The Recording Industry Association of America is bitching again this spring over the news of last year's sales numbers. For the fifth year of the last six, CD sales were down. The RIAA probably wanted to bust up some more dorms and flush out more illegal downloaders.
But you don't need sheepskin from the Arthur Andersen School of Accounting to see that the fix is in. The slow slide of retail is balanced by explosive growth in digital sales. Labels are finding money in places they didn't even look two years ago. Hell, they raked more in from ring-tone sales last year than they did in sales of digital singles.
There was a time when the major record companies could manufacture stars. Call Diddy, then pack obscene amounts of cash into ad campaigns and music videos. Or, when that failed, buy hookers, cocaine, and ski vacations for corrupt radio programmers.
But as iPods and online media replace radio and retail, the big labels are losing their juice. A hot single won't move an album full of weak shit anymore. The labels are bugging, because they've got to start thinking in terms of albums and careers that will last longer than an American Idol bathroom break. That takes a lot more work than they're used to.
Music execs are scared, but piracy is a convenient fake-out. They're just shitty at their jobs, and they were spreading the cheddar to get over. Until now.