Record sales are down...at least traditional record sales. Downloads are up. It's not hard to go up when you're starting so low though. Just a few years ago, we didn't even have downloadable music.
Of course, when you add everything up and include the downloads, record sales are still down.
Here's a list of the best-selling music artists. It's likely we'll never see anybody added to that list.
It's not because of illegal downloads. It's not because current music sucks. It's not because of anything we did wrong.
Strangely enough, we'll never see another act added to that list because of something we've done right.
If your band was on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, you'd probably be pretty happy about it, right? You'd be exposed to millions of people and chances are that you'll sell a few albums because of it.
If you'd been on Johnny Carson's version of the show 30 years ago, you would have been exposed to even more people...and sell even more albums.
If you'd been on the Ed Sullivan Show 20 years before that, you'd do more than just sell albums-- you'd be able to tour the country...and assuming you could keep up your level of performance, probably have a long career after that.
What's the difference?
When Ed Sullivan was on the air, we didn't have 400 channels to choose from...and that's how we was so big. Johnny Carson has a similar situation.
Record labels were once like that. Acts were able to sell millions of albums because consumers didn't have thousands of choices to pick from.
That's good news for you. The "old school" system was great for the people who were on top. If you were Frank Sinatra or Elvis, you got tons of attention. There was no "middle class" though. You were either getting the attention of record labels or you weren't.
Today, you can easily release an album. In fact, it's so easy, you could literally record something today and have it available to the world by tomorrow.
That means more albums are being released...which means consumers have more choice. Add that to other entertainment choices, such a video games, satellite television, and home video. These things weren't a factor 30 years ago.
But they're a big factor now... And strangely enough, there is music involved in every one of them.
Because of this, I'd argue that while album sales might be down, music sales are not. People are simply consuming music in a different way. No longer do we have one format-- we can get it via our phone, a portable music player, video games, movie rentals, satellite radio, streaming online stations, and any number of ways.
This means that artists and songwriters are being paid in a different way. They are getting paid though.
We might not have the "superstar" artists of the past and even the "Tonight Show" type of television shows might not mean as much as they once did, but there is still a ton of money to be made in music.
Personally, I'd rather have it this way. The consumer wins because he has more entertainment options and musicians and songwriters win, since they'll have more options to be creative and be paid.