Friday, January 22, 2010

The state we're in

At the start of Jan I mentioned that there was too much talk, the music industry is a rampant mess of differing opinions. Certain recent debates have begun to back that up, as if it needed confirmation.

Firstly Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy records (home to De La Soul amongst others), gave an interview stating his opinion on how difficult it was to create success for new artists. It’s a lengthy piece broken up into three different sections, echoing a lot of points I’ve been making for a while – but in a more educated and substantiated manner.

To give a couple of highlights he says:

"The labels are getting more cautious. There are two major concerns we have. One is, the labels, both majors and independents are more conservative; they’re not going to take risks on artists or invest in artists just because they hear the demo and they like the songs or just because they can pack a house. That’s not enough – at least not the major labels. They need to know the artist is going somewhere between 30 and 60 miles per hour already to make an investment in it.

One of the things we identified in that three times as many people buy singles as a whole album, it probably doesn’t make any sense to make a whole album, or it’s a waste of time and money in the studio making an album when they’re just getting started, because every artist breaks with one song. And they might as well focus on finding that one song before they waste the money on the album.

The flow of music from artist to fan is going to be more important. It didn’t used to be important because there wasn’t the kind of 24-7 contact between artists and fans. So as you build your fans, they’re not going to be happy with one album every two years anymore. That’s not going to work. After three months, they’re off finding another artist that’s going to take your place. If you want to keep their interest, you have to keep at the top of their consciousness, and that requires new creative on a constant basis".

Tommy quotes Nielsen sales stats to back up his argument, one that has since been countered by Jeff Price from Tunecore, who questions the validity of the numbers.

Meanwhile today’s CMU daily prints the sales stats from the The International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry's Digital Report. It notes the growth in the digital industry – 10% in track downloads, 20% in album downloads but also recognises that the growth is not compensating for the decline in CD sales. Overall revenues were down 12% in the first half of 2009, and the record industry has seen a sales slump of some 30% since the launch of iTunes.

Everyone does seem to agree that single track downloads are the significant future growth area, it still appears to me that musicians are not responding to that need. It seems slightly ironic that ‘evil’ labels used to force bands to try and produce more hit singles, to generate airplay and coverage. Frequently the artist community used to resist, now it would appear that it’s the market that’ll force the issue. Perhaps it was always this way.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where are the prophets?

We need guidance. Media has become so fragmented (or consolidated) that we no longer know who to trust. Who can adequeately and informatively recommend new (and old) music to us?

In times gone by it was a small number of magazines or writers, a handful of radio presenters - some of these still exist but they have less influence than ever.

Some people rely upon their networks - social or otherwise, what can the rest of us rely on?

I wrote on this in longer form, here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Global solutions

Pandora, LaLa, Rhapsody, Spotify. All music streaming/recommendation sites with one commonality, none of them are available globally.

The music industry is in the can, strategically speaking. It can’t stop people stealing; it also seems incapable of finding the best way to monetise the creation of music.

The old model was to sign a band, develop them or allow them their creative space, record them effectively and take them to market. You’d probably release a single, send them on tour with a similar sounding but more popular act, get them on radio and TV and with luck they’d sell enough records for a return on the investments you’d made getting them to this stage. Then the hard work would begin in reaching the next stage, but that’s another matter.

These days the decision on whether to take the initial investment is tempered by the fact that you know it’s possible for as many people to steal the music as to pay for it. Where once the labels would bank on breaking a single or quantity of singles big enough to make people want the album, now they’re not so sure and nowhere near as secure.

Now they want to share your touring and merchandising revenues via the legendary 360 deals, they want to minimise their risk – and who can blame them?

Of course you’d be right to reserve your rights on such issues and ask instead about where and how they’re innovating – what are they doing that will make your music timeless and readily available. One thing I believe they need to do is start acting globally.

If they believe that streaming is the answer to illegal downloading then can we please have a universally approved streaming service? In some respects we can understand that they wanted proof that the ad-funded streaming model would work, they probably now believe that it doesn’t. What they might be better asking is ‘had this model been available globally would it have fared better’?

Spotify used ad-funded streaming to drive a mixture of that offering and a subscription service. The key selling-point of the subscription service was portability, the ability to take the streamed library wherever you go. Sounds great to me but……I can’t currently make a call on upgrading my Spotify membership because I don’t believe the industry is confident enough to say that they’re the one.

I get the impression that there’s better services (or a better price) waiting around the corner. Whilst I have that impression the money stays in my pocket and the business drifts into inertia. We’re still looking for a solution; please can we make it a global one?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cultivate & communicate

By now I’m sure you know what a social network is. I have little doubt that you’re in one, maybe two or even more. What musicians often fail to recognise is that a network can quite easily revolve around them.

When people go online they invariably do so to make contact with others, their ‘friends’. Frequently these ‘friends’ are deemed such because they are work or school colleagues (present and past), or they have similar interests – music is foremost among these interests.

In the present climate artists have to consider and cultivate their public profile, to feed the fanbase. The rewards from this can be limitless. If a fan feels that they have a personal relationship with you, their loyalty is almost guaranteed. A small but dedicated fanbase can keep an act recording and touring for years beyond their time in the limelight. They are the reason why bands like Marillion are still active.

If we accept that a certain section of society knows how to obtain music for free and has few qualms about acquiring their collection in that way, then we probably also feel that these people are beyond education. Not so. Think of it this way, which are you less likely to steal from – a faceless ‘corporation’ or a friend?

I’m not about to tell you that it’s easy, fans can be very demanding. This said is it that difficult to post an online tour diary, exclusive photos (taken by you, on your mobile) or whatever else to your website, your myspace or your twitter?

Feed the fans and they are likely to stay loyal for longer. The future is in these relationships, in the ‘long-tail’ rather than the short-term. Fans are honest, they’ll give you feedback that you won’t get anywhere else and like anyone else, they’ll stick around if they’re getting what they want. Fans always want more, are you ready to give?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Show me the money

How are we making money in music industry these days? Consensus has it that there’s no revenue in the recorded music, that’s just a way to gain fame via airplay, and subsequent revenue will come from your touring/merchandising, etc. I think we’ve heard the statement so often that we all now just regard it as fact.

Of course it can’t be completely true, there is still money to be made in sales of singles and albums, it may just be that you have to use a selection of unusual methods to increase your yield. Selling your body-hair in exclusive packaging may be one route, but not one favoured by many I suspect.

Struggling musicians probably need to reappraise their goals, is it about a long-term future making music, or is it about instant fame? According to some if you keep your cost base low and your ambitions realistic then it’s possible to survive.

One thing is very clear. The future is about communication, constant communication.

Friday, January 8, 2010

musical conservatives

We’re in for a period of conservatism in this Country, but at heart the great British public have always been fairly conservative folk particularly when it comes to music. We all get excited by emerging trends and brave, challenging new music but the public? Well, they go out and buy James Blunt.

Highest selling albums 2000-2009
1. James Blunt - Back To Bedlam
2. Dido - No Angel
3. Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
4. Leona Lewis - Spirit
5. David Gray - White Ladder
6. The Beatles - 1
7. Dido - Life For Rent
8. Coldplay - A Rush Of Blood To The Head
9. Scissor Sisters - Scissor Sisters
10. Take That - Beautiful World
Source: The Official Charts Company

The albums are adventurous compared to the singles. It would seem to be a sad decade indeed when Shayne Ward (who?) and Bob The Builder can claim top selling singles in a ten year period, but the bulk of it is about really talentless TV competitions and charity, and Shaggy?

Highest selling singles 2000-2009
1. Will Young - Anything Is Possible/Evergreen
2. Gareth Gates - Unchained Melody
3. Tony Christie - (Is This The Way To) Amarillo
4. Shaggy - It Wasn't Me
5. Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah
6. Band Aid 20 - Do They Know It's Christmas?
7. Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out Of My Head
8. Shayne Ward - That's My Goal
9. Hear'say - Pure And Simple
10. Bob The Builder - Can We Fix It
Source: The Official Charts Company

Then, there’s radio. There is a great argument that most stations are only giving the people what they want – the rise and consolidation of syndicated blandness is something to really fear. Do the stations control the listener’s tastes or is it the other way around?


Most played songs 2000-2009
1. Snow Patrol - Chasing Cars
2. Take That - Shine
3. Scissor Sisters - I Don't Feel Like Dancin
4. The Feeling - Love It When You Call
5. Sugababes - About You Now
6. Take That - Rule The World
7. James Blunt - You're Beautiful
8. Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict A Riot
9. Kylie Minogue - Can't Get You Out Of My Head
10. Gnarls Barkley - Crazy
Source: PPL

I think there are some great songs in there; Take That’s Rule The World is a towering pop song even if that’s a sad, reluctant admission to make. Crazy is also one of those songs where you wonder at the majesty of it, but don’t go and buy one of Cee Lo’s solo albums on the strength of his vocal as the one I bought was nowhere near as good.

I suppose the bulk of them I could happily live without ever hearing again, I do listen to more radio than the average person though.

There is something to learn from this if you’re making music. A well crafted song with a good melody and a strong chorus should get you far. It may not, but it’s probably the only way to feature in these charts.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let the (in)action begin

I often think there is too much talk, and not enough action. This is as true of me as it is of anyone who routinely sits and types out a few random thoughts. Routinely probably doesn’t mean once in the last three months with regard to this blog, but that’s how things go sometimes, life & work takes over.

With the start of a new year I thought it might be best to try and summarise the problems currently inherent within the entertainment industry in order to focus my own mind as well as anyone else’s.

Naturally it won’t be comprehensive and I don’t have the answers to all the problems but over the last year it has become clear that there are a few fundamental issues which refuse to go away. I hope to note these on a day-by-day basis over the next week, to avoid boring you to death. Here are two for starters:

Price:

It’s a marketing fundamental – price. Setting it incorrectly can destroy any product. My issue has been that the price difference between ‘physical’ and ‘digital’ is inconsistent and damaging. I wrote about it here in relation to e-books but the same is very true of music. Why is a physical CD generally the same price as a digital-download?

If you take the view that a certain section of society still view digital as ‘free’, then the rest of us need to be incentivised into joining the digital revolution. I still have yet to buy an ‘album’ by download because the physical product can often be obtained as cheaply and is far more flexible. My digital purchases have been single or multiple tracks, which leads to the next point.

Singles:

If it’s clear to me that the future of the music industry is in ‘singles’ (for want of a better term), why are the labels and the musicians still not thinking this way? Who is out there putting out a consistent stream of quality singles? The business model is still about the album, but to become established you have to have a great song or a series of great songs.

Much was made of the Beatles appearance in the top sales figures for the last year and decade. Lots of praise was heaped upon them when the re-masters were issued, what few people mentioned was their work-rate. I wrote about that here and the stats are worth re-visiting: The Beatles released twelve original studio albums, thirteen EPs, and twenty-two singles (mainly featuring original music not found on their albums) in just eight years between 1962 and 1970.

Maybe you think the market conditions were different, and maybe they were. Maybe you think The Beatles were unique, and maybe they were. Maybe other bands are moaning too much and not working hard enough?

I may be Devil’s Advocate here, but if it’s now easier to get your music to market – from recording studio to website in under a week is achievable – why are no new bands achieving the same productivity and progression that The Beatles did?