Charles Blow’s column yesterday featured this extraordinarily effective visualization of the diminution of the music business, as it has shifted from medium to medium:
And in the text of the article, this:
A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.
When Chris Anderson introduced the idea of the Long Tail, his enthusiasm was focused on all the new ways once obscure idea-makers might find audiences, however small. Looking at the above statistics, what’s remarkable is how much of what we consider mainstream culture is actually in the tail — and the tail isn’t making much money.
Of course, such a study doesn’t measure all music sales, and it certainly doesn’t capture the experience of discovering music, sharing our discoveries, live performances, making music, or any of the other ways that music impacts our lives.
And it reminds me of a Claude Debussy quote I recently read, via Ray Kurzweil:
“At a time like ours, in which mechanical skill has attained unsuspected perfection, the most famous works may be heard as easily as one may drink a glass of beer, and it only costs ten centimes, like the automatical weighing machines. Should we not fear this domestication of sound, this magic that anyone can bring from a disk at will? Will it not bring to waste the mysterious force of an art which one might have thought indestructible?”
Given the resiliency of thought and self-expression — musical and otherwise — I’ll venture a “No” vote to that question.