In my experience, the biggest misunderstanding that musicians and music fans have about ‘the music industry’ is that it exists without a hardware component. Of course, there have been companies and musical organizations that have existed without the DIRECT concept of ‘hardware’ - but if we define ‘hardware’ as 'a playback medium or physical sound reproduction device for music’ - then we would be hard pressed to even have a ‘music industry'…if we were unable to actually hear it on a recorded medium. After all, the concept of a ‘music industry’ did not exist until the very early days of recorded sound - when in fact the industrial era had great influence on recorded music - in that it invented the concept of it - and developed products like the gramophone (record player) and disk record to market. This birth of the ‘music industry’ as we know it today was largely carried to the modern age by the Victor Talking Machine Co. (and its predecessor company; The Gramophone Co.), and it continues in many forms in the modern age.
Many musicians and music fans see themselves as solely vested in the musical part of their industry and don’t quite realize that their industry largely relied on the dissemination and association of their works with the ability to play them back. This is what we refer to today as the marriage between ‘software’ and ‘hardware’. In the modern day, the media and technology industries are born from and rooted in two critical industrial era concepts that are still the underlying force of each and every multi-media industry today.
These concepts are: the birth and development of recorded sound, and the concept of broadcasting (the development of communications technology). There is not a single modern audio/visual media company that does not rely on the concepts developed largely by The Victor Talking Machine Co. (and later, the Victor Division of the Radio Corporation Of America).
With this in mind, we began to journey into creating a company that would work for and with musicians and music fans - in an era in which music as a content concept was inherently undervalued. As technology became more progressive, so did its software. The music, record, and turntable gave way to the television and broadcasting content, the television gave way to the computer dominating our lives with its software (games, the internet, utility programs). In many ways, to tech industries like Apple, Google, and Samsung, CODERS are the new studio musicians - the modern day session men - the unsung heroes of the industry making leaps and bounds of progress, propelling us faster and faster into the future. These are critical content producers; they create for their companies the ease of use associated with their hardware (iPhone, android phone, smart TVs, computers).
This concept was birthed with the Victor Talking Machine Co. - and in an era where streaming platforms began to take shape (finally demolishing the very low-value digital music download!) my partners and I (including founding families of the original Victor Talking Machine Co.) began to recognize that a modern company could be born to support NEW music - not just the back catalog of the three remaining major ‘record labels’.
And so we began to tirelessly research Victor’s corporate documents culled from our vaults - the founding concepts of the business aspect of the music industry (and subsequent multimedia industry) - the blueprints of how music and sound grew into an industry that gave us the most beautiful popular and classical recordings of the last century were at our fingertips as the modern Victor Talking Machine Co. became (what I feel to be) an architect for a new century of new music and artists.
WHERE WE’RE FROM
Contrary to the general vibe of progress that most capitalist streams of thought purport - the past is an exceedingly strong indicator of how industries are formed, how customers are acquired, and how products are marketed - nothing is new under the sun - and while technologies may change - the human mindset only alters so much in accordance to what we perceive as progress (which often times isn’t literal progress…but rather a ‘streamlining’ of an existent business/product/technology/service function). In other words; progress is often a marketed illusion of a consumer goods system that always wants to sell the IDEA of progress - because of our nature as humans in ‘moving forward’.
But has humanity moved very far in the last 20 years? It certainly moved far (technologically speaking) between 1880-2000…many of the advances beyond that point have been the streamlining of a product/business/service - as opposed to the invention of a brand new concept. Technological progress is much more significant when humanity goes from horse and buggy to landing on the moon across a 60 year period - than the amount of change that will have occurred from 2000 to 2060. One can only ‘invent’ (discover) electricity’s uses ONCE….
Understanding the scope and scale of what I’m trying to convey is a many year process that has taken The Victor Co. from a single garage in Camden County - to The Victor Camden County Campus…a growing concern that we attribute to our ability to harness the knowledge of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the music industry - starting at its very roots. The difference, is (like it was in 1896 for E.R. Johnson) - timing.
Let me EXPLAIN the parallel that allows the Victor Talking Machine Co. to grow in the year 2019 - and why its legacies’ hiatus was a natural and required part of how the music industry has evolved…and continues to evolve.
REWIND to 1896, Emile Berliner has invented, but not yet brought, his disk record and turntable (Gramophone) to the marketplace - but his business concept is solid - and his invention capable of being superior in playback and markedly different from the cylinder that existed at the time (which was not, contrary to revisionist history, a major player as of that point). A massive part of that was that the cylinder was largely designed and held by a company that really didn’t necessarily see it as a HOME audio listening device. More so, the machine was thought of as a savior for memo making (and to their credit would subsequently find use in offices around the world as The Dictaphone).
The concept of an industry in which people owned libraries of recordings akin to books was first posited as early as 1888 by Emile Berliner - who was himself something of a musician (in addition to being an inventor). Emile had already made an extraordinary ‘pay day’ (particularly for a Jewish German immigrant in the late 1800s) by inventing and patenting the first functional ‘microphone’ - an invention that was purchased by The Bell Telephone Co. for their first phones, and was critical to the establishment of all communications industry into the modern day. Emile was paid a lump sum and utilized this to research and develop (and subsequently invent) the disk record and record player.
Enter E.R. Johnson.
Just across the river from Emile Berliner’s office, was a small garage in Camden - a machine shop that did run-of-the-mill metal milling, gear manufacturing, and occasional prototyping for budding inventors. During this era, this was a significant side business to larger factories prior to the mass production of replacement machine parts (and standardized distribution of those parts). Emile was one of these inventors- and his invention caught E.R. Johnson’s attention and held it for the next 50 years. E.R. Johnson improved the invention, the recording process, and the disk pressing process - and added standard features that make the record player/turntable/gramophone the beloved and esteemed home instrument we know and treasure so dearly today. Johnson also added the integral element of understanding and developing the critical relationship between CONTENT (for him this would be in the form of RECORDS), and the playback method (at the time, of course, the record player).
As industrial as this concept was at its birth - it would be known rightfully today as the height of technology. Thus, the two formed a partnership in Victor Talking Machine Co. (VICTOR being a reference to WINNING a patent battle against the cylinder) - and so the seeds were planted for the next 120+ years of research and development of virtually all advances in technology.
As the plant grew - and the company evolved with the times - the Victor Company plant in Camden would go on to not only develop the music industry worldwide - but also radio broadcasting, television, satellite broadcasting, the disk hard drive, computer chipset development, optical disk development, communications development, the invention of the fax machine, the electron microscope, and the development of what would become the global system of communications that we now know as ‘The Internet’.
Its important to understand that many of these industries that spawned as a result of these technological innovations are not unrelated to the music industry at its birth - and in many cases they are extension of this concept. The television industry was seen by RCA/VICTOR as adding ‘sight to sound’ - and because radio broadcasting enabled a steady ‘stream’ (sound familiar?) to this format, we see the critical and symbiotic relationship between CONTENT and TECH FORMAT occurring time and again.
MUSIC INDUSTRY NEEDED MUSIC FOR RECORDS TO SELL VICTROLAS (AND RECORDS)
RADIO NEEDED MUSIC TO SELL RADIOS
TVs NEEDED PROGRAMMING TO SELL TVs
STREAMING NEEDS CONTENT TO SELL SUBSCRIPTIONS.
As simple as it sounds…the now ubiquitous concept of MULTIMEDIA starts with the Victor Talking Machine Co….and continues to this day in similar industries.
It just needs the music industry to focus as it once did on the development, artist, and music portions of the industry. In other words, the moment we focus on profiting WITH artists and their music - as opposed to maximizing profits FROM music…..we will ALL change the music industry.
WHERE WE ARE
Yeah, its long winded - but its …not a simple industry. If it were, everyone would do it - and we would still have a healthy music industry today. Which leads me to my next point: MANY MUSICIANS and MUSIC FANS don’t really perceive that the centralized music industry as it once existed - the record deals, the distribution deals, the pressing plants, the commerce, the retail locations - all of it - has been abandoned by ‘big tech’ and ‘progress’. Musicians have been left behind - and we are left with 3 ‘major labels’ that spend 95% of their money on BACK CATALOG (older music - since it actually sells; and has outlets like tribute shows, and classic rock radio), and old systems of broken promotional media that….are leftover and dying outlets of a lost music industry. Sorry folks, but without major changes - MTV, ROLLING STONE, and BILLBOARD MAGAZINE (and their charts) are all irrelevant to the music industry. The smart ones have abandoned music altogether in an attempt to stay afloat - and the dumb ones are too big to realize how precarious their situation really IS….they sell a romanticized and non existent version of the new music industry - while their parent companies push for more TeenMom type reality show programming.
If we are to believe that these are music industry publications - then we can’t ignore the constant stream of pretending new music is burgeoning. This is a misleading concept - the RECORDING industry is in shambles and is a pathetic shell of its former glory. This is an extreme disservice to the art form that gave us Sgt. Pepper, Born To Run, Highway 61 Revisited, Dark Side Of The Moon- etc etc etc etc.
Enter the disk record - again. We see a steady rise in the disk record industry - over 1000% in the last decade.
As the download died, people began feeling a need to return to their roots. Since the ‘golden era’ of music occurred on VINYL, many artists also couldn’t shake the concept of doing as their heroes did and ‘making a record’. The art form began to get popularized - I can distinctly recall a SONY Corporation executive I had a meeting with noting that the company didn’t see vinyl as a passing fad - but rather a new standard in physical formats. Whatever the rational for this, it became clear….that maybe the tech industry had sold the public the OPTICAL DISC (CD) …..as a means of increasing hardware sales? Maybe music fans just….loved vinyl….maybe vinyl was becoming….the bound book of the music industry!
They are very similar physical formats - larger, heavier, capable of being torn/scratched, not as portable…..but somehow…..traditional feeling. You wouldn’t own a Bible on kindle would you?
Companies like SONY soon discovered that kids saw vinyl for what it was: the miracle of etched sound to disk. This was much more appealing to kids that didn’t think ‘data’ on a spinning disk was any different from data on a USB stick or a hard drive. Young people drove sales - and the corporation (the same one that introduced the CD to the market and collapsed the 80+ year record industry in the process) stopped pressing CDs….and bought their first RECORD PRESSING PLANT.
Insanity - but very IMPORTANT to the mindset of profit. By recognizing that nearly 100% of the money they spend on music is on older music (music that consumers still want - and know - and thus will buy), SONY is recognizing (along with Universal Music Group and WARNER) that they can maximize profits with a product people are willing to pay more for than ever. SMART! Actually, its a strong indicator that A. streaming profits aren’t satisfying EVEN the ‘big bad record labels’ that own them - and B. the industry has lost the attention and interest of the major tech companies….its old news compared to APPS, coding infrastructure, video games, etc.
This….is a great opportunity - not a loss.
For far too long, the tech industry has gradually treated its ‘little brother music industry’ as a bit of a burden. Frequently, major executives contemplate WHY their conglomerates are even IN music at all. Apple has been smart - they never entered it - rather simply acted as an aggregator/middleman for it. Thus promoting the ‘iPod’ (and now iPhone) by making all of that legacy content accessible on their platforms…..almost as if….it’s their content….a perfect cross marketing platform for the iPhone/iPod - without the investment in content for their format. Genius, really - which is why Apple INC. is one of the most highly valued companies in the world. The CEO of Spotify saw this occurring - he is worth 2.5 Billion….his ‘hardware’ is really the infrastructure of Spotify - the subscriptions. It wouldn’t shock me to find Spotify getting into some kind of ‘dock’ or ‘headphones’ - if they can ever actually reach profit from their model (they have not quite done that yet…and their investors are increasingly disturbed by this)…..
Meanwhile, musicians’ music catalogs have depreciated in value upwards of 80% since the 1990s - even industry strongholds see what amounts to pennies from their new albums - and merchandizing, vinyl, and largely touring has tried to offset that.
What do you call an old, out of touch, former record label president? - a Live Nation Executive! See those skyrocketing ticket prices? Many executives have moved into the ‘big concert’ businesses - to great success……but to the abandonment of recorded music altogether. What is the POINT of all of this? I’m trying to bring you into the mindset of a 2019 media/music/tech executive - so that you can fully grasp and understand WHY music isn’t “how it used to be” - a true statement that I hear (and say) all the time.
There is GOOD news though……
WHERE WE ARE GOING
The music industry is poised to have the largest uptick in growth it’s had in a century. It is now being largely abandoned by TECH - and left up to the musicians and music fans to form a community that more closely mirrors the book publishing industry. The difference? When times got tough for ‘BIG BOOK’ industry - the executives - men and women that truly loved their art form ….understood fully the need to protect the core of their industry; the artist and the content. They made moves that were in the best interest of the industry as a whole - many times in opposition to pure maximum profit. By upholding their formats, systems and distributors - and investing in complementary new technologies in the right ways - they created a stronghold that wasn’t decimated when ‘big tech’ tried to encroach on their businesses.
The Music Industry needs musicians and artists to lead it into the new era - music/business luminaries like Jack White (Third Man Records) are a good example of the type of heart, effort, and education we need to have as musicians in our industry. It is imperative that we understand our own value - and in this day and age - the value of our influence on a macro and micro scale. With this in mind, we come to a system we’ve taken the time to develop and that we want to share with everyone. In most minds, it’s simply a modern take on the music industry - but we’ve taken to calling it The Victor Music Eco-System.
Eco - referencing Economy - as opposed to ecology.
The Victor Music Eco-System is built on the idea that supporting our Victor Artists and their music…..is the absolute best way to engage them as ambassadors of The Victor Talking Machine Co. as a whole. In short, we sign an artist that we love - we bring them to our (if I do say so myself….beautiful) Victor Studio B…..we make music (and related content) with them….we press the records at our plant…..and we (ideally) play them back on our Victor Home Audio Instruments (Victrolas). We then help them to promote both their MUSIC on Victor Records….and the method we feel it would sound best on: a Victor Home Audio Instrument/Victrola/Victor Headphones.
With our artists as musical ambassadors in tow - we cross promote our records and record players ….and the artist receives a sliding royalty on both their music (physical and digital), AND on the playback ‘hardware’ - all while the artist spends absolutely nothing. We believe an artists enthusiasm about our brand, the music, our quality, and our records and record players - will serve to cross promote our products and generate revenue streams for both The Victor Co., and the artist.
Through history, research, experience in the music industry in the modern day, and trial and error- we feel as though we’ve developed a fair and egalitarian music industry system that couldn’t really be any simpler and more straightforward (I’m over simplifying it a bit….but you get the ‘gist’). The Victor Music Eco-System is one that doesn’t really exist in the music industry in the modern day and by re-marrying the hardware and software of the music industry - and taking a strong view towards allowing new artists to be the types of ambassadors the music/recording industry intended them to be at its birth. We believe strongly that music fans will support a company that puts MUSIC FIRST - and we think you’ll be a part of the development of that music - AND enjoy that music the most on a Victor Home Audio Instrument. We are the Victor Talking Machine Co. - one of the companies that I’m proud to say is changing the music industry for artists AND music aficionados alike.