Burn, baby, burn!

The music industry is in crisis. We’re not talking about the dearth of new talent, the onslaught of boy bands and teen divas or the continued annoying presence of tired whiteboy rappers or whiny rage rockers. We’re talking about how home CD burning is pulling the rug out from under the whole corporate marketing and distribution machine, and we’re happy to predict that it means the end of the music industry as we’ve known it.

Let’s look at some facts: CD music sales dropped by 10 percent in 2001, the first decline since the CD format was introduced in 1983 and a shocking development to an industry that took double-digit growth for granted throughout the ’80s and ’90s. That same year, the sales of blank CD-Rs grew to an astounding 3.7 billion, a massive 80 percent increase over 2000.

It’s not too difficult to see what’s going on: Increasingly tech-savvy consumers are burning their own CDs rather than buying over-priced, pre-recorded industry product. Industry figures confirm that two-thirds of CD-Rs sold are used by consumers to re-record music CDs for themselves or friends, and by all indications, the trend is just gathering momentum. Last month, sales of blank CD-Rs exceeded those of pre-recorded music CDs for the first time.

The change is nothing less than revolutionary, as consumers—especially young ones—come to view music as a commodity to be traded and swapped rather than purchased. You might expect the music industry to fight this with every dollar at its disposal, except for one thing: In this age of corporate conglomeration, the same retailers that sell music also sell CD burners, MP3 players and CD-Rs. Rather than fight a losing battle against the new technology, companies like Sony are already realizing that they can make more money selling faster CD burners, smaller, better-sounding personal stereos and various accessories than they can selling CDs. They’ve made token efforts to enforce copyright laws, but in reality they’re much more interested in selling you a new MP3 walkman than they are in making sure J-Lo gets her royalty payments.

Which brings us to an important point: All of this is probably good news for consumers, but what about the musicians? Won’t they be left out in the cold?

Not necessarily. It’s true that royalties from CD sales will continue to shrink as pre-recorded disc sales become an ever-smaller part of the music business. But, as any musician can tell you, royalties have never been a reliable source of income anyway. Record companies rarely pay on their own accord, and only the most successful acts have the clout to force payment. For the vast majority of musicians, income only comes from live performances, and that isn’t going to change.

In truth, it’s hard to imagine how musicians or consumers could possibly be any worse off in the future than they have been under the corporate-run music industry, which has robbed artists of their royalties and consumers of their choices. But you don’t have to take it anymore. Get yourself a CD writer, and burn, baby, burn!