The shape of things to come?
The shape of things to come?
Photo illustration by John Sweeney

Crash Into Me: Predicting the Economy's Impact on the Music Biz

Richard Florida's March cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, "How the Crash Will Reshape America," offers bold predictions on how the financial meltdown will affect our economic infrastructure. Florida surmises that cities with well-educated residents and diverse economies, like San Francisco and New York, will gain strength, while post-industrial towns like Detroit and St. Louis will swirl down the toilet.

He doesn't say much about Houston, other than that the Sun Belt's in big trouble. It's a great read if you're, say, one of those people who wish postapocalyptic movies were just a bit more true-to-life.

The crash will certainly reshape the recording industry as well, albeit in completely different ways. Let's have a look into the old crystal ball to see what will happen to the music business.


the economy and music business

Sparked by iTunes' recent decision to raise the prices of hit songs, revenues from recorded music will decline even further. The company's 2010 increase to $1.99 per track will spark a nationwide revolt, causing Flo Rida's latest single, "Conga" — where he raps over the Miami Sound Machine song of the same name — to sell a mere three downloads. Paul Wall's latest, "Need Me A Dentist," meanwhile, fails to entice even a single buyer.

The drying-up of major-label profits will also strike a fatal blow for music magazines. Following Blender's recent demise will be the shuttering of Spin, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The FADER, Ukulele Magazine, Flute Talk and, finally, when the last remaining batch of GWAR fans expires during Malia Obama's first term, Metal Edge.

No longer able to count on proceeds from music sales, artists will sign increasingly dubious endorsement deals. Guitar Hero will launch a "Groupies" series, licensing Usher for its initial offering, Love in This Club. The members of Wilco will agree to Twitter on their album covers, Maroon 5 will namedrop Chocolate Skittles on every new single, The Kills' Alison Mosshart will be forced to smile in public as Crest's new spokesmodel and ­Elvis Costello will start shilling for MySpace.

Wait, that already happened.

Rappers will launch even more ill-­conceived, gaudy clothing lines, like Weed Carrier Couture — a joint venture of Freaky Zekey, Murphy Lee and Trife da God — and Baby by Baby, a line of marijuana-leaf-emblazoned jumpers and solid gold pacifiers designed by Cash Money Records co-founder Bryan "Baby" Williams.

When these fashion endeavors go the way of Lloyd Banks's, however, MCs will begin to play more concerts. To maximize revenue, previously tour-shy rappers will perform together on increasingly oversize bills. This trend will be highlighted in 2016 by the Asher Roth/Son of Scarface/Rick Ross Jr./Lil Lil Wayne "It's Crowded on This Bus" tour, which will also include the surviving members of Geto Boys, Wu-Tang Clan, Kid 'n Play and Another Bad Creation.

Ticketmaster and Live Nation's merger will inspire the consolidation of other ticket-dispensing outlets. This will make a night out more convenient, expensive and odd. For example, those seeking to attend Green Day's sold-out 2030 rock opera, American Incontinent, need only visit the newly merged StubHub/craigslist Web site, where they'll be able to purchase tickets at a mere 300 percent of face value — and find a leather-clad she-male to bring along as a date.

The major labels, meanwhile, hit hard by the polygamous/incestuous marriage of top stars Taylor Swift and the Jonas Brothers, will eventually combine into one company and drop all of their artists except for Panic! At the Disco and U2, who will join forces under the name P.U.! Recorded music in general will be distributed entirely through mobile devices, and subscribers will be billed directly through their phone companies: $20 a month will allow you unlimited downloads; for an extra $30, Lily Allen will record your outgoing message in a mockney accent; and for an extra $50, Katy Perry will call Lily Allen fat and jump out of a cake at your bachelor party.

Its increasing popularity and sponsorship by Google Brain (a new application that can read your mind and knows your credit card number) allows the South by Southwest music festival to expand first to Dallas and Houston, and eventually encompass the entire state of Texas. Geographically, New York, Los Angeles and Nashville will lose their prominence as ­music-industry hubs, as rising rents and the failure of the barista stimulus plan drives working musicians out of these metropolises in droves.

Meanwhile, bedroom recordists like Wavves, Jay Reatard and Deerhunter will force their kid sisters onto the streets as they move back in with their parents and reclaim the biggest closets. Using increasingly sophisticated home-recording equipment and subsisting on $15 weekly parental allowances, these acts will create new indie-rock meccas in San Diego, Memphis and Atlanta.

These scenes will usher in a new era of underground music. Unfortunately, that golden age will unravel when Ryan Adams and Adam Duritz, in their continuing efforts to regain long-lost hipster cred, descend with their actress girlfriends (Dakota Fanning and Miley Cyrus, respectively) and begin rehabbing colonials.

By 2040, music revenues will have climbed back to 'N Sync-era levels, prompting a resurgence of '80s and '90s boy bands and even the reunion of Jordan Knight's old group, now sporting combovers and rechristened OKOTB.

What a long, strange trip it will have been.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >