Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spot the elephant

In the ongoing Spotify debate there are numerous sides to the story and an obvious elephant in the room. If you agree with my theory that the only reason you’d stop streaming your music is that you think it’s detrimental to your sales then the ‘elephant’ in this instance is probably quality and popularity.

If I’m being charitable perhaps Thom & Nigel’s project is not suited to streaming as it’s not music that benefits from casual or background listening, it requires effort, the repeated listens that few of us (outside the rabid fans) have time for. It is also – essentially – a solo project and these are never as successful as the artist’s main activity, the stuff they became famous for.

Radiohead is not just a band, it is popular and successful enough to be known as a brand – people have faith in it and the material released in its name. The same is not valid for any project undertaken by the individual members of that band. This is as true for Thom Yorke as it is for Mick Jagger, neither will ever sell as much solo as they will within their known quantity.

Successful artists are indulged such projects and have companies who are willing to work with them on these things. You’ve sold millions of records and tickets therefore you are allowed to do your avant-garde sideshow, that doesn’t mean all your existing fans are going to buy into it though. Given a reality check most artists would understand this, unfortunately by flying in the face of accepted industry beliefs on Spotify Thom & Nigel seem to be highlighting the fact that no-one’s buying the Atoms For Peace album. Or that might be just how I see it.
 
There’s a great overview with contrasting arguments here and I could easily fill this blog with the commentary of others like this. Indeed you could spend all day reading such pieces without ever changing your opinion or only becoming more confused.  
 
I’ve made the point before that some artists are still making money from recorded sales by producing music that people want to buy. If your music is niche or your album is an art project then you probably have to accept that fewer people are going to buy it – fewer still without hearing it. If it’s that far from the mainstream (and you’re not streaming) then their opportunities to hear it will be somewhat restricted.  
 
Nigel & Thom seemed to have made the stand that the only way to hear their new music is to buy it. This seems to be very retrograde for someone who once pursued a ‘pay what you can’ policy. As producer Stephen Street pointed out it seems ironic and hypocritical that one of the people who helped to degrade the value of digital downloads would do something like this.
 
Going back to the big grey thing in the restricted space, it could be argued that the collapse of the old record company system has resulted in an absence of A&R. The A&R person was the conduit between artist and label, partly there to serve the interests of both but - as a result of how they were paid – likely to be most interested in finding a song or songs that would be commercially viable. There’s an argument for creative freedom and I’d be the first to back that up but there has to be a balance, compromise – some give and take to ensure that people want to take.
 
We may be in a guitar-band vacuum at present with pop and RnB reigning majestic, things may turn around in that cyclical nature of the music business but it’s gone on for some time now and one would have to conclude that emerging rock artists are clearly not making the music that people want – or those that are are finding it difficult to get heard, signed or bought. Hearing a hit, wherever or however, might kick-start that process.

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