California Sound: Something Old, Something New

Buzzin - Shwayze w/ Cisco Live at The Roxy on ...
Buzzin – Shwayze w/ Cisco Live at The Roxy on Vimeo (Photo credit: nicadlr)

We can debate about how long there has been a distinctive “California Sound,” but at the very latest that sound was born in November 1961 when the Beach Boys released their first single on Los Angeles radio stations KFOX and KDAY. The Beach Boys are ever the quintessential California band, and their recent reunion as septuagenarians was covered in an incredible piece by Newsweek’s Andrew Romano that read like it belonged in Rolling Stone.

He goes on to offer a soft lament about the state of the music industry.

There is a reason all these aging rock stars keep reuniting and touring: we keep shelling out for tickets. The Beach Boys are no exception. In 2011, Bon Jovi, U2, Take That, and Roger Waters topped the box-office charts with joint receipts of $821 million, and so far, 2012’s live bestseller list—Black Sabbath, Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, Madonna—isn’t much fresher. Meanwhile, surveys suggest that the vast majority of all downloaded music is stolen, and album sales are half what they were at the turn of the century. We’re witnessing a massive shift in revenue from new recordings to live music—and in large part it’s live music that was originally released more than 20 years ago. The record industry is no longer a record industry. It’s a touring industry for geezers.

There is some truth to this, but there is more to the industry than touring alter kackers. The music business is in the heart of a tempest caused by a change in technology and a change of habit. This has happened before, first with the growth of music publishing, then with recorded music, then with radio, and now with digital technology.

But the beat goes on, and a walk down Sunset Boulevard on any given night offers ample evidence – from Amoeba to the Roxy – that American music is as healthy as it has ever been. The problem remains a hidebound industry more interested in defending its business model than in the product itself. The slow, disreputable whittling down of the artists and repertoire (A&R) function within the major labels is testament to as much. The industry is in decline as a result, but we can already see, here in California, the foundations of a new music industry that is rising in its place.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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