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Out of tune: Music biz freefalls in the '00s

Jay Z performs during his Blueprint 3 Tour

Jay Z performs during his Blueprint 3 Tour at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on Nov. 8, 2009. Credit: Getty Images

Goodbye, Aughts. Good riddance.

There was a lot of great music made this decade, a lot of great new stars minted. But here are a couple of statistics that bring the past decade into focus. This year's top-selling album, "Fearless" by the seemingly omnipresent Taylor Swift, sold about 2.5 million copies. In 2000, *NSync sold that many copies of "No Strings Attached" in one week.

Saying the music industry was in "free fall" during the Aughts is charitable, "justthisclose to collapse" is probably more accurate. And anyone who doesn't think cutting budgets for musical artists of every level in the latter half of the decade didn't hurt the quality of the music is either naive or not paying attention.

Yes, technology has made it cheaper to record and distribute albums. Yes, creativity doesn't have a price (though considering the way superstar songwriters and producers, from Ne-Yo and The Neptunes to seemingly half of the nation of Sweden get called on for hits these days, that's not exactly true any more, either). And yes, many of the decade's best albums - Arcade Fire's "Funeral," Antony and the Johnsons' "I Am a Bird Now" and Damien Rice's "O" - were produced inexpensively.

However, it only makes sense that given today's financial restraints, most musicians are spending far less time and energy on recording music. They're touring way more. They're blogging and Tweeting and updating their MySpaces and Facebook fan pages. They're far more involved in business planning, merch decisions and figuring out how to license, promote and distribute their music more effectively. All that may be better for their careers, but it's not necessarily better for their music.

All those outside distractions made the decade more prone to one-hit wonders and dramatic creative declines. Compare U2's masterful "All That You Can't Leave Behind" from 2000 to their disappointing "No Line on the Horizon" from 2009. The same goes for Bruce Springsteen's amazing "The Rising" from 2002 and this year's rushed-feeling "Working on a Dream" or even Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP" from 2000 and this year's lukewarm "Relapse."

The music industry's support system of radio, TV and publishing also suffered this decade and, as usually happens in times of economic turmoil, started making bottom line-based, fear-driven, often unfair decisions.

Janet Jackson saw her legendary career derailed after her Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, while Justin Timberlake, the guy who actually pulled off the covering of her breast, saw his career flourish. Adam Lambert found himself censored and essentially banned from live ABC shows for kissing a male band member, while Madonna's sexy lip-locks with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Video Music Awards weren't just regularly shown years later, but spotlighted in news stories about Lambert's performance. And how can we forget the Dixie Chicks, who were essentially blackballed from country radio for speaking out against the Iraqi war early on, only to find that years later the overwhelming majority of the nation agreed with them?

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If only we could repurpose Jay-Z's hard-hitting anthem "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" into "Death of the Aughts," we could start a new decade and hopefully a more productive era for music. Can't wait to say, "La de da-da, hey-ayyyy, goodbye."

SEVEN THINGS TO REMEMBER

1. JAY-Z AND BEYONCÉ

Music's power couple didn't just dominate every facet of the industry during the decade, they also offered a template for how celebrities can still keep some things private. (Have they ever even come out and announced that they're married?) While B was holding down the singles charts with "Irreplaceable" and "Crazy in Love," Jay was building Island Def Jam behind the scenes, launching the careers of Kanye West and Rihanna, and now his own Roc Nation label, as well as recording some of the decade's best albums himself.

2. "AMERICAN IDOL"

The TV juggernaut also became practically the only surefire way to launch a new singer into the increasingly crowded music marketplace. Not only did "Idol" create three of the decade's breakthrough stars - Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Daughtry - it also built a nation of armchair music critics.

3. U2

Their "All That You Can't Leave Behind" album was impressive on its own, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, its spirituality deepened U2's connection to its fans, especially those in New York. "Walk On" suddenly took on new meaning, as did "Beautiful Day," and their area performances after the attacks were among the most memorable of the decade.

4. RADIOHEAD

Crafting four inventive albums in the decade - "Kid A," "Amnesiac," "Hail to the Thief" and "In Rainbows" - wasn't enough. Radiohead also developed a new way for established artists to fund their releases, distributing "In Rainbows" themselves and offering several different packages for fans, including a "pay what you want" version that proved downloaders weren't necessarily pirates.

5. MICHAEL JACKSON

If the death of the King of Pop this year taught us anything, it's that we shouldn't rush to judgment about our stars, that feelings about stars' private lives shouldn't overwhelm feelings about their work. It's a lesson that applies to Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, Tiger Woods and so many more.

6. NORAH JONES

So much of pop culture is directed to tweens and teens, but once Norah Jones broke the 10-million mark with her unexpected smash of pop standards and jazzy originals "Come Away With Me," suddenly those catering to adult tastes could grab some attention. Jones, Michael Bublé, and even current sensation Susan Boyle have made the most of it.

7. EMO

Though the genre, which turned Long Island and northern New Jersey into rock hotbeds at the start of the Aughts, has cooled, its legacy remains strong, as Fall Out Boy, Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance and others continue to evolve. Emo also brought a new emotional kind of songwriting to rock that continues to dominate the broader genre.

 

SEVEN THINGS TO FORGET

 

1. CONSENSUS

Remember those classic albums that nearly everyone of any demographic group knew and liked? Yeah, we won't have any more of those. In the Aughts, pop culture, in general - and music, even more dramatically - fractured into so many niches that most fans of one genre became completely disconnected from any other.

2. EMINEM

Slim Shady was at the top of his game at the start of the decade, but as the years have passed, he has slid from the spotlight and cultural relevance. His latest album, "Relapse," sounded dated and tired, as if Em was, well, empty.

3. THE SOUNDTRACK

Once a driving force of the music industry, the intersection between music and movies has become increasingly tenuous. Aside from the "Twilight" series, most moviemakers weren't willing to pony up the licensing fees to bring the music of top stars to their films, and a growing number of blockbusters don't even bother to put a soundtrack out.

4. BEEF

When even 50 Cent, the King of Beef, is backing off from wars of words, the battle is pretty much over. In the middle Aughts, though, flinging insults - both in the press and in songs - became a surefire way to publicity and sales. Not any more.

5. TICKETS

Miley Cyrus' Nassau Coliseum show was a glimpse of the future. To thwart scalpers, getting into the ticketless show required the credit card used to buy the seats and a photo ID. It's part of the ongoing quest to make buying a concert ticket like buying an airline ticket, complete with multiple price levels.

6. RECORD STORE CHAINS

The closing of the mammoth Virgin Megastores and Tower Records chains left a retail and cultural hole that will never be filled again. Their exits leave a golden opportunity for well-run, well-curated independent record stores, including Looney Tunes in West Babylon and Other Music in the East Village.

7. AUTO-TUNE

The studio technology of correcting a singer's pitch became so prevalent in the decade that being able to carry a tune ceased being a prerequisite for singers. Producers like T-Pain took the trick to new heights by keeping the pitch-correction process as part of the song. However, long before Jay-Z declared it dead, the spacey Auto-Tune sound had worn out its welcome.

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