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FYI...

July 14, 2014

There's less good music now — here's why

(Continued)

In 2000, album sales peaked at 785 million. Last year, they were down to 415.3 million. Swift is right, but for many of the artists whose albums pierce hearts like arrows, it's too late. Sales of vinyl albums have increased 40.4 percent so far this year, according to Nielsen, and the top-selling one was guitar hero Jack White's Lazaretto. The top 10 also includes records by the aging or dead, such as the Beatles and Bob Marley & the Wailers. More modern entries are not exactly teen sensations, either: the Black Keys, Beck and the Arctic Monkeys. None of these artists is present on the digital sales charts, including or excluding streams. The top-selling album so far this year, by a huge margin, is the saccharine soundtrack to the Disney animated hit, Frozen.

When, like me, you're over 40 and you believe the music industry has been in decline since in 1993 (the year Nirvana released In Utero), it's easy to criticize the music taste of "the kids these days," a term even the 23-year old Swift uses. My fellow dinosaurs will understand if they compare 1993's top albums to Nielsen's 2014 list. But these kids don't just like to listen to different music than we do, they no longer find much worth hearing.

The way the music industry works now may have something to do with that. In the old days, musicians showed their work to industry executives, the way most book authors still do to publishers (although that tradition, too, is eroding). The executives made mistakes and were credited with brilliant finds. Sometimes they followed the public taste, and sometimes they strove to shape it, taking big financial and career risks in the process. These days, according to Swift, it's all about the social networks. "A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers," Swift wrote. "In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around."

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