People don’t want good music, they want free music. Good is optional, in both the composition, performance, and the final recoding that’s listened to. Actually, good isn’t even desired at all, there has always been good music, great music too, and it has never sold well.

It’s people and listening habits that have fundamentally changed — not the artists or music distributors — that have eroded the ability to be a professional musician.

These days people invest in good headphones, not good stereo systems. Most listening occurs alone, and when groups of people listen to music it’s usually background to another activity. When was the last time you or anyone you know listened to recorded music together in your house where the sole intent was to listen to the music, and not do anything else simultaneously like converse, eat, or drink? My theory is that headphones have become so popular since they make low bitrate audio files sound better. Yes, you’ll also hear the digital artifacts (if you have a trained ear) but a $79 set of headphones brings more audio fidelity to the listener than a $79 stereo system. I mean there are not enough bus and train riders out there to explain the explosion in popularity in headphone use!

And even when people use headphones and listen to music alone, the music is usually background noise to other activities like working out, studying, housework, and web surfing.

Given that people don’t really treat listening to music as something they do exclusively with no distractions, and that music can be had for free, I don’t see that people will ever buy music again in any great numbers. I think people have to treasure listening to music more as a primary activity before ANY business model can be developed to support music recording sales at past levels.

Also, let’s face it, music can be rather boring when you hold it up against other forms of entertainment like TV and movies. Back in the fat and profitable years for the music industry — about the last half of the 1960’s, the entire 70’s & 80’s and the first half of the 90’s — TV and movies, especially TV, sucked ass. But now TV shows are amazing and they command your attention. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange is the New Black etc. viewing parties have replaced album listening parties. We’re not going to pay $10 for an album when the same $10 gets us Netflix. Hell, we don’t even really pay $10 for Pandora.

Of course all of the above is a generalization and a lot of people still engage in music as something other than background noise. But I don’t think they’re enough of them left to support the music industry like in decades past.

With only a few exceptions (40 or 200?) being a musician is a now a low-wage job in an archaic industry. I think we have to acknowledge that the music industry was a bubble that burst and it will never be re-inflated. And like with all bubbles, all of us are partly to blame.

So don’t think that all it will take is some new “good” musicians or some new amazing music genre or scene to breath new life into the music industry. Music industry profits are now slim margins because music as a form of entertainment has been marginalized.

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