The Next Wave

There was an interesting post on, my favorite hangout for pro audio information (and misinformation, you have to be very selective). Lately there has been much analysis (and complaining) about the state of the music industry. Lack of recording opportunities, the shift from physical media to streaming music aggregators like Pandora, Spotify, Google Play, etc.

If you look at the trends in music sales for the past 40 years, there is an interesting pattern.

trends in music sales

Trends in music sales

8-Tracks cassettes, vinyl, 2-track cassette tapes, CD’s, all seem to follow a pattern similar to ocean waves. Initial acceptance, peak, and slow decline. Unfortunately this graph, by Michael DeGusta with data from the RIAA, does not show the data up to present. However we can speculate with some confidence. Digital media started out with a rapid acceptance during the Napster and file “sharing” (re: stealing) years, then declined somewhat as the majors cracked down. However the shift from downloads to streaming services has started in earnest.

I expect that wave to continue peaking for the foreseeable future, especially as bandwidth increases and higher quality audio is made available (e.g. The question is how high and how long will the wave be?

What does this mean for the independent musician? Are physical media dead entirely? I don’t think so. Vinyl is making a come back in a small way (more like a secondary wave) as people are demanding more physical contact and ownership of their music. Streaming services are convenient and will be around for a long time, but there will always be a demand for something you can put in your hand. The real question is this: who is in control of your music selection, and can you count on having your favorites around in 20 years? I personally do not trust iTunes to be my only music source for retaining control of my digital tracks.

We no longer consume music just for listening sessions like my generation did back in the 60’s and 70’s. It is more likely background for work, parties, or used for TV and film cues and sound tracks. Touring bands still sell CD’s but just as likely will have download cards for mp3’s.

Will we see a big resurgence of the music album as art for its own sake? Not until we can package digital media and associate images and liner notes with it. In the meantime independent small-time producers like Barn Jazz will continue to labor in the eddies of the ocean doing work the way we want to do it.

So what is the next wave? Maybe 3-D holographic surround sound with direct implants to our neurons? While we are waiting for the musical industrial complex to shake out, I think I will just go put an album onto my high quality turntable, flip on my 1973 Marantz receiver, and chill.

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