by Jonathan Jaeger
Has the music industry reached the point of oversaturation? Is the web the saturated fat of the music industry, clogging us up and making it harder to trim the fat? How do we separate the good from the bad? The viral and the 24-hour news cycle versus the timeless pieces of rock n’ roll media? It’s not just the web, though. Oversaturation spills over into the music industry everywhere: too many bands on tour during a rough economy, too many artists online fighting for a piece of the viral pie, more bands selling more music to their music-pirating audience, and a glut of copy-cat artists on Youtube and other streaming sites. Consumers are the new producers, so how do we cut out the excess noise that threatens music as a “profession” (in the traditional sense). Is there a breaking point, a recovery, or do we just completely alter our perspective of the music industry and throw the saturated fat analogy out the window? Perhaps my analogy is backwards. The people consuming the music are not the ones who are going to die from oversaturation in the market. The consumer can pick and choose what they want, cut the fat off, and throw away the excess. It’s more likely that the artists will suffer as creation becomes devalued and more artists fill up the music industry, dividing up the parts so thin that it becomes harder and harder to make a living from music.
I have to admit, I am playing the devil’s advocate a bit in my assessment (fancy word for rant..). I do enjoy everything viral, and I am finding more than enough good music to overcome the heaping piles of subpar music floating around the interwebs. Despite the excess “noise”, it is no harder for me to find a good song than before, if not much easier. I guess when it comes to music I am just a hopeless romantic, clinging onto the notion that my favorite bands are swimming in riches. If I value their music so much, I feel like they should be justly rewarded. Instead, many of my favorite artists are the starving poet types, hoping their passion for music will translate into paying the gas bills to tour cross-country and maybe even put a meal or two on their plate. Because the economy is so tough and the record industry is pretty much tanking, the only solution is oversaturation. You have to make the money somewhere, so everyone goes on tour all year long to try to make ends meet and sell some merch, where the profit margins are better than CD or iTunes sales. The problem is that the average music fan can only go to so many concerts. Being forced to choose from many great concerts is not a major complaint I hear from many music fans, but it makes competition between bands tougher when they are all trying to vie for position (market share, if you will).
We are also facing oversaturation due to speed and simplicity. The idea that consumers are the new producers (ala Youtube mash-ups and remixing) makes filling up the music space that much easier. Anyone with a computer and some spare time can test out their chops by remixing the latest Top 40 hit and posting it online. With so much extra media surrounding an original production, are we getting sick of a certain piece of music quicker or is the constant iteration prolonging the attention we can give to an artist’s original work? Frankly, I can’t decide. But hey, even with low barriers to entry and shrinking production budgets, I think many artists are still churning out some quality product. Let us just hope that technology improves at the same rate that music sales decline, and maybe we will always have enough artists making high quality music with good production values at increasingly lower costs. That way oversaturation will only be an after-thought to the music experience. As a music consumer, and omnivore, I’ll have my steak and eat it too.