Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Song sung blue

Barry Ritholtz, writing today atEric Alterman's Altercation, says this about the music biz:

Concert attendance and ticket pricing

Although I sometimes lump them together, I really shouldn't: The "Recording Industry" is a very different beast from the "Music Industry." One is relatively healthy, the other is in bad disrepair, primarily due to self-inflicted wounds and awful mismanagement over the years. The latter is responsive, the former desperately stubborn.

The latest example: Concert attendance and ticket pricing:

"Many in the music business called 2004 the worst summer concert season in memory: fans were stuck with high prices and promoters lost money and canceled shows.

With this year's season about to kick off, event promoters and artist representatives have vowed to turn things around. So, they are offering a variety of inducements, including lower prices and offering more bands for the money by packaging big acts together at one show. Promoters are also blitzing fans with e-mails and text messages to try and generate interest in coming shows."

Barry is mostly right today and in his original post, "What's Wrong With The Music Industry." However, he hasn't parsed the data finely enough. As I mentioned here, the recording industry is indeed a separate entity from the music industry, and is in clear trouble through no real fault of its own.

As costs rise and profits fall, all for reasons Barry clearly outlines, recording studios are being pressed to provide more services for lower costs that ever before. The hourly or day rate for world class studios here in LA is lower than at any time in the last 25 years, yet expenditures continue as artists & labels demand new technology. $30K computer systems for recording are considered "state of the art", and while studios could charge for rentals a few years ago, today the new technology is demanded. Yet the studios that 3 years ago could routinely charge $1500/day are now being pressured to sell time for sub-$1000 prices, while keeping services constant.

Budget studios abound, and, while often great places, they typically offer a lesser product. One quasi-legendary studio here in LA still attracts a wide variety of clientele, yet recordings are sometimes aborted because truck noise from the nearby busy street intrudes into the session. It costs money to adequately sound proof a building, and they skimped.

Artists are tending toward recording at homes, either their own, or rentals, to keep costs down, and that affects studio rates. Renting a McMansion for $20K per month is still more cost effective than paying $1200/day for a conventional studio. For some recordings, that is fine. But when the same artist needs to do a "string date," they might come to Capitol, my old home, and then gripe that they no longer get the service they are used to. That's because the studio, in an effort to lower costs, doesn't replace key personnel who leave, or who are laid off as costs are cut.

Imagine going to the Toyota dealer and demanding the newest Prius, but then only being willing to pay for a '81 Corolla. And getting away with it, because the Nissan dealer down the street is selling cars at a loss with no warrantee. It's the WalMartization of the recording business, and it's really sad.