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The Media Landscape, Not Content With Unbundling The Album, Now Continues To Unbundle The Song

Posted by: Jon Fine on December 11, 2006

Buried within another sharp state-of-the-industry piece from the New York Times’ music biz reporter Jeff Leeds is the following nugget:

[Steve] Rifkind, the SRC executive, said, “I find myself, when I’m signing a record deal now, asking, ‘Can this sell as a ring tone?’ ”

To those who thought the forced digital democratization of the record business was an unalloyed good thing for music-for-music’s sake (as opposed to music-for-snippets’ sakes): think again!

Relatedly: Earlier this year, I wrote a column about…well, something that deserves a snappier title than I can currently come up with. Shall we call it the music business’ Foghat Famine? Its Insufficent (Grand) Funk Factor? Though I would be telling a very, very big lie if I implied whateveryoucallit was in any way bad for the aesthetics of the music.

Whereas, not to get all Grandpa on everyone, I do believe the ringtone-led transition away from the song to the snippet is bad for the aesthetics of music.

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Reader Comments

Ron Rack

December 11, 2006 11:14 AM

I get all my news about the BUSINESS from (Grand) Funky Jon Fine.


December 11, 2006 03:00 PM

Trance music took one riff and repeated it dozens of times with one or two important phrases repeated throughout by usually a diva singer. This would, essentially, be like taking a Bob Dylan song with two dozen important phrases and three or four important riffs into 24 songs or his entire catalog into 75,000 trance songs. The 1959-1963 rock instrumental (surf, hot rod or otherwise) was built on repeating one riff/melody 6-12 times in 2 minutes, so this is not the ONLY time that people with limited talent stretched it to the fullest extent. What I believe to be true and what I have promoted since my first experience with Napster, is that the music business will lose a hell of a lot of revenue before this is over with talented teenaged artists balking at even going into music if they can also create software or similar art. The tired chestnut that despite widespread piracy, "There will always be people who want to make music" is as bogus as my grandmother saying that people who cared about their family made their own ketchup and soda pop and canned vegetables from their garden rather than buy them. It's corny to believe that music will have the same power in a denatured industry. People still cook dinner from scratch and the Food Network makes money off that kind of Pr0n, and people will occasionally bake their own bread and make their own ice cream, but even the most ardent craftician has long ago stopped bottling their own soda or making their own ketchup or for that matter, canning vegetables from their garden. If the napster generation gets hooked on songs over stars then people with an intense need for stardom will go elsewhere and with it an ego-centered style of music, imagine David Bowie just deciding to go into movies instead of inventing his crazy stardust world. Not 10 years ago people were still saying there would "always be record stores" despite the clear waning of them and in 2006 there are hardly any. I was at a local show by a sideman in one of the biggest indie bands in existance, who sold probably about 3 million records, and there were 8 of us in the audience. The music industry will for the near future wither away and I would avoid any venture in it. The idea that ringtones sell better than records is scary only to people who value music and the totems that cd booklets meant to them, to the kids, this devolution and their corny insistence that it's just fine is their zeitgeist.

Matt Batt

December 11, 2006 05:10 PM

If you're getting 'all grandpa' then I'll get 'great grandpa' on you since the whole ringtone craze as a whole has me wishing for the cell phone days of old...well maybe not.

As always, I love the content you're cranking out on the media front. Especially your story on the WSJ in the December 18 issue. I wrote about it in my blog today (see link). Great work Jon...I'm looking forward to more on this front!

steve baker

December 12, 2006 07:25 AM

I think I agree with Don. At one point in human history, there was a healthy market for poetry, and poets were stars. Markets do disappear. It could be argued, though I don't think that I will, that people still need poetry. I certainly believe we need music. But it doesn't mean that a music industry has to create the stars. I think what's evolving is a longtail music industry, which is what 99% of it has been for decades. But the star creation aspect of it will come from other entertainment domains--video, sports, etc. So people become celebrities there and then cash in on that celebrity with music products. The question for me is whether the long tail will thrust up its own stars so that at least a few of us will be humming the same tunes as we walk down those dreary corridors carrying pages and cups of microwaved coffee.

By the way, Jon, I've been listening to lots of my old vinyl of late. Enjoying lots of also-ran songs that I don't have digitally. I also enjoy a 20-25 minute dose of music. CDs are too long.

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The media, entertainment and marketing worlds continue to shapeshift on a near-daily basis, as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. Where is it all going? No one really knows. But on this blog BusinessWeek’s media writers Tom Lowry and Ron Grover promise to provide ample helpings of scoop, provocation, and sharp analysis as they track and annotate this constantly changing terrain.



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