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The Absolute Sound

From The Editor...
June / July 2003
By Bob Gendron
Music Editor

  The story out of this yearís South By Southwest music conference is that further consolidation of the five major record labels is inevitable. Current scenarios project the big five ó Warner Brothers, EMI, Universal, Sony, and BMG ó becoming an even bigger three as early as this yearís end. (You can now add Appleís possible buy-out of Universal to this picture.)

For the last three years, the music industry hasnít been well. In 2001, for the first time in history, shipments of records declined, and that decline has only gotten worse. As of this writing, 2003 shipments of CDs lag behind 2002ís dismal levels by 7%. Experts assert that the CD is dying; some say quickly. This is due to many factors ó more than can be listed, let alone explained, in this editorial. Whatís uncertain is how the industryís old model of distribution will change, or what the new model should be. And there are other uncertainties: Record stores are closing by the handfuls (over 500 retailers have shut their doors in the past six months; Best Buy is selling its Musicland/Sam Goody chain only two years after buying it), and labels are slashing jobs by the hundreds. Attempts at preventing piracy and Internet leakage of forthcoming releases are reaching manic heights. This in an industry where, in 2002 alone, 25,000 individual releases failed to sell even 100 copies each at the combined 900 stores owned by TransWorld Entertainment Corporation. Think about these numbers, and youíll have an idea of the glut and disorganization plaguing labels and listeners alike.

But all is not doom and gloom. With regards to music itself, the opposite is true. Iíve been associated with the music industry for fourteen years, and in my experience the albums released in 2002 were rivaled only by those released in 1991 in artistic quality, quantity, diversity, and excellence. Contrary to what you may have read in other publications, or may have assumed from their lack of coverage and enthusiasm, new music ó whether the classical programs of Michael Tilson Thomas and Hilary Hahn, the progressive Jazz of power piano trio The Bad Plus and trumpeter Dave Douglas, or the inspiring rock and pop rattling forth from artists like The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Zwan (all of whom have been recently reviewed in TAS) ó is providing us with more reasons than ever to be passionate and hopeful about the present and future. And, with continual advances in production and technology, reissues are breathing new life into classics ó in many cases, allowing us to hear works previously unreleased or long unavailable, as well as unimagined nuances in familiar recordings.

To this extent, we can embrace all thatís good about CD, and whatís even better about the potential of Super Audio CD (and to a degree, DVD-A). SACD isnít going to solve world problems, but when done properly, it brings us closer to the music, and hence, nearer to its emotions, truths, and meanings. in a world where itís harder to find honesty and integrity, for me music remains the constant, the universal communicator. Knowing no boundaries, it surprises, reveals, and delights at every opportunity. This is why, for nearly two years, TASís Music Section has taken the position that well-rounded coverage isnít an option; itís an obligation that, along with sincere, timely, and informed criticism, we owe to you, our readers. We wouldnít have it any other way.

Bob Gendron
Music Editor



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