’s not there won’t make it go away.

It’s not unthinkable that 10 centuries from now people will still enjoy performances of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms much in the same way we do. Record companies however are headed for extinction if they don’t embrace the forces that are fundamentally reshaping their industry. They should be investing in new ways to deliver real value to their customers.

By putting their efforts in pointless lobbies and legal battles they’ll get stuck, they’ll get stuck, they’ll get st…

6 Replies to “Stuck like a Broken Record”

  1. Op de Hoogstraat kan je trouwens nog veel klassiek (voor weinig) op vinyl aanschaffen (op het stukje van de markt tot de koopgoot, gelijk aan het begin aan de marktzijde dus). Maar je hebt uiteraard gelijk. dit gaat nergens over, ik weet niet of je hebt, maar op de mijne kan je zien dat ik weldegelijk alle symphonieën van Beethoven heb gedownload, al het pianowerk van Bartók, de complete Glenn Gould catalogus, etc., etc. (hope to see you there)

  2. Hi Rufus, nice of you stop by. I’ll check out your site AND that shop.

    Ah Vinyl….don’t you just love drooling over coverart by the ‘added warmth’ of those little hisses and pops you get when you’re listening to old albums?

  3. Live Classical Music is irreplaceable by anything recorded, but why do we have to choose between one or the other? I support classical music as much as I can…with a struggling pianist at home (no that’s just his hobby!) and his piano teacher’s struggling musicians who play divine music at free or small charge, I can see that while these pieces of music are eternal they are not popular but those of us who love and appreciate classical music, live or recorded, continue to do so, and I think performances for such music will continue centuries down the road but you are right in that record companies have a tough life ahead…..

  4. Hi Farnoosh,

    I think you are absolutely right. I don’t visit our local concert hall as much as I would like (or should), but every time I do I think it is breathtaking to hear (and see) people do something so magical.

    It’s not just the sound or the composition. There is something special about actually seeing people use their whole bodies (just look at those Cello-players go at it!) when they perform.

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