With the news that Toyota is launching a record label, I guess we can officially say that the music industry has gone completely random.
Though most people want to attribute it to Wal-Mart's dominance of the distribution of physical recordings (as well as most other consumer goods), the reality is that non-digital sales of music have also gone crazy in the past year. Two of the most remarkable musical comebacks of 2004, Prince's resurgence and the long-overdue mainstream re-recognition of Ray Charles, happened not just because they're geniuses who've been too long overlooked, but because they used non-traditional venues.
Though iTunes gets all the attention for its phenomenal growth, the fastest growing retailers of physical CDs in the United States last year were Starbucks and Prince concerts. If you watched the Grammies this year, you saw Ray's record producer actually thank Starbucks for their support during his acceptance speech, and Billboard and Soundscan were actually forced to change the way they account for record sales so that nobody else could hack the Top 10 charts the way Prince did.
Now, the randomization of recording retailing is moving up the chain, from distribution to A&R to the labels themselves. I guess we'll end up in a world where General Motors will be competing with Def Jam.
And it couldn't have happened to a nicer industry.