Friday, June 3, 2016

Who Stole the Record Industry?

Earlier this week, Roger Daltrey revealed that The Who have no plans to make a new album any time soon:
"We've talked about it, but it's not going to be easy. There's no record industry anymore. Why would I make a record? I would have to pay to make a record. There's no royalties so I can't see that ever happening...How do you get the money to make the records? I don't know. I'm certainly not going to pay money to give my music away free. I can't afford to do that. I've got other things I could waste the money on."
Let's ignore for a moment the fact that Roger Daltrey is a multi-millionaire who could easily come up with the money to make a record if he wanted to; as @metaboatchris correctly pointed out on Twitter the other day, the point isn't that The Who can't afford to make an album, it's that they probably wouldn't sell enough copies to recoup the costs.

So why is that, exactly? Daltrey clearly blames the rise of Spotify and other music streaming services that allow listeners to consume entire albums without actually having to purchase them. To be fair, there are a couple of good points lurking in the singer's tirade: I do agree that musicians deserve to be paid for their work, and it's no secret that artists make very little from Spotify streams unless they're racking up literally millions of them.

But Daltrey's insistence that the internet has "stolen" the record industry is kind of bizarre. There's plenty of evidence that albums sell in spite of Spotify et al, from the stampeding success of Adele's 25 late last year (it's been certified platinum nine times over) to the little music consumption survey that I conducted myself last month (in which the majority of respondents said that buying a physical copy is still the first thing they do when their favourite artist releases a new album). Believe it or not, some people even buy albums via the internet. The Who are a pretty well-known band - they headlined Glastonbury last year, for God's sake - so why is Daltrey worried that his fans wouldn't support a new release?

Maybe it's because he knows deep down that The Who just aren't relevant any more. I'm certain that many people still listen to them (2.6 million, according to the band's page), but I'm equally certain that the vast majority of those listeners are mainly interested in what The Who were doing 45 years ago. Sure, they headlined the UK's biggest music festival last year and probably drew a large, enthusiastic audience, but most of the songs on the setlist that night were written before we had CDs, let alone digital streaming services. I imagine that precious few people are interested in what Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have to offer nowadays; a new Who album wouldn't feature Who Are You or Won't Get Fooled Again or Pinball Wizard, and I think the general public assume - probably correctly - that the band will never write another song of that calibre again. And even if they did, who cares? Music has moved on, Daltrey and Townshend failed to die before they got old, and the people who might be genuinely interested in a new Who hit are, by and large, the same people who are perfectly satisfied to listen to the old ones again and again, all the while insisting that new music is rubbish compared to the stuff they had back in the day.

And that may well be the crux of the problem: The Who have carved out the latter part of a career from the idea that new music is automatically worse than old music, so the idea of them making new music of their own doesn't really compute. I suspect Daltrey probably knows that on some level, and that's the real reason why we won't hear a new Who album any time soon. Obviously, though, he can't admit that, so instead he blames the state of the modern music industry and in doing so reveals himself to be a bit of a berk, a tragic rock fossil who no longer cares about making music if he's not making a profit.

As for Daltrey's claim that the internet has stolen the record industry, well, he's obviously full of shit on that front, too. I'd argue that, thanks to the wide availability of low-cost recording equipment and the existence of websites like Bandcamp, the record industry is the best it's ever been right now, especially for new bands. Unknown artists no longer have to hope for the support of a big record label; they can record a whole album for practically nothing, and release/market it themselves online. The record industry may well have been stolen away from the likes of Roger Daltrey, but if it has, it's been stolen by the people, not by the internet.

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