I read with a heavy heart that the legendary Sam the Record Man located on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto is closing after 70 years in business. It is somewhat ironic that the news of the closure comes at the same time as I read an article in the New York Times called Plunge in CD Sales Shakes Up Big Labels (registration required) in which the major labels are desperately scrambling to expand beyond CD releases to generate other sources of income to make up for the drop in their CD sales.
I know that I am repeating myself but the major labels have nobody to blame but themselves for the predicament that they are currently in. After essentially trying to criminalize their customers by suing them or burdening their online experience to the point where it was just easier to illegally download their music, these major labels have realized too late that music in this Web 2.0 world is distributed in a multitude of ways and in a multitude of formats. A MySpace site here. A video uploaded to YouTube there. Letting a company like CD Baby take care of the distribution of the physical CD and digital download of your music while you busily update your blog and MySpace page while submitting your podsafe music to a couple of cool podcasts and MP3 blogs. These are the realities of the music biz in 2007. But the thing that got to me in the article, the real kicker was the quote:
Even as the industry tries to branch out, though, there is no promise of an answer to a potentially more profound predicament: a creative drought and a corresponding lack of artists who ignite consumers’ interest in buying music. Sales of rap, which had provided the industry with a lifeboat in recent years, fell far more than the overall market last year with a drop of almost 21 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (And the marquee star 50 Cent just delayed his forthcoming album, “Curtis.”)
In other genres the picture is not much brighter. Fans do still turn out (at least initially) for artists that have managed to build loyal followings. The biggest debut of the year came just last week from the rock band Linkin Park, whose third studio album, “Minutes to Midnight,” sold an estimated 623,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan data.
This “drought” is because the major labels have dropped the ball in going out and finding fresh, new and exciting talent. Because they are more concerned with the “biz” part of “music biz” and less with the music, they have left the true music fan with no alternative to go to the hundreds of indie record labels, the Internet and services like Last.FM for their musical fix. By clinging to this outdated mode of generating profits and then waiting too long to react to the new playing field, they have potentially written their demise without ever really fighting the good fight. EMI seems to be the only label attempting to adapt with their recent DRM-free stance but even then, with new owners in the wings, we shall see what part of the music/biz split survives.
As for Sam the Record Man, it is indeed sad that they are closing up shop. The unfortunate part of this Web 2.0 world is that it has no sense of history, no nostalgia. I can remember the Boxing Day specials at the Sam’s in Montreal and the sheer thrill of rummaging through the racks buying everything that I could. Nowadays, I buy my music either at the local indie record store or online and the thought of going to any chain store strikes me as both old fashioned and dehumanizing. But the reality is that the Internet has forced us all to adapt or die. Either you embrace the new technology, show your fans that you are taking their interests to heart and working with the artists as a true partner or you will slowly fade away, another corpse on the digital landscape.
Sorry to see you go Sam. It was fun while it lasted.