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Cybernaut

Music industry continuing to suffer

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They are concerned because the way we relate to music has changed profoundly, and they feel that music is being devalued by digital distribution. We fill our gadgets with thousands of songs and go about our daily business - the music always on in the background rather than the focus of our attention. We buy individual songs we like instead of whole albums, changing how people follow bands and musicians, and even interpret the songs themselves. We increasingly like our music shallow and easy, to the point where producers essentially crank out the same song over and over again, voices masked beneath autotune, without fans noticing. Check out the similarities between Ke$ha's Tik Tok and Katy Perry's California Gurls on YouTube.com (type in "Tik Tok Califonria Gurls" to get the mash ups).

The bottom line is that we just don't listen to music like we used to, even if we're listening to more of it. Listening to an album used to be something you did, an activity as well as an entertainment. There's no real commitment to listening to the music anymore, it's just there.

"Music is mere background sound for most people," wrote Steve Guttenberg on Cnet (www.cnet.com), "and I think that there's something about digital audio that promotes that type of listening. And if you're not really listening, the music's probably not worth paying for."

That goes a long way to explain why people continue to steal so much music or will buy single songs instead of whole albums - even when the individual songs were conceived as part of a whole album experience, and the bands themselves rely on that income in order to produce more music. According to critics like Guttenberg, music has been devalued by the way we consume it. Even your favourite song in the world, which you might listen to a thousand times, will cost you $1.

As Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." Digital download music is meant to be cheap and easy and hopelessly compressed compared to analog recordings. It changes the way songs are mixed and marketed, the length of songs and the way bands sound.

The lack of money from music sales forces bands to tour constantly, which is a good thing in a lot of way - except that when bands are on the road, they're not in the studio making more music. Plus, the surest way to break up a group of musicians is to put them on the road together for a year. Or three.

Of course, everybody is the exception in some way and no question it's fun to dabble in different types of music or buy the "best of" any recording artist without spending $20 on entire albums to get the few songs you really like.