History of Music Media Vol. 3 – The Digital Age and Beyond!

April 1, 2010

Welcome to the future! A future that contains some of the past, a bit of the present and not much else! Behold, the miraculous wonder that is: The History of Music Media Vol. 3.

Just get here? Brush up with:
Volume 1 – The Formative Years
Volume 2 – The Analog Age

"Like printing money," said the self-satisfied music industry upon the introduction of the CD format. Or so they thought, until everyone started "printing" their own "money" at home...

Compact Discs
If LPs and cassettes were the show ponies of the media race, the “CD” (or “See Dee”) was Manowar, Secretariat and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s horses rolled into one.

Popular, cheap to produce and yet another format to gouge completists with, the CD had it all. Distribution cost? $0. Paid out of the artists’ royalties. Production costs? Studio time? Blow? Free. All paid for by the artists. Plastic, paper, ink – all cheap. Lots and lots and lots of profit.

The music industry responded to their incredible fortune the way any short-sighted leviathan would: by steadily increasing prices. Soon customers were paying $19 for one good song and 11 shitty ones. On top of that, the new format ran 20-25 minutes longer than the LP, leading many bands to pack their albums with filler.

Now albums that would have been solid at 45 minutes suddenly became 77 minutes of catalog dilution as bands threw in various shit remixes, shit “alternate takes,” or the ever-popular “13-minute hidden track” that was nothing more than 11 minutes of silence climaxing in two minutes of stoner in-jokes or an “ironic” cover. (This bloat carried over to the “CD Single” as well, giving you one good track and four shitty remixes, all for $5-$10.)

Finally, after so many other formats repeatedly “killing the music industry,” they had found a savior in a nice, cheap plastic disc.

But there was trouble on the horizon. The twin spectres of “used CDs” and “blank CDs” soon cast a shadow over all the hookers and blow purchased with their ill-gotten gains.

Garth Brooks deputizes himself and begins house-to-house searches for used cds.

The first, “used CDs,” was decried by artists as disparate and incredibly wealthy as Garth Brooks (68 million albums sold) and Chris Gaines (1.1 million albums traded in at used cd stores). They now demanded to be reimbursed every time the album changed hands, like at the local record store or that time when you lent your Violent Femmes album to a friend of friend and they slowly absorbed it into their CD collection over a matter of weeks, and with each passing day it became less and less likely you’d ever see it again and more and more awkward to attempt to bring it up in everyday conversation.

The other, “blank CDs,” when combined with affordable CD writers, shoved a slightly-battered industry towards the edge of a long flight of stairs. The industry responded with more built-in fees and cries of “Home burning is killing music.” This cry was misinterpreted by various local fire departments and indie-leaning arsonists, who both quickly sprung into counterproductive action.

"Proprietary format and hardware? The public will never fall for that!" - Steve Jobs, 1995.

Having learned nothing from its “Beta” experiment, Sony forged ahead with a boldly miscalculated attempt to corner a non-existent market with the MiniDisc. Like a CD, only smaller, more easily lost/damaged and handcuffed to Sony hardware, the MiniDisc never had a chance.

Sony once again walked away empty-handed from the R&D roulette table, having shown only that early adopters will buy anything as long as it’s shiny and prohibitively expensive. Its ability to record music onto the midget-sized discs threatened, in an unsteady voice, to destroy the music industry. The music industry responded to this pint-sized miscreant with “Awwww. The little guy’s trying to say something” and slapped it with some punitive fees.

Hey, kids! Remember cassettes? They're back! And more expensive than ever!

Ostensibly combining the best of both worlds (digital quality; solid state reliability) but in reality combining two non-complementary traits (digital quality; little pieces of metal read by a magnet), the DAT soon escaped its early position as ultra-expensive studio equipment, going on to lead a rich, full life as the backup “band” for thousands of hip hop artists and occasionally graced the stage as a “lead singer” (Ashlee Simpson, Milli Vanilli, Joe Walsh).

"Of course it's better, you Philistine! It's made out of fucking gold!"

SACD (Superior Audio Compact Disc)
A sad attempt to drag audiophiles into the present, mainly utilizing the premise that “expensive=good.” Rolling Stone fell for it, but the number of questionable products, bands and ideas that Rolling Stone has fallen for could fill an entire Internet.

Well, if we're not getting our flying cars any time soon, at least we've got a music format that looks like the future.

Not content to be merely a threat to the entire music industry, the mp3’s storage-friendly compression rate and ultra-portability did what no other medium had, and actually destroyed the music industry. And not a moment too soon, as rock and roll itself had been declared dead multiple times since the early ’60s by such formidable publications as Rolling Stone, Cat Fancy and Businessweek.

The music industry was now truly “fuckt,” as Mozart had so aptly put it millions of years ago. Its Rasputin-like longevity was threatened as was its Rasputin-like propensity for evil behavior. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry with an eMachine could download and dump hundreds of pirated songs onto jump drives, mp3 players and CDs with absolutely no physical effort. And, thanks to the major labels and their decades of gouging, no one was troubled in the least to see them limping into port, taking on water faster than it could be bailed and covered in pirate wounds.

Soon the good ship “Suddenly Outdated Industry” was leaking money from a million tiny holes. So-called “experts” in the guise of lawyers and yes-men were consulted. They all agreed on two things:

1. Something should be done.
2. Someone should be sued.

Lars Ulrich points out Shawn Fanning to his security team.

They summoned Dark Elf Lars Ulrich to attack the face of international music piracy: a certain Shawn Fanning. Coming off their most successful album to date, Metallica forged ahead in (self) righteous indignation, alienating an entire generation of potential fans. With Napster on the ropes, the recording industry went from barn to barn to verify that all the horses were indeed missing and methodically began slamming shut door after door.

A nation of tweens and octogenarians were summoned to court and threatened with usurious fines for downloading “Happy Birthday” and other such top 40 songs. Kazaa watched in horror as its user base (which numbered in the dozens) was swept into lawsuit after lawsuit. Meanwhile, malware creators watched in horror as their remaining victims lost their internet privileges and a great deal of money, both being very key components of their continued success.

Other high-dollar performers got into the act. Madonna seeded file sharers with mp3s of her asking, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Most pirates found this immensely preferable to her second-rate electronica and occasional British accent. Alicia Silverstone hastened her irrelevance by appearing in magazine ads reminding people that stealing mp3s was exactly like stealing cars, a move that upped the “cool” factor of file sharing to the nth degree. The youth of the world, properly chastened, switched from P2P to torrents, in essence moving from carjacking to Gone in 60 Seconds.

U2's private airliner sits abandoned, unable to refuel because of thieving bastards all over the word.

As the industry bled out, it summoned its archangel, Bono, to appear in the “paper of record” (High New York Times), flatly stating that America needed to follow the lead of Communist China and track every piece of information travelling the internet. This was met with sneers of derision and cries of “Fuck you, Bono! Find some other way to finance your malfunctioning electro-lemons!”

Panicked lawsuits filled countless courtrooms and lined countless corporate lawyers’ pockets. Bills were presented to anyone who acknowledged that “music” existed. Everyone and anyone was asked to “give until or else it hurts” to prop up a sagging multi-billion dollar industry. No one was spared. YouTube, bloggers, Girl Scouts, mom & pop stores, animal shelters, cop shops, hotels, bars and nightclubs all became notches on rent-seeking industry’s bedpost.

Nothing stopped the bleeding. The mighty mp3, victorious over King Music(k), waved its variable bit rate triumphantly, zipped itself into a compacted file and hid itself amongst the overstuffed shelves of Mediafire, RapidShare and Megaupload.

So long, corrupt and bloated industry. Enjoy the bitter fruits of your labor.

Coming up:
A Word* from Our Author
*”Word” may actually equal 1200+ words. Wear comfortable shoes.



  1. “Soon customers were paying $19 for one good song and 11 shitty ones.”

    Being the frugal Jew I am, it only took a few purchases to figure that out early in the game. I don’t think I can name five CDs I have purchased NEW in my lifetime. The last CD I bought was Jesus Christ Superstar (70s version) four years ago and it was worth every penny for the memories alone. Okay, I do have to cop to an Adam Lambert CD, but that’s because I had a gift card and I felt like supporting the artist. I now purchase all my CDs from eBay, upload them and then resell them on eBay and if I can find a “greatest hits” CD I’m really, really happy because then I feel like I got my money’s worth. As usual, you told it like it is with clarity, style and a well deserved admonishment to the music industry. Plus, you filled in a lot of blanks (my Swiss cheese musical knowledge is feeling more like cheddar). I can’t think of a more deserving candidate for an honorary doctorate in music, Capitalist.

    Incidentally, when I “Topeka’d” (it’s April Fool’s Day) Jesus Christ, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was the first entry!

    • e3h –

      Glad to see you dodged the CD bullet early. It was nothing but a ripoff from day one, especially when presenting top 40 artists as having an album full of good ideas, rather than just one hit track and 65 more minutes of everyone wishing they were somewhere else.

      I’ll go ahead and grant you the honorary doctorate, if only because you’re such a willing student during my weekly Heavy Rotation sessions. I still think you’re backing the wrong Whitey, though…

    • Oh my, that honorary doctorate is for you, Capitalist (you are much too modest). My musical expertise would barely rate voc rehab. 🙂

    • Well, in that case, I’ll bestow it on me. Keep in mind that I now have one (1) extra honorary degree available. Act now before Bill Cosby or somebody hoovers it up.

  2. A brilliant finale to a brilliant series.

    CDs are better than MP3s! I won’t give up. The dynamic range is better and music for CDs is mixed differently. Some day I’ll be the weird old guy scouring the few remaining music stores and garage sales for working copies of my old plastic disks and extolling their virtues. The youngsters will wonder who the hell LTJ Bukem is and why I’m rummaging through their parents’ stuff. The garage sale is only for stuff that’s outside, old dude.

    • Yes, CDs are better than compressed music, but I can take my entire CD collection and cram it into a 5-inch hard drive. Sometimes quantity will trump quality, but usually only when portability is an issue.

      Those youngsters can’t be that young. I think a lot of the current population may be wondering who LTJ Bukem is. (Not to mention why a dnb fan feels it’s “ok” to rifle thru their personal belongings…)

    • Yeah, I like to maintain both. CDs for sound quality and ease of use and electronic copies for portability. (I’m a dinosaur. I still like popping that one good CD in the car stereo and playing nothing but that one good CD. Solid albums (ha!) still exist. They get fewer and farther between with each passing year, but we audiophiles find them.

      DNB fans lost a lot of brain cells to X, E, Scooby Snacks, Rolls, weird concoctions of drugs combined into singular pill form that kind of almost mimicked the effects of MDMA. When we’re rifling through people’s personal belongings, our younger and clearer supervisors will say, “He liked to roll a lot in the late 90’s.” All will be forgiven. The LTJ Bukem atmospherics will just soothe us in the savage beast formulation. Nobody will want to stand in the way of that soothing.

    • I hear you. I’ve got some of each but have been trending towards loading up the hard drive. My mp3 player keeps me company during my 40-minute unlit drive to work through some of the most boring parts of “God’s country” every morning and keeps me awake on the return trip.

      It wasn’t just the dnb fans losing their minds. Everyone who got into anything electronic from about 1988-now lost huge chunks of grey matter to dubious substances pushed under the name of E.

      Never underestimate your drug dealer’s interest in turning a profit.

  3. Crack analysis as always CLT. The music business can consider themselves pwned by a master.

    • To quote a blogger friend of ours: they can consider themselves pwned. In both places.

      Screw them and their assembly line of hitmakers. The real music’s at the fringes. Thanks for the compliments, FJ.

  4. This was a truly epic trilogy, better even than Star Wars or The Karate Kid. This was Pulitzer worthy journalism CLT, and I’m giving you the nod all day. So the next logical question is what’s next?

    “What the fuck do you think you’re doing”…? I thought that was Madonna’s go to line when Guy Ritchie started stroking pieces of gristle that turned out to be non-vagina related.

    • It was rather epic, wasn’t it? My series tend to start off succint and then expand exponentially (wordwise) with each successive issue. No wonder I abandon them so frequently…

      HAHA!!! Take that, former Mrs. Madonna! And Madonna, herself! That joke works. In both places.

      (April is “Resurrect a Small-Time Meme” Month.)

  5. 1) Entertaining and enlightening, CLT…just the way I like my music media tutelage to be.

    2) I would be surprised if Garth Brooks doesn’t come after you for a percentage of the non-exisant money you’re making from these posts.

    3) Not to veer off topic, but Alicia Silverstone is a perfect example of “Why Is?” http://www.laineygossip.com/Why_is_Camilla_Belle_and_Eva_Mendes_and_Lake_Bell.aspx?CatID=1133&CelID=0

    4) If only your “History of…” articles were around when I was in school. I would’ve actually learned something…

    • bschooled! You’ve brought a numbered list! How thoughtful! I do love a numbered list. Stand back whilst I break it down:

      1.) I’m behind this 100%.
      2.) Garth probably smells money on me from this succession of downward motions of the notch-taking variety, but I’ll assure him that he just needs to shower more frequently.
      3.) That’s some brilliantly demeaning stuff. I love it. Why is Eric Richardville? Or indeed, Eric Food?
      4.) Yes. We all would have learned a lot more if our studies had been presented with more attitude and copious swearing. The various boards of education should take a good look at this.

      Which are you more likely to remember?

      a.) A luxury liner travels at a rate of 6 inches per gallon.

      b.) A luxury liner lumbers through cheap, touristy waters at a rate of one average erect penis per amount of sperm allegedly found in Rod Stewart’s stomach that one time. (You know the time I mean. It was in all the tabloids.)

      I rest my case. In both places.

  6. Nice job and damn well said. One of my favorite bands, Spoon, was famously mistreated by a major label in their early days. They went small and are now practically the face of Merge Records “the indie label that got big and stayed small.” Their song the Underdog has been described as a “spry, self definitive and triumphant screed” about their displeasure with the corporate side of music and the middlemen – who will not survive.

    • Alan!

      Great to see you. Well said, and well said by tuneful proxy. Spoon are much better than your average band and by extension, are much much better than your average middleman/lawyer of the music industry. Because at this point, that’s all they have. Litigation.

      RIP, bloated corpse. I’ll come by to kick you now and then, but I won’t miss you at all.

  7. […] Capitalist F. Lion Tamer: The History of Music Media Vol. 3 – The Digital Age and Beyond […]

  8. You speak of the future… what’s after mp3/mp4, where is the industry going?

    • I did promise a future, didn’t I? Much like that guy at Radio Shack, I’m not sure how much “future” I can deliver. Or when.

      Perhaps the future is now.

      (It isn’t.)

      I’ll get back to you. I’ll get back to all of us.

  9. Future is now…?

  10. Ich leibe Nina Hagen!!! Thanks for sharing this!

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