CANNES, France – In the music business, it’s a vision that may soon be consigned to history: Grandpa slumping into the recliner, closing his eyes and enjoying a favorite rendition of an operatic solo. For music lovers these days, the sedentary lifestyle is out.
A generation after the birth of portable tunes on the Walkman, technology has made music available nearly everywhere for today’s on-the-go consumer – and the recording industry sees a new wave to ride.
The buzzwords Sunday at the Midem music industry conference in the French Riviera resort town of Cannes were mobile music, seen as the great hope for an industry that has suffered shrinking sales in recent years.
The offerings are nearly limitless: music through a wristwatch, hits played on a literally loud shirt or New Age themes on underwater headphones at the gym swimming pool during a hard-driving backstroke.
One pressing question is how music will reach ears in the future. Mobile phone executives predict their gadgetry will become the devices of choice, possibly competing with hot gadgets like the iPod from Apple Computer Inc.
“People want music whenever and wherever they are,” said Guy Lawrence, a marketing executive for mobile phone operator Vodafone, in a presentation. “The good thing about music is that it’s ubiquitous.”
Music industry executives have been grappling for ways to combat illegal sharing of free music files on the Internet, which has cut into sales of recorded music.
The recent market success of portable devices like the iPod, which plays music downloaded for a fee, has given the industry a needed shot in the arm.
Music industry veterans admit the Internet has democratized music, offering consumers the chance to be selective about songs without having the middleman of a record company producer decide for them.
But does anybody really listen to music anymore?
“Try and go a day without hearing music,” said John Kennedy, who heads the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Like elevator music of old, listening today is mostly a “secondary” activity for consumers as they work, commute or work out, Kennedy said.
Some industry observers long for the old days when the musical creativity and fitful on-stage antics of bands like The Who were part of the love of the music business.
“It’s become a trilogy: Elvis, the Beatles, the iPod – that should really be a band in that third spot,” said Dean Hill, an artist manager who runs the Web site www.tourdates.co.uk. “The next revolution’s not in bands anymore, and I find that quite sad.”
As with other media industries, the metabolism of consumers has accelerated. Even as technology makes music easier to obtain, fans put less time into searching for the best hits, some say.
“They want more immediacy – they want to share it in a much more viral way than we’ve seen before,” said Ralph Simon, chairman of the Americas division of Mobile Entertainment Forum.
“The most fundamental change is that people are experiencing this (music) without being tethered to a phonograph, a PC or a laptop,” said Simon, who represents acts like U2, Justin Timberlake and Shania Twain.
Some musicians grumble that the industry’s unquenchable thirst for money – and the willingness to make music an ever-present commodity for quick consumption – is damaging the art.
“The people in the industry are looking more to sell than create original works,” said Manu Fleury, who plays bass for French rock band Leon, which was combing for a producer. He complained that many musicians have become one-hit wonders these days – here today, gone tomorrow.
“A compact disc is a bit like a Kleenex these days: You take it, use it and throw it away. Finished. On to other things,” Fleury said.