Uh Oh, Uh Oh, Uh Oh, Oh No No

HOLLYWOOD - If the music industry circa 2008 had its own theme song, it would be angsty and jittery and built around a minor-key melody. There would be a steady, persistent drumbeat of negativity and more than a few discordant notes. The lyrics would be weirdly optimistic, though, with a chorus about new paradigms, new distribution systems, new opportunities, etc. (And what a lame and unwieldy chorus it would be.)

Still, it would be a dark and downcast song because because, as you might have heard, the music biz is in trouble. There's a bloodbath at some of the major labels (EMI is cutting as many as 2,000 music-related jobs worldwide), stock prices at Warner Music Group have bottomed out, album sales are continuing their eight-year decline, blah blah blah blah.

To industry outsiders, it's just numbers on paper, really - and maybe something for the schadenfreudists to get excited about. But there are a couple of very visible reminders here in this company town that all is not well in musicland.

The Tower Records shop on the Sunset Strip - once among the most famous music stores in the world, a place where Elton John was a regular and Brian Wilson showed up in his bathrobe; where Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart and other stars made regular promotional appearances - is boarded up now, its iconic yellow and red paint having given way to a somber shade of blue. Towers everywhere are closed, of course, but this one was always different, a symbolic and historic outpost.

A mile east on Sunset, the Virgin Megastore is closed, too, having sold its final CD last month; in the building's parking lot, the murals of Axl Rose and other music stars have been ignominiously painted over. The Virgin Megastore on Hollywood is still open, but music has ceded considerable display space to non-musical items - clothing, electronics and pop-culture ephemera, from "Scarface" dolls and Wii games to Blu-Ray players and Levi's 501 jeans.

At least the landmark Capitol Records tower still stands proudly at Hollywood and Vine. Of course, the building, which looks like a stack of 45s on a turntable, no longer belongs to Capitol: Its parent company, EMI, sold the building two years ago to a New York developer. Meanwhile, EMI has been consolidating its U.S. music division inside the tower. No word as to whether they're playing that angsty, jittery music-biz song in the elevators there.

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 15, 2008; 12:12 PM ET Business
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Comments

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Good riddance. Major labels should just close up shop and call it a day. It would be for the benefit of all of us, except the employees.

It should be noted that independent record labels are more successful than ever, as are online record stores and download services.

Posted by: Ben W | February 15, 2008 12:34 PM

I can not remember the last time I purchased a CD at an actual drive to, find parking, store. In fact it is rare that I purchase an entire CD.

There's a record store that I sometime visit while I'm at the mall looking, I won't mention their name, but the initials are F.Y.E., their CD's are sometimes 50% or more than online or download, I have no idea how they stay in business, I can only assume their customer base do not own a computer.

Posted by: Millie | February 15, 2008 12:53 PM

I'm listening to XM online right now. Use iTunes to download new music. Haven't bought an actual CD in months.

I stopped caring about "the industry" after the mega-chains (like Tower) killed the small, local, funky, places like Penguin Feather and Kemp Mill.

Posted by: wiredog | February 15, 2008 1:38 PM

The last in-store CD purchase I made was a Barnes & Noble exclusive ("Let The Woman" by Andy Davis). I wanted to buy it in the store instead of online because he's a friend of my cousin's (it's good, don't get me wrong) and I felt like buying in-store would somehow mean a little more to his representation at B&N than buying online.

Posted by: 23112 | February 15, 2008 1:38 PM

I still like having the platters (and I'm not a fan of the tinny sound of most mp3s). Usually I'll order online, but will make a trek to a store if it's significantly cheaper or has exclusive content.

Posted by: Hemisphire | February 15, 2008 2:30 PM

Do most independent record stores these days rely on vinyl sales to stay afloat? Seems like it to me, but I could be wrong.

I've always been a CD customer, and always will be. I don't like to see independent stores go out of business or cut back on the diversity of their CD catalog. Nothing sucks like buying CDs at Best Buy or some other retail chain monstrosity. Could DC support at least one independent CD store with a large and diverse collection? The stores I've seen in DC lately don't have it.

Posted by: Waterloo | February 15, 2008 5:48 PM

J. Freedom -

Did you stop by Amoeba Records? That place is incredible, and last time I was there it was hopping. They seem to have figured out a way to be successful...

Posted by: PDY | February 15, 2008 11:18 PM

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