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Why Do Societies Change? The Demise of Tower Records: An Editorial
Have you guys been watching that Tower Records documentary on ShowTime? I've been thinking about the demise of Tower in the United States of America; and this is an issue that makes me reflect upon---as a matter of sociological/anthropological interest---what makes societies change, what brings about cultural transformations or transitions.
Why did Tower have to go away in the United States of America? (I understand from the documentary, Tower Records is still going strong in Japan).
Those of you, of a certain age, recall the joys of going to a large, well appointed music store, partaking of the sense of community generated by rubbing shoulders with your fellow music lovers, both as customers and the employees who worked at the store. You know what I'm talking about, therefore there is no need for me to attempt to reinvent the wheel, by blathering on about it here.
I will try to make this brief. I should be able to because, in my view, there is one thing that destroyed Tower, and the record store in general, in the United States of America, and one thing only.
Question: What was that one thing?
Answer: The music-buying public's mania to buy singles.
Question: What brought on the music-buying public's mania to buy singles?
Let me explain, though I'm probably not telling you anything new. Here is something I---the person writing this---experienced myself. Sometime around the mid-1990s (maybe it was earlier), I got the distinct feeling that "albums"/"CDs" were getting to be too long.
That is to say I distinctly remember thinking to myself something like this: Man! There are twenty-two songs on this album/CD/tape, but it only feels like they were only trying on three or four songs, at most.
To put it very crudely: it seems like a whole lot of "getting over" was going on with artists/producers/record labels. I actually began to feel cheated, having paid for an entire album of twenty-two songs, on which the artist only really seems to have tried on three or four, at most.
I gather that multitudes of other music lovers felt the same way. What this means is that some combination of performing artists/producers/record labels broke faith with the music-loving-and-buying public. Understand that when you lose trust, it is ever so hard to get it back!
The brutal fact of the matter is that music lovers could no longer trust the following: That each new album put out by The Stinging Bumble Bees will be a product of maximum effort from beginning to end; a product in which you know that The Stinging Bumble Bees gave each and every song, on the album, one hundred percent of their effort and commitment. The music-loving public could no longer take this for granted. Such a state of affairs represented the very epitome of 'Buyer Beware!'
Question: What about 'Napster,' and 'ITunes,' and all the other instrumentalities of the Internet that allows folks to download individual songs for pennies (or much less) without ever even leaving their homes? Yada, yada, yada...
Answer: To attribute the demise of Tower Records, the record store in general, and reorganization of the music industry to various "instrumentalities of the Internet" is to confuse the symptom with the disease.
The disease was the breakdown of quality control. The disease was that some combination of artists/producers/labels broke trust with American music lovers; and they did this, as I said, by rolling out "albums" loaded down with fifteen, twenty, twenty-five songs, on which the artist only really put in effort on three or four, at the most!
The disease was a cultural failure, in other words.
If it had not been for the breach of faith, on the part of some combination of artists/producers/labels toward the music-buying public, the individual song downloading "instrumentalities of the Internet" would never have broken the back of Tower Records, the record store in general in the United States of America; and would never have brought about the desperate, searching reorganization of the music industry.
Indeed, I question whether the "instrumentalities" would have ever even been developed; since, in the absence of a breach of trust, no motivation would have arisen to develop them. At most, under the circumstances where cultural failure had not occurred, these "instrumentalities" would have been received with mild amusement.
Dude #1: Hey, dude! Check this out.
Dude #2: What is it, bro?
Dude#1: Its a new way to score "premo" music, bro. What you do is get it off the Internet.
Dude #2: How, dude?
Dude#1: You 'download' it, man. Wanna try it?
Dude #2: Sure.
Dude#1: Well, ain't it boss, bro?
Dude #2: Sure, bro. Sure. Listen, smell ya later.
Dude #1: Dude! Where ya going?
Dude #2: Where ya think? Its Saturday afternoon in the summer, man. I gotta get over to Tower Records!
And I believe that if the "instrumentalities" had been developed at all, they would have remained at this level, that of mildly amusing curiosities --- HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR SOME COMBINATION OF ARTISTS/PRODUCERS/LABELS, BREAKING FAITH, AS THEY DID, WITH THE MUSIC-LOVING PUBLIC!
I don't believe the transition from vinyl to CDs meant anything. It was an unadulterated good for the record store. It meant no more skipping and scratching. This development should have increased the profitability of the record store; and would have, had not some combination of artists/producers/labels not broken the trust of the music-buying public.
If it is not too late, I would like to see artists/producers/labels get back to fundamentals. I would love to see them commit to making an album of no more than eight-to-ten songs each time. As a consumer, I would like to be able to have confidence that maximum effort has been put into each and every one of those, no more than eight-to-ten songs.
And songs do not need to be ten minutes long either! A good length for a song is, as KRS-ONE once said, "no more than four minutes and some seconds."
Artists/producers/labels need to remember that less is more; as well as that old show biz adage: Always leave them wanting more!
If it is not too late.
Thank you for reading.