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I will examine the effect that iTunes has had on the artist-audience relationship in the jazz industry. The effect that iTunes has had on the artist-audience relationship will be measured by how it has changed the interaction between musician and listener in regards to live performance and purchased music. The goal will be to look at claims made by jazz musicians and fans as to how the industry has changed over the years and try to figure out how iTunes has affected the shifting discourse of jazz musicians.


I will look at interviews and blogs by both jazz artists and fans that pertain to their experience of the current jazz industry. Then I will do the same in regards to the jazz industry before iTunes. By examining statistics and scholarly articles on how iTunes is affecting the music industry and its culture, I will attempt to figure out how it has changed the experiences that jazz artists and fans share.
In my examination of the jazz industry, I will examine how the iTunes format has contributed to changes between artist and audience. I will also be exploring the concept of “health,” in regards to how jazz musicians and fans see the state of their industry. The health of the industry will be measured by the number of people that are purchasing the music, the number of people that are going out to see live shows and the number of young aspiring musicians that are playing and studying jazz. By understanding both the “health” of the industry and the effect that the iTunes format has had on it, we will be able to further understand the direction in which the music is heading. These concepts will be key in uncovering how the roles of artists and audiences in the jazz industry have changed.


Reasons for study:
It is important for musicians to understand the socioeconomic factors that affect the form and production of the music that they play. The goal of this article is to provide a deeper understanding of the relationship that iTunes and jazz music share and how this nexus affects the relationship of musicians and listeners. Hopefully with a greater understanding of the forces that affect a musician’s livelihood, more musicians will find ways to make a living. In this case it is imperative that musicians start to understand the ways in which iTunes affects the health of their industry.


Introduction to iTunes:
Since its launch on January 8th 2001, iTunes has completely reshaped the music industry. According to CNN’s Greg Sandoval, iTunes now accounts for 70 percent of digital song sales in America. Thus, this ever-growing apparatus is changing the way millions of Americans are exposed to music. Since the introduction of iTunes, singles have become increasingly popular while album sales have diminished. This has to do with the iTunes format, which makes singles very accessible at 99 cents a song. Music on iTunes is sorted by genre, artist and rating. Each iTunes user has a music library that encompasses all the music that the user has either purchased or acquired by some other legal or illegal means.
       Another aspect of the iTunes format that has changed how we listen to and access music is the accessibility of one’s music collection when they have an iTunes library and an iPod. Any song in one’s entire music collection can be accessed within seconds during any time of the day.
       iTunes also makes different kinds of music more accessible for purchase. Through sites such as TuneCore any artist can post his or her music on iTunes. However greater accessibility through programs such as TuneCore also creates more clutter, so accessibility does not necessarily mean more exposure for jazz artists.

The Jazz industry:
Jazz is one of America’s indigenous art forms and has been around for over a century. It is a performance-based music that is unique in its reliance on improvisation and communication between musicians. Jazz has developed into a “virtuosic music,” meaning that the level needed to be a professional is very high, and that the music is now studied in schools, just like western classical music. Like democracy and baseball, jazz is an American past time that has endured the test of time. However, for quite a while the jazz industry has generated less revenue than newer forms of music. Some would even go as far as saying that the music is endangered.
       According to Marc Hopkins of Jazztimes magazine, jazz sales account for around 2% of the music industry’s total sales. Although jazz has traditionally been a performance-based music, recording sales have been quite marginal in comparison to other genres for quite some time. In 2003 “All About Jazz” cited that jazz sales comprised 3.6% of industry sales. This would lead one to think that jazz sales have been on a steady decline for quite some time. However this is not the case. A 1984 “Billboard” article stated that jazz sales in the early 1980s were also around 2-3 % and expressed many of the same concerns about the jazz industry that are still being raised today. 

Claims by Jazz artists on the current state of the music industry:
Ron Carter (in an interview from www.artistshousemusic.org posted on YouTube), states that the jazz industry today, is not a “healthy” one. It is clear that Carter is worried about the state of the music that he plays.  He goes on to say that when he was growing up there were twenty jazz labels, now there are only two. Carter is not the only jazz musician to express his worries about the current state of jazz. In an interview in “The Montreal Gazette,” saxophonist Ken Vandermark talks about how he gets paid three times the amount for concerts in Europe than for concerts in the U.S. This is troubling since the U.S. is the birthplace of the music and is still considered by most musicians to be jazz’s capital. Despite a widespread concern for the jazz industry’s health among musicians, there are still some who remain optimistic.  According to legendary pianist Billy Taylor there are 40,000 jazz bands in schools across the country, and this means a future audience for jazz (video posted below of an interview from Americanjazzgreats.com).

iTunes relations with the current Jazz industry:      
       Carter blames the Internet, the iPod and free music servers for causing record stores to close. According to Marc Hopkins of Jazztimes Magazine, “Musicians and fans bemoaned the end of Tower because of its large inventory of jazz that spanned the genre’s history and subcategories.” The closing of major record stores such as Tower Records will either change the way jazz fans purchase their music or make it more difficult for jazz fans to buy music. As of 2007, according to a study by the NPD group, 79% of jazz sales were from stores. Only 18% of jazz sales were purchased online (Hopkins). This statistic sharply contrasts with the purchase of other types of music, which were bought online 75% of the time.
       Jazz musicians such as Carter, are used to making their money from album sales and touring. Jazz has been around for a long time, so this sudden switch to online music seems to be disconcerting to established jazz musicians such as Carter. 


       Carter appears particularly distressed about the decline in the number of jazz record labels. The disappearance of these labels has led to a decrease in the promotion of traditional American jazz. However for some jazz musicians, remaining independent of a record label may not be a negative thing from an economic standpoint. Through sites like TuneCore, artists can put their music on iTunes and receive all the profits after paying a minimal fee. So in this particular way iTunes provides musicians a more direct link with their fans.

Music Clutter:
Because of sites like TuneCore, cheaper recording equipment and the absence of record labels, music has been democratized. This can be viewed as both good and bad for professionals and fans. Professionals don’t have to share their income with record labels, but they wind up competing with amateurs. Additionally, iTunes’ sorting system sometimes blurs lines between jazz and other similar genres. One blogger on 2blowhards.com writes about looking for jazz on iTunes: “I hardly ever find what I'm looking for buried among all the reams of big-label high-commerce tedious crap.”  When one searches jazz on iTunes preview, names such as Michael Jackson and Outkast come up. Though these artists may claim jazz as an influence, their music itself is not jazz.
       In the aforementioned interview, Ron Carter talks about how promoters find it all right “use the name jazz” in festivals that feature artists such as Gladys Night and The O Jays. Carter blames this kind of promotional tactic for giving jazz “a strange sound…that listeners can’t identify with.” Jazz musicians are very touchy about the labeling of their music. So perhaps this mislabeling of jazz on iTunes is another reason that musicians such as Carter are weary about the effect that iTunes is having on the jazz industry. This also could be another reason why jazz purists are reluctant to buy their music from iTunes as opposed to buying an album in a store.


Format issues:
“Bassist and composer Christian McBride sees the shift to downloads as a kind of throwback to the popularity of 45s, when songs were acquired cheaply but fans didn’t get the artwork or liner notes that completed the music’s story” (Hopkins). McBride’s feelings represent the common sentiment that iTunes estranges the physical representation of the artist from his audience. Jeff Price, creator of TuneCore agrees with McBride. Price states that “the emotional ties to physical music and the one-dimensional packaging that accompanies it are fading,” meaning that music fans are less married to the idea of having something physical to represent their purchase.  To expand on this argument, iTunes makes it harder for the listener to find out which sidemen are on an album when they purchase it. Most jazz listeners are more concerned with who the sidemen are than the average pop listener. Each song on an album will generally have at least two to three people soloing on it, and the interactive nature of the music democratizes the importance of all the musicians on an album.
              Christian McBride’s comparison of iTunes to the 45 rpm single might have deeper implications than he meant at the time. In the 1950s and 60s, when jazz was more popular than it is now, sales of recorded music came from two sources. The LP, which catered to adult audiences and the rpm 45 single, which catered to teens. LPs raised more revenue for the industry and were considered to have more longevity than singles. The adult demographic was taken seriously by the music industry and as a result, between the years of 1948 and 1966 adults became the “dominant purchasers” of LPs. The Albums of that age were “geared toward long-term sales and as a result the music that fit the LP format best, such as adult pop and jazz, flourished (Keightely).
       Now iTunes provides a format that is similar to the 45 rpm, but there is no new listening format that resembles the LP. This raises a serious question: Has the music industry forgotten about its adult demographic, and how is this affecting music that has traditionally been purchased by an adult demographic?

         Another format issue has to do with the fact that one’s iTunes library can be used as a social tool. In an interview-based study done at the Palo Alto Research Center that explores the social practices surrounding itunes and itunes music sharing, researchers found that sharing ones library makes one self conscious. One is constantly worried that their library is not adequately portraying a cool and socially acceptable picture of who they really are (Voida). People identify themselves with their itunes library, worry about how they are being judged, and in turn judge others according to what they listen to.
        I would argue that the itunes community creates musical norms. For fear of being judged people gravitate to these music listening norms. Thus music that falls outside musical norms, such as jazz and classical music, gets pushed off to the side. The music normalizing process that iTunes helps create could be another factor in the lack of jazz media exposure that Ron Carter talks about.


Analysis-downside of the decline of record stores and labels:

           It seems to me that iTunes is capable of being beneficial to the health of the Jazz industry. It provides artists with the tools they need in order to have a more direct link with their audience. However, because of certain format issues right now, iTunes’ effect on the jazz industry could be detrimental. From 2003-2007 the jazz industry’s total revenue went from being 3.6% of industry sales to just around 2%. This decrease in sales came during a time of enormous growth for iTunes.  In 2006 Tower Records closed its doors for the last time.
            Perry Greenfield, Product Manager of Blue Note Records summed up the jazz industry’s reaction to the closing of Tower Records: “It was devastating…It was like a light switch went off. There was a definite change in the market. At Tower they had deep shelf space for catalog, which is a large part of our income” (Hopkins). Tower Records is far from the only record store to experience economic troubles during this iTunes epoch. HMV pulled out of American Markets in 2004 and Virgin Records recently had to close their two final stores in New York. Currently there are no large-scale record stores left in New York.


       These figures support Ron Carter’s claim that the Internet, iPod and illegal downloading have led to the closing of record stores. iTunes has brought the ipod into being, lead to much illegal downloading, and would not exist without the internet. Therefore, I would suggest that Ron Carter’s claim is actually being made about iTunes.
       Now the question remains of why Carter is so concerned about the closing of Record stores. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that small, independent record labels are credited with bringing traditional jazz to the American mainstream (Blanchette). The closing of record stores means a decline in record sales, and thus less of a need for record labels, especially independent ones. When Carter was first coming up, there were many more jazz record labels around.
       Another one of Carter’s assertions in the aforementioned interview is that the jazz industry is not healthy due to a lack of media exposure. Record labels take a percentage of their artists’ profit, thus they have an incentive to put money into publicizing their artists. This means more publicity for jazz. With the decline of record labels brought about by iTunes and various forms of illegal downloading, the jazz musician becomes responsible for publicizing himself to audiences.



I would suggest that what jazz musicians and industry specialists such as Christian McBride, Ron carter and Perry Greenfield are implying is that record stores as well as record labels are a central component of the jazz industry. They believe that the iTunes listening format masks the essence the music.
       In reference to the contrasting music listening experience of listening to a CD rather than a downloaded iTunes track, McBride says, “You had a visual to go along with the music, but it wasn’t too much, not like a video where you lose your imagination.” Thus the album format helped artists and audiences conceptualize the music they were listening to by making the music a more physical entity. Liner notes helped you understand what the musicians were all about, and the list of the musicians on the album informed the listener exactly whom they were listening to on every track. The album brought the audience closer to the performance.


Analysis-Decline of live performance in America:
       Saxophonist Ken Vandermark Claims that he gets paid three times the amount of money in Europe than he would for a comparable gig in America or Canada. This has negative implications for jazz musicians because artists receive most of their income from concerts and performances (Blanchette). I would suggest that this is caused by two factors. First the decline of American jazz record labels makes it hard for musicians to adequately publicize their gigs since they need to do all the work themselves. With fewer people coming out to hear music, clubs are unable to pay musicians well. Secondly, unlike many European countries, the U.S. government doesn’t subsidize the arts (Zimmer and Toepler). Without subsidies, artists rely on fans or record labels to invest their money in them. Just like any other art or business, where there is more money being invested, artists will have less control over their product.
       I would suggest that a lack of subsidies creates the need for new technologies. New technologies such as iTunes provide a new format for the purchase of music. Thus, a new source of revenue for the music industry is created. With each creation of a new music listening format, an old one is lost. The CD killed the LP and now iTunes is killing the CD (Hopkins).

A blogger on westlakerecords.com by the name of Russ Weinberg says: “Jazz also needs new names. To survive it must produce a steady stream of new musicians whose specialties range from Dixieland to the most contemporary hybrid.“ There is no shortage in talent in today’s jazz industry. Jazz is now being studied at the nation’s to top conservatories and the level of proficiency on one’s instrument has never been higher. I would argue that the reasons for a lack of today’s jazz stars have to do with the format that the music is being presented in. The format in turn affects the music’s media exposure. Without more media exposure for jazz musicians, big corporate jazz festivals such as the JVC Jazz festival (which was cancelled in 2009) will continue to diminish. These festivals need headliners that will draw crowds in order to flourish.



Something else may be going on:
The common theme or pattern that keeps coming up in all these different claims made by artists and audiences is that the modern jazz industry is not healthy. Musicians talk of their hopes for the future and a distant past when jazz was more of a lucrative profession, but the theme still remains that it is hard to make a living in the jazz industry.

       As previously stated, between the years of 2003 and 2007 Jazz went from comprising 3.6% of the music industry’s total revenue to 2%. However as far back as the early 1980s, the jazz industry’s revenue was still just around 2%. It is also possible that these negative claims in regards to the affect that iTunes is having on the jazz industries are just a way for jazz musicians to take out their frustrations with the decline of the industry as a whole.
       Ron Carter says that part of the industry’s lack of health has to do with the fact that jazz is not getting to younger kids. Jazz has a strange sound to so many people because they have not been exposed to it during their developing years. I would suggest that jazz musicians and promoters need to do a better job of getting the music to younger generations. Now is the time to change this trend. As the great pianist Billie Taylor says, “There are 40,000 jazz bands across the United States.” Taylor believes that this increase in jazz education will help re-popularize jazz. This increase in jazz education is a step in the right direction. Now the jazz community needs to find a way to use iTunes as a tool to strengthen the relationship between artists and audiences.

Final thoughts:
It is not clear if the Jazz industry’s health is being directly affected by iTunes. What is clear is that the relationship between jazz audiences and artists are changing as a result of this new technology. Jazz musicians and fans still are stuck in the age of the album. iTunes does not seem to be a format that jazz listeners feel comfortable with yet. This is partly the fault of iTunes since it is inherently designed for the listening of pop singles. However if jazz is going to survive along with the other great American past times, its artists and audiences are going to have to adapt. This means forming new adaptations while adapting to a new format.

John Coltrane - My Favorite Things


An interview with Jazz great ron carter on the "health" of the jazz industry.





Dr. Billy Taylor talking about his excitement in regards to the future of jazz. According to Taylor

there are forty thousand jazz bands in schools around the country.




Effects of MP3 Technology on the Music Industry: An Examination of Market Structure and Apple iTunes. College of the Holy Cross. Retrieved September, 30:2004, 2004.


Keir Keightley

Media, Culture & Society May 2004 26: 375-391,




Zimmer, A. and Teopler, J. (1999) The Subsidized Muse: Government and the Arts in Western Europe and the United States. Journal of Cultural Economics.




Voida, A., R. E. Ginter, N. Ducheneaut, W. K. Edwards and M. W. Newman(2005): Listening in: Practices Surrounding Itunes Music Sharing. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors  in Computing (CHI ‘05), Portland, Oregon Apr 2-7. ACM Press, pp. 191-200 


Sandoval, Greg. "With ITunes, Apple Has Thrown Weight around - CNN.com." CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. 27 May 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. <http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/biztech/05/27/cnet.itunes.apple/index.html>.


Additional links:

One can find all the current music charts here:


This link briefly explains how the ipod is effecting various media industries:


This is a blog that deals with with the question- Is ituning jazz recordings are good or bad for the state of the jazz industry?


An interview with Ken Vanermark on the state of jazz, and how that state differes in North America and Europe:


Voida, A., R. E. Ginter, N. Ducheneaut, W. K. Edwards and M. W. Newman(2005): Listening in: Practices Surrounding Itunes Music Sharing. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors  in Computing (CHI ‘05), Portland, Oregon Apr 2-7. ACM Press, pp. 191-200

A NY Times article about the closing of the last Virgin mega store.

A blog about the absence of modern jazz stars and the deline of jazz festivals.

An All About Jazz article from 2003 that references jazz sales statistics.

A JazzTimes article that talks about online music distrubution.


Black Enterprise, A book by Phyl Garland.











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