Track 4: Pretty Packages
When the LP yielded to the CD, some fans lamented the loss of all that physical real estate, which could contain artwork, liner notes, even full-sized posters. Some artists worry that even more is lost with the move from CDs to digital tracks. Recent albums from bands like Tool and Pearl Jam have elaborate CD packages that make fans feel like they're getting more than they would if they just bought downloads. Tool's 10,000 Days (see review) comes in an eye-catching foldout case complete with a 3-D booklet and "stereoscopic lenses" built into the cover.
Taking a very different view, however, is former Talking Heads band- leader David Byrne, who in a recent post on his Web site called the lamentation of LP and CD packaging absurd. While there's a tendency to "mourn the vanishing of the nice big cardboard packages that vinyl came in," he wrote, many people assume that "much of this imagery, like music videos, is a reflection of, and extension of, the music creator's sensibility." In fact, he argues, artists often have little to do with the artwork that festoons their creations. Byrne believes that downloads bundled with multimedia will eventually offer much more than any physical package can.
Most artists worry more about the creative implications of downloading than about the financial ones because the not-so-secret reality of the record business is that most artists never make money from CDs. Byzantine accounting practices and questionable royalty deductions lead to only a handful (roughly 3%) ever making enough to pay back the label advance. And even though downloads cost less to create and distribute than CDs, labels subject them to the same packaging, breakage, and shipping deductions as CD sales, even though there's nothing to package, break, or ship.
Rishon Blumberg, a partner at Brick Wall Management, which handles Marc Broussard and Citizen Cope, says: "The digital age has allowed artists to get their music much more easily released and passed around, so that if somebody is legitimately talented and has a great body of work, the likelihood is greater they'll find an audience. But it's also likely they'll sell fewer records."
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