SXSW Records: Sheet Music

Friday

SXSW Records: Sheet Music

Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age

by Steve Knopper
Free Press, 301 pp., $26

Steve Knopper, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, begins his indicting history of the record industry at a seemingly incongruous moment: the disco riots of 1979. Knopper considers the revolt against major label formatting as foreshadowing the consumer's eventual storming of the Bastille with the advent of Napster 20 years later. Label executives and major money figures are portrayed as disconnected, innovationally resistant, and greedily complacent, compelling portraits of players like Tommy Mottola, Edgar Bronfman, and Clive Calder as evidentiary as numbers and the plotting of mergers. Even at the height of 1990s profits, Knopper contends the industry was continuously hanging on by only a superstar or trend, and its blind adherence to exorbitant CD markups in the face of digital distribution ensured its downfall. Knopper's extensive interviews delve far behind the scenes of decisions and corporate infighting, tinged with understandable schadenfreude at the labels' current plight, especially concerning Steve Jobs' masterful manipulation of the majors. While Knopper doesn't deign to proffer any real prescriptions for saving labels, he rightly insists that although "it looks like the record business is doomed, the music business, however, has a bright future." (Panel: Innovations in Digital Music, Fri., Austin Convention Center, Room 16B, 11am-12:15pm.)

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