Thursday, May 29, 2008

How record companies can save themselves

I got a lovely book for Christmas, "Factory Records - The Complete Graphic Album", which shows off the artwork for most of the albums and singles that came out on the Factory label along with other artwork used in ads etc. It got me thinking about why people are not buying music from record labels much anymore, instead choosing to download it free over the internet. Of course, one reason for this is the price but I think there's more to it than that. People have always taped music from friends but they still bought it as well.

But look at that Factory artwork again, some of it was superb (and some of it wasn't...). But buying a Factory record wasn't just about music, it generally came in a beautiful package as well. In the days of vinyl, there were little messages in the run-out groove (it wasn't just Factory that did this of course). Being 12" wide meant the artwork could be much more complex. So record companies should go back to vinyl? No, though they could certainly think about it. But the point is that when I bought music in those days I felt a connection with the artist or record company because it felt more than "product", it was sometimes a work of art.

Now if I pop down to a music shop most of the racks seem to be populated with CDs that look like they had absolutely no thought put into their production. Plastic case, crap photo of the artist, no design aesthetic. Why not download it for free? What do I gain by paying a tenner?

But it doesn't have to be this way. I just bought the boxed deluxe edition of U2's "The Joshua Tree". OK, I know, self-important and pretentious, but I do think it was a great album so I'll overlook the earnestness. For just over twice the price of a normal CD, I got 2 CDs (the album and a CD of rarities), a DVD (live concert, documentary and videos), a book and some postcards. All in beautiful packaging. I snapped it up without a second thought. Presumably Island are making money out of this, so why can't other recorded music come like this? Give people a reason for buying your music and they may well be persuaded.

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