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The Symbolism Of Losing Tower Records  Print E-mail
Home Theater News Industry-Trade News
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Thursday, 19 October 2006

The closing of the flagship location of Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood is another shining example of the illness that has infected the music business. Feeding on executive arrogance and technological fear – the pompous geniuses who run today’s media conglomerates and so called major record labels are much to blame for the loss of such an icon. It was on their watch that the music business has gone from a 30 billion dollar business per year (domestically) to one that sells about one third of that now. For the music business, the fall of the Roman Empire has taken a little more than a decade.

Ask any label executive why and they scream that the cause of their problem is illegal downloading. Yet Apple’s (legal) iTunes along with other legit download sites have become a 3 billion a year domestic business according to many estimates. The idea of legitimately downloading songs is something that mainstream consumers like and have embraced yet it was the all-knowing leaders of the music industry that chose to sue their clients over embracing new technology. Fighting the power is nothing new for the music business. Decades ago, they thought 78 RPM records would kill off sheet music. They fought DAT tapes because of recording fears. They certainly didn’t embrace DVD-Audio or SACD and now they have assassinated the entire business model that has made them rich. That model is based on selling 12 or more songs on an album and it is what in the 1960’s made the music business the powerhouse is once was. That model today is dead with both artists and labels looking to sell singles through a download. Lying next to the business model of selling albums in the morgue is Tower Records and after the autopsy – we will likely see that the cause of death was very similar to the illness that terminally plagues the music business today.

Remembering Tower Records
For a number of years I lived no more than 100 paces up Horn Street from Tower Records in Shoreham Towers, a building known over the years to be the residence for rockers ranging from Billy Idol to Axl Rose and even the quirky crooner Neil Sedaka. Between Tower and my old condo was my old watering hole, Spago. Beside the absolutely insane view from my old pad and Spago for that matter, I missed walking down the hill to Tower. I would drag back bags full of CDs to play them late into the night, often rocking out like a not-that-funky, white George Jefferson perched in a deluxe apartment in the sky while mindlessly plucking out solos from my newly acquired Motorhead record. Today, those days are long over despite the fact I work relatively close to the original Tower location. I was as McDonalds would describe as a “Super Heavy User” (I resent their insult but love their sausage biscuit with egg and cheese) when it came to buying music. I went from spending a $200 per week during my college years of the mid-1990s to not really spending any of my discretionary money on prerecorded music despite the fact that in my thirties I (in theory) have more discretionary money to possibly spend on music and even better gear to listen to it on. Tower lost me mainly because today’s music isn’t what it was years ago but that in no way means that every disc released today isn’t worth my time or money. Tower lost me when they couldn’t help me find the music I wanted, liked or didn’t even know I liked. There was a day when the sales staff at Tower could teach you a thing or two. Today, they are less talented than the kids working at Starbucks – who ironically also sells music along with a far more profitable Venti 1/2 caf Latte. In recent years Tower lost me with $18.99 CDs when Amazon sells them for $12.99 and additionally allows me listen before I buy. Tower lost me when they put the SACD and DVD-Audio section in the back of the store and wouldn’t stock it. After a few years, the Internet was simply a better record store and when I wanted the in-store experience, I made the extra drive to Aaron’s Records on Highland in Hollywood – a record store also gone thanks to the Costco of indy record stores – Amoeba Records.

Burn, Baby Burn – Disco Inferno
I liken the problems the music industry has to a massive and out of control forest fire. For years, this blaze has been gaining momentum and headed towards populated areas. The loss of Aaron’s Records was like losing a few homes. The closure of West Los Angeles’ Rhino Records was equally as bad. The pure failure of SACD and DVD-Audio as high resolution formats was analogous burning down a small town. Then the idea of selling songs by the single as opposed to finding new ways to sell an album (like adding HD video, surround sound and high resolution stereo tracks) fueled the fire like an arid Santa Ana breeze that just makes things harder to control or contain. Now the damage is no less than Tower Records – formerly the best specialty music reseller in the country.

Who knows who or what is next to be engulfed but the solution is amazingly easy when you think of it. Step one: the music industry needs to redevelop its entire focus towards music. They need to help bands and artists develop their craft, produce their art, package it and sell it in ways that is vastly profitable. This is not by the download exclusively. Step two: surround sound is needs to be the only way a record is sold. Step Three: the album needs to be a collection of HD video, high resolution music in surround sound and supplemental goodies that have a value proposition that makes kids, adults and even the aging Baby Boomers (who made the industry what it was back in the day) buy their collections all over again. Think Blu-ray or HD DVD and think it fast. Lastly, labels need to only sign bands and artists that can actually play. Today’s acts truly suck from a musical level. 1980’s glam metal band Winger or Earth, Wind and Fire can blow any of today’s best bands off the stage. Find talent and develop it. As Dick Clark is quoted as saying “if it ain’t in the grooves – it ain’t in the grooves” Today’s boy bands, divas and American Idol contestants simply aren’t talented enough. Think The Police, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Find the next John Coltrane and record him with a band mixed in 24 bit 194 kHz surround. Buy a bottle of bourbon for the next Janis Joplin and drag her drunk ass into the studio to put out some soulful, nasty blues. Its not that hard but it is far more difficult than the banking that the labels have been doing since the early 1990s. Its time for this mighty franchise to realize that they aren’t the Yankees. They can’t sign away everyone else’s best talent to be successful. Say what you want about the Bronx Bombers but they constantly have a farm system loaded with new talent. Its time the music industry adopt this same mentality if they ever want to make it back to the World Series.

As for Tower, I will miss the store. I think the idea that the judge took a hard line with the bidding leaving a bidder who wanted to keep a handful of the better stores open was very short sighted on his part. Tower on Sunset could have been a place to give new life to the music industry assuming they embraced a new model. A little of the old and a little of the new. It could have been great but it will never be.

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