Howard Stern is a funny guy with a rare facility for psychology, but he lives within a bubble of wealth and self-absorption so he’s not always particularly attuned to current events. He did, however, recently point out astutely, when discussing the disappointing sales of Lady Gaga’s new record, that the music business clings to the past the same way the film industry did during the 1980s when it unsuccessfully sued VCR makers. You can’t ignore or legislate progress away. Some foresaw the end of record stores more than 30 years ago, so it’s not like the future sneaked up on record execs.
A newer company like Netflix realizes that a portable computing culture demands that you bring entertainment to people wherever they are, while more traditional companies like Blockbuster, weighed down by bricks and mortar, go out of business. When you’re an institution, it’s difficult to avoid oncoming doom even if you can see it racing towards you.
“Nowadays isn’t every album a flop? The record business…you know I read this guy Bob Lefsetz and he made a point, he was saying that when computers came about, and we all use our computer for typing, the typewriter companies didn’t get out there and go, ‘Fuck the computer business, I’m gonna sue them.’ They either created a computer or a keyboard or something. They didn’t say we’re gonna fight progress and stop the computer from stealing out business. Now the music business unfortunately reacted in way that was like that. They were like, ‘Hey, we love the way we’re doing business. We like record stores, and the Internet is coming about and we’re going to sue it and fight it’ instead of adapting to the business and finding a new way of selling music. And what it’s going to take is some brilliant executive in the music business who figures out how to market things in today’s environment, who figures out how to use the Internet almost like it’s a radio station. You know, record companies thrived even though AM and FM were playing the music for free. But they figured out how to make that a marketing thing. I’m not in the music business, but there are ways to sell music. Maybe the whole concept of an album is completely outdated. Yes, artists have a hard-on for putting out an album like the Beatles would put out Sgt. Pepper’s and have a whole statement to make. Maybe in terms of selling music that has all passed us by, and that opportunity doesn’t exist. Maybe an artist has to figure out that they’ll put out a song once a month as opposed to putting out an entire album and let people put together their collection. I don’t know what the new paradigm should be. You used to put out an album and go out and promote it for a year and there was a way of doing business. Now that’s out the window. They’ve got to figure out a new way of doing business. The album might be a thing of the past. Life is progress. Things are going to change and you must adapt.”
“Always searching for records?”