Welcome to issue #61 of Tape Op.
As many of you might know and probably can relate to, I consider myself more a "fan of music" than a "fan of recording". Don't get me wrong, I love making records, owning a studio, editing this magazine and talking shop with my peers — but to me the means is all about the end. I love having recorded music in my life, and probably buy more CDs than the average person.
Recently I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore while waiting for someone. I thought I'd look through the CDs there and see if they had any of the new releases I was looking for. Little did I know how much the prices here would scare me off. Most new releases seemed to range between $18.99 and $15.99. Even back catalog CDs that should have been less expensive were running around $14.99. The only CDs for $9.99 were some crummy 10-song anthologies of artists like the Drifters and other deep back catalog items repackaged without any taste — certainly not up to Rhino Records' quality. I didn't buy anything, despite the fact that there was a batch of new records I wanted.
How does the average consumer perceive this? For someone whom music is a casual purchase, I doubt they'd drop this kind of money on any CD. On one hand we have record labels and the RIAA suing people for downloading music. On the other hand we have this scenario where even a hardcore music fan like myself walks away in disgust. Imagine if you walked into a music store and there were CDs on sale, new and old, for $5.99. Shit, I'd buy four without blinking. And what kind of CDs would be selling? Probably new ones as well as back catalog. And when back catalog sells more, do the labels make money? Uh huh. Look at my intro last month about the Long Tail — this can even apply on a reduced scale at retail. And what if downloads were 25 cents per song?
I ended up picking up a pile of CDs at a couple of excellent small record stores: Exiled Records (Portland, Oregon) and The Beat (Sacramento, California), where the prices were lower and the shelves were stocked with interesting music. And they're probably the kind of stores that larger labels couldn't care less about, since they don't move enough "units".
Let's hope that the larger labels eventually pull their heads out of their asses or die off. As music returns to being a cottage industry, maybe even the cost of CDs and downloads will come down to encourage listeners to buy more music. And in the end, that would be good for all of us.
-Larry Crane, editor
John Stephens, the founder of Stephens Electronics, whom Michael Andrews and I interviewed in issue 54, passed away on August 6th. John was a special innovator in the field of audio (among other pursuits), and the small number of Stephens tape decks he built found their way to many amazing album projects and still garner a loyal fanbase for their stable transport and amazing sound. We'll miss his unique view of the world. -LC
What a great mind. Who knows where he is now, maybe humming around as a positively charged electron somewhere. You remember he said he thought that the particle charges were misnamed? What an original. I am in my studio, just looking at my machine. -Michael Andrews