A while ago I explained the history of Rock and Roll (in chart form), and one thing that came out of that is that music sales are now the lowest they’ve been since the very beginning. It’s true that the various new music formats have contributed to this. (And I’ll talk about these more in a future post.) However there is another major contributor to the music industry’s decline that I haven’t seen talked about: customer apathy. People just aren’t very passionate about modern music.
How can I say such a thing? Well just look at music sales. They are in the toilet. Customers would be buying a lot more music if they were passionate about the music. And just where does passion for music come from? In a word: Rock. If you look at the music industry’s history, you’ll see that it grew the most (in a sustainable way) when Rock music was the focus. Rock is what creates the passion that makes people want to buy albums. Let me explain further.
I’ve mentioned before that Rock and Roll eventually split into Rock and Pop, but what does that mean exactly? Well you might say that Rock is about a guitar band, while Pop is about singing and dancing. However I would really say that Rock is about creating an integrated sound, while Pop is about creating a modular sound.
See, whenever musicians make a song or an album they are making a product. Because of this, the principles of product development also apply to music development. One important thing to consider when developing a product is whether or not to make the system integrated or modular. For example, Apple products tend to use an integrated philosophy. A Mac’s hardware and operating system are both made by Apple, and both parts are specifically made for each other, which is why they are integrated. For a PC, Microsoft makes the operating system while some other hardware manufacturer makes the PC (HP, Dell, Samsung, etc…). This system is modular, because the operating system isn’t made for a specific hardware. Instead it’s standardized to fit onto any hardware.
So which should you choose: integrated or modular? In general you want an integrated product when you need to increase overall the performance or reliability, while a modular product is better for improving convenience or cost. For example, the (integrated) Mac is going to run smoother than a PC, because its hardware and software were designed for each other. It’s more reliable. Also it is nicer aesthetically, because Apple wants every aspect of its product to be high quality, even aesthetics. These benefits naturally come from having an integrated product. In contract the PC is modular, so it is going to cost less than a Mac with similar specs. Also if a customer just wants to focus on one part of the computer (like a good graphics card), then the PC is a better choice. Modular systems make it easy to focus on improving one part of the system instead of the system as a whole.
So now let’s think about this in terms of music. Rock bands tend to be integrated systems, while Pop musicians tend to be modular. Rock bands often to play together for years just to develop their sound, and the final outcome is highly dependent upon how they all sound together. Most Rock bands also write their own music, making them a highly integrated system. And if you change one person in the band, then you change the whole sound. I’ve often heard the question “do you prefer ‘David Lee Roth Van Halen’ or ‘Sammy Hagar Van Halen’”? It’s like they became a whole new band simply by changing one person. That’s because their sound is integrated into the band as a whole.
Pop, on the other hand is totally modular. Miley Cyrus has a different songwriter for each of her songs, and no one knows anyone in the band that plays for her. They could switch those band members out easily, and no one would even notice. Likewise if Miley’s popularity wanes, then the record company could let her go but still keep the band and songwriters to work with the next Pop star. Changing one part doesn’t really disrupt the system. Also Pop tends to focus on Vocal quality above the other parts, which it can do because it is modular.
Knowing all of this, where does passion for music come from? You need an integrated sound. You need Rock! Rock is the solution to the music industry’s problems. The music industry needs music that is reliably made at a high performance. It needs Rock! Also Rock music is what tends to sell the most albums, but right now singles are far outselling albums. That is a big reason why music sales are totally in the toilet: not enough Rock!
How is Rock performing nowadays? Not good at all. There are very few Rock acts that are getting significant sales nowadays. Record companies need to look into finding hot new Rock bands to promote. I think the record companies have mostly been in survival mode for the past several years, but it is time for them to move past that. The way to revive the music industry is through Rock. Find good Rock, and the music sales will follow. I guarantee it.