SINN: Consumers thrive as music industry suffers

Radio stations are something of a scourge for music fans.
Oct 22, 2013


Their repetition of the happiest, shallowest, or heartbreakiest anthems leaves little to salivate over for those who appreciate the darker, more complex themes of stranger music that radio ignores.

So, it’s a long and miserable eye-roller of a road without an auxiliary cable and smartphone — and for many, an endless, personalized playlist.

People crave their music. It is a force of mood, emotion, memory and connection. It keeps the world spinning. But the way that we consume, organize and share our music is rapidly changing in a whirlwind of controversy and indecision.

Apple revolutionized the music industry in 2001 with iTunes, a music player and marketplace that allows users to purchase music at 99 cents a song. Users hold their music collections in an almost limitless library — organized by artists, albums, songs and user-generated playlists.

This convention marked a transition in the public’s eyes over the nature of music ownership.

There used to be record collections. People still buy CDs when their favorite artists release new albums, But ownership has largely evolved into digital libraries on electronic devices.

Now, all that pride in owning media is slowly fading as new venues for collecting — not necessarily owning — music are on the rise and shaping the way we consume music and other media. The Internet has no single ownership, and offers unending access to the world of music where users can individually delegate their listening.

Back to the argument about radio, the format is essential. People want access to a variety of music that transitions agreeably without the need of user interaction — fumbling through playlists on your phone, for example, or changing CDs.

The emergence of three major music players have brought us to the brink of a sharp transition that has already changed our lives, and is changing the life of the music industry: Pandora Radio, Spotify, and recently iTunes Radio.

Pandora Radio allows users to freely access a vast realm of playlists associated with artists, genres and compilations with limited ads in-between plays. Using Pandora over the summer, I quickly found that its stations are repetitive. And although it can lead to new music discoveries, the threshold of discovery within your favorite playlists also has its limit, and the user thus still has to make most of the effort to broaden horizons and change things up.

Spotify takes on a similar role, offering free streaming with limited ads and its own varying playlists, but it takes this further by offering a monthly fee of $4.99 for the unlimited, uninterrupted package; or $9.99 a month for the premium package. Premium allows users to not only stream their music, ad free, wherever and whenever, but they can also download their music to their devices and create offline playlists, which serves as a pseudo form of music ownership, in accordance with their membership fee.

Recently, Apple retooled iTunes with iTunes Radio, which serves essentially the same purpose as Pandora and Spotify, but through the lens of iTunes. Apple recognized it needed this format to keep its head above water in the music industry, where it has held a place comfortably for the past decade.

Online music piracy has been a problem during all of this transition — but now that free streaming has become the acceptable future of music consumption, it should likewise serve as a combatant to piracy, which offers songwriters and performers nothing, whereas streaming services offer minimal royalties.

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, told the L.A. Times: “My goal is to not just convert the 23 million into buying (a subscription). My goal is to get 1 billion using streaming services rather than a piracy service.”

This solution to piracy still does not create a solution for paying artists a fair cut of these streaming services’ profits. The overlaying issue with streaming is that there are no major earnings for artists who allow Spotify to play their music.

As Spotify grows, it will be able to contribute more of its annual revenue to artists. But this advancement is so limited and oblique that many contributors find this argument unconvincing.

Music piracy may see its extinction with the new free and subscription-based availability of a plethora of genres and artists to anyone with an Internet connection. But the industry, responsible for taking care of its artists, must change with technology and it must change with its listenership — not the other way around. Consumers are not going to be responsible for achieving that goal.

The industry should pressure streaming services to further support its artists, but recognize they are here to stay.

— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist




Mp3's, streaming, and the 'loudness war' are killing music. Ever notice how absolutely horrible music sounds these days? No, I'm not talking about the lyrical content (although that has slipped as well), but the actual quality of the music itself. I can honestly not listen to most newer CD's and Mp3's for more than a few minutes without getting listening fatigue.

Mp3's just sound horrid with complex musical passages, and on top of that, most music is very badly mastered these days due to the producers insisting that there be excessive dynamic range compression, with the waveforms being pushed right to clipping in order to make the song louder than anything else on the radio in order to grab listeners attention. Additionally, most music these days is mastered for listening on horrid, low-quality headphones like Beats by Dre, or the Apple earbuds.

Listening to music that has been a victim of the loudness war can give you a massive headache in just minutes. It sounds all distorted, the instruments are all mushed together with no dynamic range, and the soundstage is all smooshed. Rick Rubin is one of the worst offenders of destroying albums.

Listening to quality-mastered albums such as Alison Krauss, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, The Eagles, etc... Is very pleasing without the listening fatigue and resulting headaches. Each instrument can be heard crystal-clear, and you can pinpoint its exact location in the soundstage. The sound is silky smooth, without any harshness.

That brings me to the point of why I occasionally 'pirate' music... If I buy an album and it sounds like crap, not all hope is lost. There are large sources on the internet for 24 bit 96/192khz FLAC (lossless, bit-perfect audio files) files with alternate, much higher quality masterings for many albums, and even some album packs with the original 24/192 stems (file for each individual instrument) so you can mix the songs yourself how you want. When I purchase a bad album, I go out and find a different mastering which hasn't been butchered and I download it.

I guess I don't know the reason for my long, drawn out rambling other than to say that much (not all) of today's music just sounds HORRID, and the equipment people are listening on is horrid as well (even when Beats is advertised as 'audiophile' quality headphones) and the newer iPods, cars with mp3 support like Ford SYNC, and consumer grade computers have garbage DAC's.


Wow SignalMaintainer, impressive knowledge of the industry. You are dead on. The richness of the recording is gone. The Lp sound had way more depth.

I long for true stereo sound when you hear the lead guitar in the left and bass in the right and the singer in the middle of your head.

We finally get factory installed systems in our vehicles that are decent and the music quality is in the tank.


You sound old. Maybe you haven't listened to pop music recently but the sound quality and musicianship from artists like Daft Punk, Taylor Swift and Adelle matches the greats from any decade. Sure, there are dogs out there (I find Rihanna to be particularly grating) but you have never had to look far to find terrible music. Want proof? Pull out those old Foreigner albums, you'll see what I'm saying.


Definitely not old (although I am nearing the mid-life crisis age).

I do listen to Daft Punk, and I am sorry to say, but many of their albums are poorly mastered.

Same deal with Taylor Swift; her voice is often pushed beyond clipping, and in some songs it is so bad it is actually quite noticeable. Listen to 'Should've Said No' from 'Fearless' it will give you a nice headache with all the clipping and distortion. Admittedly, some of her other songs sound great. It is hit or miss with her.

I haven't heard much from Adele's studio releases, but I do have a FLAC copy of her live concert at the Royal Albert Hall and it does sound fairly good.

I didn't say that ALL modern music is horrid sounding, just that much of it is due to the trend known as the loudness war.

Likewise, not all old music sounds good, but a much higher percentage did sound good.

Normally, if there is a newer album I like, but sounds horrible, I look for a high quality vinyl rip of it (if it was ever released), as the vinyl is often mastered much better.

With all that being said, will your average teeny-bopper notice the difference between a crap sounding album and a well-mastered one? Not likely (due to listening to it on sub-par system), and they probably don't care either. However, the difference is night and day when I am running FLAC through Foobar in WASAPI Event mode, into my ODAC, to my O2 headphone amp (both very transparent bits of equipment) with my Sennheiser HD650's or HD800's.

BTW, if you want to hear a REALLY crappy album, listen to RHCP's Californication.


What's wrong with Foreigner? I saw them with 38 Special and they ROCKED!!! You must have tinfoil in your eardrums.


Are you worried what your friends see, will it ruin your reputation loving me? I'm a Dirty White Boy.

Mystic Michael

This discussion is already all over the map: Mr. Sinn is addressing the effect of new information technologies on changing music industry business models & distribution channels; SignalMaintainer is referring to the decline in production values; and WWJD & g.vandersteldt are talking about the quality of the music itself. (BTW, Foreigner was indeed terrible - and I said so at the time, as soon as their first album was released.)

Returning to the original theme, I will just add that it usually seems to be the artist who stands to lose the most whenever there is a major change in the industry, i.e. from one media format to another (LP to CD to MP3), to new distribution channels (mix tapes to P2P to streaming), or to new business models (major label-based, indie label-based, concert-based revenue streams, recording-based revenue streams, etc.). Which is the ultimate irony, since if it wasn't for the artists, the industry would not even exist in the first place.

If it's really true that "content is king", there are some people who need to reclaim their rightful places on the throne.


"(BTW, Foreigner was indeed terrible - and I said so at the time, as soon as their first album was released.)"

Oh stop. How many albums have you put out? Do you teach? Play in a symphony? Music is the most subjective topic on the planet. Just because you don't like someone, does not make them bad. there are many bands and performers that don't do it for me, but to say their music is terrible, when as a musician myself I know it's not, would be foolish at the very least.

I can rattle off a half-dozen of my favorite artists, you may or may not like them, but irregardless they all excellent examples of their craft. Joe Jackson, Todd Rundgren, Tom Petty, Rush, Drive-By Truckers, Gov't Mule, Bruce Hornsby....all very different, but all very talented. They have their fans and detractors. Music illicits an emotional response so to call someone else's favorite terrible is nothing short of picking a fight for no reason.

Everything signal maintainer said was correct, even if it didn't address the article specifically. Production values these days are less than ideal, but the average kid listening to music these days, whose never heard quality vinyl on a high-end stereo system is missing a lot. I've got several thousand vinyl albums that go back to "Meet the Beatles", hundreds of CDs and over 500gig of MP3's (needledrops of my vinyl collection and other sources). Been playing guitar, bass and drums since I was 12 so I know a tiny, tiny bit about the musical world, but I know enough not to diss someone else's favorite artists.

"Talking about music is like cooking about golf".

If I'm being mean once again then I guess I'm being mean.

"Music is the best proof that God exist"

Mystic Michael

If it really matters, I also have been playing music since age 10, and now do so semi-professionally. That's one major reason why I'm in New York, and no longer in Grand Haven.


Don't be flippant. If that is true than you should know better than to make a comment like you did.

Got any links to your music?


LOL! You ain't right. :-D


What a hoot guys. Guess I should have stuck around for the comments. Good stuff too.

Music is like a finger print of/on the soul. It should be unique to all but similar to others. Likes can change to the moods your in. The quality of the recording doesn't. I like the raw recordings of live music so I can hear and feel the scene at times but also like the perfection of a well mixed studio album.

Dang LTA, we seem to keep finding common ground. Don't tell me you like live music Lp's like Bob Seger, Live Bullet, Frampton, Frampton Comes Alive too.

How about the influences of Chuck Berry, who I consider the King. He probably is listed more times as a major influence on many of the later legends than anyone else.


Ouch, schooled. OK, I too enjoy music and playing guitar. I have serenaded many a young lady, prior to marriage, and my wife for over 40 years, and still do. Here's a fun question that when answered will tell me a little about the person answering. Who do you think is the best guitar player in the world? I won’t even specify a style and this will be the fun of it.


Well you already know my awe for Chuck Berry and what his guitar did for Rock n Roll. How about Joe Satriani, Tom Sholtz (more because of the his wizardly mixing) Eddie VanHalen (finger work), Nuge, Jimmi.

Their are some country boys out there that are proving themselves as well.

There are tons of others but those are the ones that pop into my head before my coffee kicks in


Oh crap, left out the Blues guys. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, BB King, Eric Clapton.


Thanks Wing, I appreciate you prospective.


Cool Hand for sure. To all of the above I would add my choices of Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, and Steve Howe.
I have seen almost all mentioned in concert except Clapton, Hendrix, Berry & SRV. Nothing like a live concert to show off their real talent. Went to a BB King concert in early 1970's, and man, could he handle Lucille! At the time I thought it strange that my friend and I were 2 of only a half dozen white people in the arena enjoying the awesome blues.


Seen BB King right on the old High School stadium field. Think he was there with the Beach Boys. What a combination that was!


-You beat me to it - they are the best.




Technology is bankrupting every industry. Wages are going down. Robotic automation is increasing. But your property taxes keep rising and your ability to pay is going down down and down.


Well, just got back from our little color tour up in the Travese / Leelanau area and thought I'd stop and see if this thead had anything interesting in it and if Michael had stopped back by with a link to his musical compositions.
So, no to the links from Mike I guess.....
For RU's guitar player list.....Finding a best would be impossible cuz it's always changing. Some of my favorites would be. David Gilmore, Stevie Ray, Duane Allman, Barry Bailey, Hughie Thommason & Billy Jones, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Mike Slammer, Robert Cray, Cody Canada, Rory Gallagher, Warren Haynes, Steve Hackett, Joe Walsh, Rich Williams and Kerry Livgren, Toy Caldwell, Steve Morse, Mike Campbell, Cory Stevens, Pat Travers, Robin Trowers and on and on and on....
These days I'm more into the singer / songwriter who plays guitar, or keyboards, like Ian Thomas, Stephen Bruton, Gabe Dixon, Randall Bramblett, Cidney Bullens, Bruce Cockburn, Patterson Hood and on and on and on....I've been on a Lyle Lovett kick for the last couple his song stories and voice.
To Bigdeal, I was lucky enough to see Stevie Ray up at Silver Lake back in 1989, the year before he died. It was general admission and we snagged front row seats for the show. I managed to catch one of his picks he tossed out. What an experience. I also, like you, attended a B.B. King concert in Muskegon with Bobby Blue Bland as the warm-up act and I distinctly rememeber being the only white guy in sight. Got hassled a bit for being there, but enjoyed the music nevertheless.......

That's all for this thread I on to see what you toublemakers have been up to while we've been gone.


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