Three monkeys in a record store

Three monkeys in a record store


norman lebrecht

January 06, 2011

The British Phonographic Industry has announced its sixth year of straight decline, a seven percent dip last year, allied to a slowing of download growth. 

Look at the stats whichever way you like and there is no gleam of light. A decision by HMV to close 60 record and book stores confirms the prevalent state of gloom. Here’s a BBC report.

The BPI blames all the usual culprits for the declining interest in commercial recordings – bad weather, store closures and, over and above the rest, illegal downloads. This official analysis is as predictable as it is irrational. 
Illegal downloads do not surge if the music fails to turn on a mass public – and that’s the core concern. One glimpse at the charts shows a dominance of Simon Cowell’s TV contest winners, from Matt Cardle down. The gimmick is wearing thin, but the music industry is so hooked on Cowell’s medicine that it refuses to recognise its own slow death by overdose.

                                                 press image from Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film Three Monkeys
One of Cowell’s regular producers told me the other day that he thought the machine was now progressively killing the music. He feared for young talent that was being squeezed out by the preponderance of TV game shows and for listeners who are being turned off.
If record sales are to rise again, industry leaders must stop acting like the three monkeys – one who can’t hear, one who can’t see and the third whose job it is to claim government protection and disability benefits. An end to the X Factor could mark a new start for the beleaguered record business.


  • Marie Lamb says:

    Sad to say, I am not surprised by the way things are going. Over a decade ago, a lawyer I knew who had connections in entertainment law predicted that the record industry as we knew it would collapse of its own weight within a few years; downloading was just starting to become a force then, and the music industry was doing little in response. He was right, IMHO. By the time the big companies finally paid attention, new ways of getting music had changed the business forever. Going after illegal downloaders and other strategies have had limited success in the U.S., and have also not exactly done wonders for RIAA and record company PR. Meanwhile, in classical and jazz music, smaller and more responsive indie recording companies are taking quite a bite out of the big boys’ lunch with more interesting releases. I recall reading that a major record company interviewed a focus group of teenagers about their music buying habits, and offered stacks of their latest CDs for the taking to thank the young people for their time. Most of the CDs remained untouched, since the teenagers preferred to download their music. And this was within the past couple of years, not a decade ago! Times and technology have changed. No amount of hype from Mr. Cowell and his ilk for second-rate music will revive a recording industry that, to a large extent, has itself to blame for much of its own troubles by not paying enough attention to what listeners want and how they prefer to get it. To quote from the lyrics to “Ghost in a Machine”–“I try to hide, but I just can’t hide no more.” That’s true: the music “machine” can’t hide from the real situation anymore.

  • David snyder says:

    Tragically, the real situation seems to be the devaluation of music back to what it was centuries ago: a disreputable pastime that produced diversion for the idle rich. I lament it because we all know the hard labor needed to master both art and craft. Whatever was wrong with Wagner, he established what Beethoven started: that the producers of music (and all art, for that matter) are the superiors of the consumers. I don’t think a Beethoven or a Wagner is possible in the world’s art scene anymore. As for recording and distribution, well, theft seems to be the norm. I wish I had a solution.