A Brief History of the Record Industry, 1890-2005

recordindustryhistory

The following is written by DistroKid CEO and founder, Philip Kaplan. 

The world was abuzz this week with reports that Taylor Swift removed her music from Spotify. She called the service “a grand experiment” and said she wanted no part of it. Music writer Bob Lefsetz said it’s just a PR stunt. 80’s rocker Sebastian Bach (who looks kinda like Taylor Swift) said that fans appreciate music more when they have to pay for it.

+Taylor Swift: I’m Not Willing To Contribute My Life’s Work To an Experiment That Doesn’t Fairly Compensate Artists

Who knows.

But we’ve all been told a million times that the old music industry is dying, record stores are gone, and labels are closing.

More specifically, record execs who were around in the the 90’s miss the good ol’ days when albums went platinum.

But here’s the thing.

Those who made a killing from the record business of yesteryear, should count their lucky stars that it ever happened in the first place.

The record business as most people know it, was just a short hundred-year blip in the 40,000 year history of the music business. A stopgap to solve a temporary problem that existed between the invention of sound recording (1890’s), and the invention of the internet (1990’s).

Few other art forms lets artists get rich off copies of their art.

How did musicians get so lucky?

Here’s some history.

Record players were invented in the late 1800’s. But there were no records. So for the same reason Microsoft made Word & Excel to make Windows more useful — electronics companies like Sony and Columbia started making records.

Turns out the music was more profitable than the hardware. And so the recording industry was born.

recordindustryhistory_gramaphone

For about a hundred years (ending around 2005), artists were able to get rich off of duplications — records, tapes and CDs. We still even use the word “copies,” like when a platinum record sells a million copies.

Early musicians didn’t have that luxury. Mozart didn’t sell one fucking copy. Taylor Swift sold 110 million.

Not to mention other art forms. Painters wish they had an opportunity to get rich off copies. The Mona Lisa currently on your computer screen below, is not worth as much as the one in the Louvre.

monalisa

When record stores were a thing, there were exactly sixty musicians who figured out how to work within the system to become wildly successful (in that case, selling 100 million copies each).

Specifically, they took advantages of inefficiencies in the market.

How many of those millions of people only liked one track but had to buy the entire album? iTunes fixed that by decoupling the tracks from albums.

How many of those millions put the album on a shelf and never listened to it? Spotify fixed that—artists only get paid for plays.

By removing herself from streaming services, Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market.

Like Comcast and Walmart, her product is popular enough that people will put up with it. And while I believe an artist gets to choose what happens to her art, I still think it’s a dick move to her fans.

Today there are more opportunities than ever for musicians. Tomorrow’s superstars are taking advantage of that now by posting viral YouTube videos, getting their shows Instagram’ed to death, using Eventbrite to sell tickets directly, using Meetup to organize events, getting discovered on Hype Machine, selling directly to fans using Bandcamp, making hits in the back of a taxi, and using DistroKid (disclosure: I’m the founder) to get into iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and everywhere else while keeping 100% of their royalties—all without needing a record company.

+BandCamp Adds Artist Friendly Subscription Service

And finally, in a semi-related coincidence, my heavy metal band, “Butchers of the Final Frontier,” has a new song & video premiering tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov 11. Check it out and buy it if you like it. It will be available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play, Beats, Deezer, and Rdio.

Thanks for reading.

Image is by Ann Larie Valentine and used with the Creative Commons license.

Philip Kaplan is the founder and CEO of DistroKid

38 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    “And finally, in a semi-related coincidence, my heavy metal band”

    More AriSpam.

    Reply
      • Anonymous

        So this is a lie, Ari?

        “A Brief History of the Record Industry, 1890-2005
        Wednesday, November 12, 2014
        by
        Ari Herstand

        Reply
          • Anonymous

            Blame Paul — because you take credits for another guy’s article?

            You are aware that’s illegal, yes?

            This place…

          • Paul Resnikoff
            Paul Resnikoff

            It just means Ari entered it, not wrote it. Maybe there’s a way to change that after the post if entered, I’m not sure. I’ll look into it.

          • Anonymous

            “It just means Ari entered it, not wrote it. Maybe there’s a way to change that after the post if entered, I’m not sure”

            Paul… wow. Speechless.

            This is better than the ‘no copyright intended’ notes on pirated YouTube videos.

          • Anonymous

            Which part of the word “credits” don’t you understand?

            Honest to god, I’ve never seen anything like this…

          • Nina Ulloa

            How have you never seen anything like this? It says right there in big letters “The following is written by DistroKid CEO and founder, Philip Kaplan. “

          • Anonymous

            Here — on the top of the page — is the title and the credits, Nina:

            “A Brief History of the Record Industry, 1890-2005
            Wednesday, November 12, 2014
            by
            Ari Herstand

            And that’s clearly illegal, ask any lawyer.

          • Anonymous

            “this debate is about the most important elements of the article”

            Indeed. It’s the perfect illustration of your contempt for Intellectual Property.

    • Anonymous

      These Europeans had wars that almost wiped out
      Their civilization. We had a war to bring civilization.
      Which means we are moving forward.
      Stop selling the American ppl short.
      It is freedom art and the world needs to pay for it.

      Reply
  2. Jeff Robinson

    Ari, Mozart and and most classical musicians made money selling music, to their publishers who in turn sold sheet music to consumers. That was one of the ways they made money. That avenue does not for the majority of musicians in today’s marketplace.

    The other ways classical composers earned money are all mostly still in play today. Giving lessons, performing live, performing as a session musician, doing works for hire, etc. Some were court composers whose annual salaries were paid by the aristocracies of the times and supplemented by publishing advances and royalties from sales of sheet music. Someone like Joseph Haydn languished for years working for Prince Esterhazy but still earned a living as a composer and was one of the most prolific composers in the history of music.

    Reply
    • GGG

      You’re right. But this comment is less taking away from what Kaplan is saying, and more supporting the idea of artists having to diversify themselves. Something that people on the site have a conniption about because god forbid an “artist” does anything besides sit at home recording 10 songs over 18 months.

      Reply
      • FarePlay

        “Today there are more opportunities than ever for musicians. Tomorrow’s superstars are taking advantage of that now by posting viral YouTube videos, getting their shows Instagram’ed to death, using Eventbrite to sell tickets directly, using Meetup to organize events, getting discovered on Hype Machine, selling directly to fans using Bandcamp, making hits in the back of a taxi, and using DistroKid (disclosure: I’m the founder) to get into iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and everywhere else while keeping 100% of their royalties—all without needing a record company.”

        GGG, you can do better than this. This guy is either coming out of a coma or has been living in a closet for a decade. There isn’t one fresh idea here and most of these ‘concepts’ have been proved failures. Jumping on his bandwagon, pun intended, is a trip into a failed past.

        I’m actually giving you a compliment. Your better, smarter and faster.

        Reply
        • GGG

          I mean, I’m not trying to defend the guy because I’m pretty apathetic about this article and don’t agree what Swift did was a “dick move to fans,” but I don’t think what he said was about being fresh, just that they are out there. My comment was referring to Jeff’s comment anyway; in other words, the span of time when a musician could sit at home for two years, release 40 minutes of music to the world, make half a million bucks, and repeat lasted about 50 years. That’s not very long, comparatively.

          So when people bring up artists doing other things besides just recording, and the pitchforks come out and the one guy inevitably says “ARRRGH, WHAT IF BOB DYLAN HAD TO WORK AT STARBUCKS!?!?!” it’s just kinda stupid. Yes, we were lucky we get to hear great music people got to make then, and sure, it sucks it’s gone/going away, but I don’t see any point bitching about it. If some artist who’s been around for decades wants to complain, I guess there’s room. But if someone started trying to make it within the last 5-10 years, they’d be an idiot not to embrace the social/sharing/whatever culture. Not to mention, there’s been loads of fantastic music released in the last decade. So this notion that music will cease to be is also silly.

          As for the actual quote you posted, besides his attacking the sacred Taylor Swift in the article, I don’t see how you could have issues with any of those services. Going even moderately viral on YT can still certainly help a career; Instagram is certainly the social app du jour; EventBrite and Meetup I’ve never used so I have no real opinion but I don’t see how they can ‘fail” unless nobody gave a shit about buying tickets to your show in the first place; HypeMachine is still a fantastic tool and I see this firsthand when about once every couple weeks one of the bands I work with that does remixes get an extra 200-500 plays because some rando reposted it; Bandcamp is a fantastic tool, especially in the DIY scene; don’t know what he’s referring to with the taxi thing; and Distrokid is no different than any other distributor catering to unsigned bands, in the grand scheme of things.

          Reply
  3. Hippydog

    It seems that what most people dont want to accept or even entertain the very idea of
    is that maybe the huge music boom that was brought about by the CD player was an aberration..
    A confluence of ideas and happenstance that led to a huge money making opportunity that probably can not be repeated..

    The sad thing is if more people WOULD accept that it was an aberration, maybe the music industry could move forward and truly save itself..

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Snore. Remove piracy and we’ll see what the market for music “copies” truly is.

    I can’t believe people still write this drivel and think they’re convincing somebody.

    Reply
  5. rickylopezGMT

    Imagine if the the majors fronted up $500,000,000 (that’s a fraction of what Beats and what Spotify think they are worth) Every law enforcement agency / ISP / Telcom company on the planet would sit up straight and snub out piracy in the western world [pretty quick] to get a slice of that pie

    Reply
  6. fastannie

    “How many of those millions of people only liked one track but had to buy the entire album? iTunes fixed that by decoupling the tracks from albums.”

    n the old days, record stores also sold singles….45s.

    Reply
  7. Just another fool online

    Mozart and and most classical musicians made money selling music to their publishers who in turn sold sheet music to consumers.

    BWHAHAHAHAHAHA … pls tell me where you got your degree in music history. plulezzzzzz so I don’t send my kids there.

    “Believe me, my sole purpose is to make as much money as possible; for after good health it is the best thing to have.” – Mozart to his father, Vienne, April 4, 1781 (Anderson, 1938, Vol. 3, p. 1072)

    Remember, there were no copyright laws in the 18th century. There were no publishers. Composers made SOME money from writing arrangements of “segments” of larger works, such as “The Magic Flute” in Mozart’s case, that anyone could play simply on a piano or in duos etc. Anyone could do it – there were no protections for the composer. Mozart made his living in servitude until he was 25, and before moving to Vienna, where many historians conjure that he went the DIY route, always worried about his finances, often writing letters to friends begging for loans. A couple of historians have conjured that he actually earned favorable money from writing music for the “courtesans” to enjoy at dances and such.

    The public concert was a new idea in 1770.

    Either way, your statement APPEARS to be lacking in some historical truth. just sayin 😉

    I’m not a PhD in the subject, but some things I do remember from college 😉

    Reply
  8. doktor audio

    the fuck is this shit? brief history? “first we had mozart, then records, now Taylor! Done.” Now to biology. “Theres sex, cells and tear gas.” Got it? Next: business. “I give you something you want and you give me something I want. Then we argue over which has more value.” ah this is fun.

    Oh and I forgot to emphasize some phrases and use different font sizes to make it even less readable.
    suit up DMN

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      “first we had mozart, then records, now Taylor! Done.” Now to biology. “Theres sex, cells and tear gas.”

      🙂

      And don’t get me started on font sizes. How come they don’t use different colors and typefaces, too?

      Also, I’m Ari Hairstrand. I wrote this.

      Reply
  9. Willis

    Philip Kaplan aka PUD is the founder of no-defunct site FuckedCompany.com and a hack musician who keep trying to exploit industries he knows little to nothing about.

    Reply
  10. Greg Fischbach

    Interesting approach to the shift in the music business. Moving from boxed product to digital has brought a dramatic shift in the music biz’s revenue model. Its an industry that capitalized on the value of recorded music through performance fees, synch licenses, mechanical licenses, sheet music,
    live performance, merchandising rights, and the sale of physical goods (Vinyl /CD’s/Tapes/ and even Piano rolls) amongst other sources of income.
    As to Taylor Swift its all about pennies per play vs. her revenue from the sale of CD’s. Change the model, change the outcome.
    Music unlike art has always been paid for use . . .

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Regardless of your side on this issue, this is clearly a biased piece by a questionably qualified contributor with ulterior motives. Paul, I’m surprised.

    Reply
  12. Chris H

    Couple of thoughts. First, is that Taylor Swift is not introducing anything back into the market, as she is not doing it for all artists. What she is doing for sure, is reintroducing profit to her P&L and nobody should be faulted for that.

    Secondly, this article would be much more helpful if it included the facts surrounding the structure of the music business, which has been reformulated at least three times in that 100 year period. Mozart had performances and patronage to rely on. There aren’t many kings around nowadays to throw gold coins at composers. Secondly, the 1910-1940’s, where MCA controlled 90% of the music business, controlling act’s live performances, with records and publishing thrown in. To the record era, where records funded all else.

    That would be a more productive place to forward the dialogue from.

    Reply

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