The Decline of the Compact Disc & Music Industry


By the 1990s, the CD reigned supreme. As the economy boomed, annual global sales surpassed 1bn in 1992 and 2bn in 1996, and the profit margins were the stuff of dreams. The CD was cheaper than vinyl to manufacture, transport and rack in stores, while selling for up to twice as much. Even as costs fell, prices rose.

The popular music industry peaked financially in 1996 but had creatively begun bottoming out years before that. Digital file sharing of lossily (and later losslessly) compressed formats simply burst the bubble of the industry’s festering corpse the ignorant had mistaken to still be moving as the putrefying gases bloated body cavities.

The music industry shot itself in the face like Dead from Mayhem by killing the single, profiteering absurdly high pricing for compact discs (mostly common disposable pop albums containing two radio jingles and filler nobody wanted), and especially major cutbacks in Artists and Repertoire (A&R) departments. If the mainstream music industry could’ve kept releasing decent to good bands while effectively promoting them, nothing would have changed. Instead A&R artist development teams were let go, recording budgets gradually went down as digital audio workstation software became more commonplace, and fads took over to concentrate liquidity at the very top of the industry in the hands of executives and major shareholders.

While A&R departments almost always followed trends (disco, speed metal, glam metal, grunge), they at least encouraged bands to develop and refine their material into comprehensible music. To get an album released, an artist first had to have promising home-recorded demos to get noticed, then demos recorded in a professionally studio, followed by the single, the EP, and only then the full studio album. The additional short term profit generated by cutting back on initial expenditures that generated additional revenue streams (bands that consumers would actually want to buy the releases of in the future), mixed with enhanced profits by the inflating prices of the newer cheaper CD format was concentrated into executive pay, shareholder profits, and frivolous expenditures. The price-fixing doomed smaller record stores once big box chains competed amongst each other by using records as lossleaders to get foot-traffic through the door in a race to the bottom.

The very same thing happened with Wall Street the late 80s continuing to the present: sell disposable financial products to concentrate liquid capital at the top, underpay most employees for the hours worked despite that the technical skills (math, programming languages) required for employment have increased: The average yearly salary in NY in 1980 was $40 thousand, $80 thousand in Finance; For the present, $70 thousand average NYC salary, $350 thousand in finance grossly inflated by the top. The focus on high frequency trading was the just last of many extremely short term investment strategies, the only difference the fraud in that sector has from Russian oligarchs appropriating state assets is computerization.

The late Nineties music industry may even be compared to the Soviet Union and contemporary Russian Federation. Despite how much crap the Soviets actually made (most of it crap nobody wanted) and the unrenewable resources the Russians export now (or did until the recent sanctions), Tsarist Russia for all its problems had a much more stable economy centered around agricultural exports slowly funding industrialization which is the path every single industrialized state (the UK, US, Continental Europe, and now East Asia) has taken. Globalization just made paid labor cheaper than slaves: Slaves always cost between 20-50k in good 1990 dollars and you had to feed, clothes, and house them despite them having zero economic motivation to work more efficiently. Record labels have stopped developing artists as it’s cheaper to just buy the publishing rights to random shit they find on the internet like your aunt looks at cat videos; labels will just pay a couple thousand dollars to make new cat videos (records) in a studio, similar to how global outsourcing is cheaper than actual slavery.

Incompetence is the rule just about everywhere. Most programmers are godawful, even the celebrity ones, because the more arrogant they get the more they forget the basics. Our financial services gurus appear to be experts at betting on horses and then selling the losses as assets.

1995 Sony boardroom response to Swansong:

This is unreleasable dogshit and we payed for it! You’re fired for causing me to lose face and dishonor family! Escort Carcass out of the building headfirst like in Casino.

2016 independent metal label response to Swansong:

“An innovative and potentially game-changing release: death metal with a thoughtful edge! Get Crabclaw to shill it on Vice Noisey.”

The modern popular pseudo-metal promoted by larger labels has truly been assimilated into mainstream rock music just like punk was with grunge and pop-punk. Only the underground remains with no hope of true rejuvenation in the mainstream as the moment an underground band or style becomes vaguely popular, profiteering labels will promote something similar dumbed down into singalong rock music for a musically ignorant beer metal audience who are planning to go to an Aerosmith show next weekend. Sriracha-flavored Fruit Loops aren’t bowls of pho. Metal reached great peaks due the vicious competition between bands vying for limited space on shelves and physical catalogs. Why would Roadrunner sign a group like Morpheus in the early 90s when they had Suffocation and Mercyful Fate?

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19 thoughts on “The Decline of the Compact Disc & Music Industry”

  1. GGALLIN1776 says:

    I started working with roadrunner in 03,you could see the writing on the wall showing up with most of the good bands leaving.By 07 it was bleak, in ’10 (i left in ’11) they were treating employees just as bad,if not worse than the bands and that is saying alot considering how shitty they treated the bands. The bands with the most loyal fans were ignored & all the attention went to dropslot (slipknot) along with a few other pointless shit bands. The approach was not longevity but throwing all the fuel on the brightest flash in the pan. I think i lasted in A&R about a month before they totally shut that down & left all that solely up to Conner.
    On the topic of format,they could’ve just gone to releasing on micro sd cards & sold them for a low price but again they weren’t in it for longevity.

    As an aside,one day i was in the lobby & saw Jim Root walking in wearing a suit & carrying a briefcase,that was comical.

    1. Erectile Perditionist says:

      Who was on Roadrunner in ’03 — any good guys?

    2. squishy crackers that got rained on says:

      what the heck was the doing there?

      1. squishy crackers that got rained on says:


  2. 1349 says:

    A messy text but on an intersting topic, with quite loose but exciting analogies.

    1. 1349 says:

      “interesting”, i mean

  3. Nuclear Whore says:

    >Tsarist Russia for all it’s problems

      1. Nuclear Whore says:

        You are welcome. Don’t forget to use me.

  4. 1349 says:

    “Record labels have stopped developing artists as it’s cheaper to just buy the publishing rights to random shit they find on the internet”

    The worldview shift to liberalism is probably a factor. Why test people and make them grow if you’re sure that “independent” and “free” artists do things better?

    1. Internatio reloaded says:

      Quality wasn’t even part of the equation at this stage. It’s the classic fact that when people are only involved into investing in things (as opposed to making and using them), they end up seeing it as just gambling (which at the bottom is actually that from their perspective) ie, looking for “money that begets money” magically, a trend identified by Karl Marx long ago.

      1. 1349 says:

        “It’s the classic fact”

        A “classic” marxist “fact”, that is.

    2. Go Back to Amerika(dot)org says:

      By test people you mean commission that work is produced in accordance with nobility taste?

      1. 1349 says:

        “To get an album released, an artist first had to have promising home-recorded demos to get noticed, then demos recorded in a professionally studio, followed by the single, the EP, and only then the full studio album.”

    3. Good analysis but not cynical enough. There are millions of media fans who are desperate to be rock stars. They will pay their way and accept low wages once they make it because of their desire. This means that there is a never-ending stream of these people to pump out music emulating and plagiarizing better bands, which reduces costs for the labels, and trains a fanbase to stop thinking in terms of quality, so they buy whatever is new. The difficulty is that in the age of streaming music and sales of singles, they are no longer pumping as much money into the system because very little delivers value, even if they cannot articulate that.

      1. This is true, especially for many of the current metal labels. A shit band with real jobs can easily get their shit, MacBook recorded album released by one of the larger independent metal labels and promoted by certain hipster PR firms for only a few thousand dollars.

        1. harsh critiquer of vest patcheses says:

          An upside being the better bands out now stand no chance of being heard, label heads are the actual stars of the show now as everyone is looking to impress them and be showered with favors. Labels encourage bands more than ever to all sound exactly alike (one example being how Morpheus Descends suddenly has atmospheric cave sounds in the background and slugglish dissonant riffs placed here and there where previously there was absolutely none of that on their earlier recordings, mind you that new EP was fucking excellent but still) and any good band not following suit will be ignored. Maybe it was always like this but labels still encourage copycatting and conformity for a library of uniform product. All a musician has to do is follow the crowd and waste no mental energy on compositions and suddenly a meaningless, money free existence of touring to apathetic alcoholics is just around the corner. You made it!! Post it on facebook!!!! Now Like IT!!

          1. Yep, Morpheus Descends made their new songs resemble everyone else on Dark Descent.

            1. Cynical says:

              Anyone who doesn’t think Morpheus Descends ever did the “cavernous doom/death” stuff never heard “Chronicles of the Shadowed Ones”.

              The new material is a continuation of what they did on that EP.

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