Will recorded music survive the 2010s?

Music existed for eons before Thomas Edison invented recording in 1877, and music will be around long after the major record companies bite the big one. But what about in between?

I have no doubt musicians will continue to perform throughout the 2010s, but they'll make less and less money from recorded music. The passion to make and sell recorded music is already starting to wane.

Big record labels will be increasingly irrelevant so I wouldn't be surprised if Warner, Universal, Sony/BMG, and EMI eventually merge into one mega-label to sell and license back-catalog music. New music, that's another story. Already established bands, like Radiohead, have already proved the point: they don't need record companies anymore. They can sell their music directly to fans.

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But that model won't work for smaller groups. Recorded music for them may survive purely as a promotional tool, as fewer and fewer bands have any expectation of seeing recording as a potential source of income. Buying music, in physical form or by legal download, doesn't seem to have much of a future. So why would a band make an effort to make music people would want to listen to decades from now? The art of making albums --a suite of songs if you will--may become a rare pursuit.

The craft of recording will wither away, something only the most successful bands ever bother with. Same for record producers--their future employment possibilities look dim, and bands will just produce themselves without any outside guidance. Even in New York City, most of the major studios have already closed their doors; the Hit Factory, where Springsteen recorded "Born in the U.S.A.," and Sony Music Studios, where Nirvana recorded "MTV Unplugged in New York," are gone. Even famed London studios are history, including Olympic, where The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton recorded some of their best work. A sizable number of studios in Los Angeles have closed as well.

Home recording is killing off professional studios, and that's clearly tied to plummeting record sales and profits. Home digital recordings can sound acceptable, but the technology can't duplicate the great acoustics of a first-rate studio. You can't record the sound of a band in a great sounding room, unless you have a great sounding room. No wonder most new recordings sound so contrived . Just because you can make a record at home doesn't mean you should. Truly talented, professional recording engineers are a dying breed.

So yes, I have no doubt working musicians will continue to make recordings, but I doubt any of them will make the next "Sgt. Pepper's," "Dark Side of the Moon," or "Thriller." Why would a band work on a project for months or years, without much chance to make real money? Besides, most people listen to songs; the long-form "album" is on its way out.

What do you think? Will you still be buying music in 2020?

 

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