This chart's been making the rounds lately everywhere, from top political bloggers to financial gadflies to music industry maven Bob Lefsetz. It's gone viral, crossed over, become a smash ... in other words, it's done everything that records don't do anymore. (Except maybe Cee Lo's, which is retro in every good possible way.)
This chart's got a 'hook' - in this case, a simple and clean presentation that illustrates the rise and fall of the music business. And it has so many overtones: economic, musical, personal ...
The story's simple: Vinyl got replaced by tape, then tape started falling off just as revenues from CDs picked up the slack and started skyrocketing. The business kept falling upward, making more and more money as it went. Until it didn't.
When Things Go Wrong ... It Hurts Me Too
I had it ... I had a deal lined up. I was going to make it.
In the late seventies rock and roll seemed to be booming. I had some songs and a five-piece band, and two managers were fighting over me. One was still struggling, on the way up. He'd take me out to breakfast once in a while according to then-standard manager/artist protocol: rented limo, Eggs Benedict and champagne, an offer of coke in the back seat on the way back. He'd managed to scrape up an offer from a second-rate record company that had a lot of hits once, but was struggling to be relevant again. The other manager couldn't care less about impressing me. But he had a superstar New Wave client and got me into a couple of major labels, both of which booked studio time for demos.
The first manager was a nice guy - not always a plus in a manager - and he had the hustle it might've taken to break an unknown act. But I dropped him and went with the guy who had the superstar in his stable. Everything was going great until I met the superstar at a party and mentioned his name. "I'm sorry I have to walk the same planet as that asshole," she said. Uh-oh.
The shape of that music industry curve looked awfully familiar. Where had I seen it before? Here's a different chart for the same time period:
There's a striking resemblance here. But could it really mean something? Did the Dow actually rise and fall in close harmony with the music industry? Here's an overlay of the two lines:
"Wise man see outlines," William Blake wrote in his diary, "and therefore they are wise." Are we seeing an overlooked correlation or just a fluke? How does the economy affect rock and roll - or vice versa, for that matter?
Here's one way: In 1979 I was being scouted by two record labels. The bidding war, I was assured, was already heating up. Then the ayatollahs took over in Iran. Oil prices soared and people began talking about a "music industry recession." LPs were a petroleum product.
Suddenly the record labels weren't interested anymore. Even the offer from the has-been record label was withdrawn. Around downtown Manhattan I became aware of a lot of guys turning thirty, like I would be in a few years, still scuffling to make it in the rock and roll game. I was back in California before another winter ended.
Before another year had passed, oil prices were falling again and the music biz was on its upward trajectory. But it felt too late for me. When John Lennon got shot, I was really crying for myself.