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A Buck A Song - A Commentary
By Jerry Flattum - 08/07/2005 - 04:30 AM EDT

Strangely, it almost seems as though the history of recorded music (popular songs) is a story about storage. Regardless of the medium--from vinyl to CD--the number of songs is generally limited to 10 or so.

Of course, DVD allows much greater storage capacity, but few artists pump out more than 10 cuts at a time.

Managing a music collection is still an ordeal with CDs and DVDs, especially when a collection numbers in the 1000s. Going mobile, like on a road trip, taking more than a 100 CDs becomes overly obsessive.

100 CDs x 10 songs = 1000 songs. A 1000 songs at an average of 4 minutes = over 60 hours of music. By car...that's a long trip (not counting repeats).

And it must be agonizing for a collector with a 1000 CDs to have to narrow it down to a mere 100 when planning a road trip.

Well, maybe collecting songs is an obsessive act--a form of addiction. During the Golden years of piracy--which still rage today--collections grew to the 10s of 1000s. The combination of compressed mp3 files and increased computer storage capacity allowed for this, not to mention the swiftness of file sharing.

Offering single cuts for a buck might not completely destroy the current CD market. But for an artist to produce 10 solid tunes is a monumental accomplishment even for the best of the best.

So, we're back to a singles market--the 50's (and decades prior) flip flops into the New Millennium.

Forget terrabyte/petabyte hard drives for a moment, simply because it's almost incomprehensible how many songs can be stored on a computer with that kind of storage capacity.

The iPod and now Toshiba's Gigabeat portable mp3 players offer 60GB of storage capacity. Is that enough for you?

One gigabyte equals 1024 megabytes. A single song is about 3-5 megabytes. At 60 gigabytes...you do the math.

For independent labels and unsigned acts, the Internet seriously takes away the power of the major labels to decide who gets sold and who doesn't. A novice can place a song right along side a superstar and have just as much chance of being heard or selling a track (assuming of course, the track offers a great song and quality recording).

There's a lot of writers and bands out there making great music but remain unheard because they can't get the proverbial recording contract.

What the majors have is marketing and distribution power.

Can a great song--however that is defined--emerge from the Great Machine that, up until now, has produced the hits we know and love so well?

Even more importantly--the Internet WILL destroy the marketing model used by the music industry and entertainment industry as a whole. What it will destroy is one of the most hated words by creators of music and entertainment: genre.

Of course, getting pidgeon-holed in the music/entertainment industry is not always such a bad thing. Country artists are happy being country artists. Rappers have no use for cowboy boots or things that go twang.

You're either a country artist or a rap artist. But this kind of thinking runs antithetical to how consumers (music lovers) really behave. Rarely, if ever, does anyone have a CD (or mp3) music collection that stays strictly within one style of music.

When you love rap, country, jazz, rock and even bhangra, it is even more rare for a single artist to satisfy musical tastes across multiple genres.

With customized playlists, genres become micro-genres, fitting mood rather than style. "Songs to play golf by," or, "Songs my girlfriend's mother hates." Instead of targeting demographical and stylistic markets, we're now targeting moodswings and individual personalities.

But what about the million seller?

Sure, there are dedicated country fans who despise rap music. And it's a good bet, no lover of P. Diddy or Snoop Dog will openly admit they love old Hank Williams records, yet alone "music to meditate by."

But what that is, is social conditioning. Because the reality is, many people really do love P. Diddy AND Hank Williams. It's very simple: you're in the car listening to a station. You don't like what you hear, you turn the knob. In side of 1 minute you can scan the entire history of music, from Frank Sinatra to Britney Spears, from a Waltz by Strauss to a progressive rock solo by Usher.

Install XM Satellite radio, and your choices increase exponentially. Install satellite radio and a hard drive for your car, and you're good for at least, well, a million songs.

Hell, we're talking about a revolution here! A revolution that makes the Beatle's Invasion look like a worn-out media postcard. Don't you get it? "It's the song, man," not the artist or style.

Let's see, what else? Dance all night. Feeling lonely. Quality time with a lover, or friends. Feeling one with nature. Cruising the city streets. Stare out a window. If I can custom-make my own playlists to fit all my moods, I'm happy.

The Internet promised freedom and what is happening with a song for a buck is democracy at it's best. Signed or unsigned, major or independent, kids or mature, fast or slow, Americana or World beat...now you can have it all...at a buck a song...with enough songs to carry you through into the afterlife.




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