Friday, September 13, 2013

Reasons to be cheerful?

I find reason to be optimistic about the music industry today. In truth it is only a reflection of my own tastes, a reflection that I should know better than to extrapolate into accepted belief. I am more optimistic because – for the first time in a long time – there are quite a lot of albums that I’m interested in hearing.

It is valid argument that the album is a dead format, I’ve even suggested the same myself , but there are occasions when you like an artist’s work enough to want to hear a bigger selection of it. You want more new songs. In that respect the album still exists as a 'vehicle' – if the industry is fixated with it then the consumer has little other choice.

Some of the stuff I want to hear, or have been listening to this week, is not that new – Savages, The National – and some is not yet out – Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, Elvis Costello & The Roots, Gambles, Mark Lanegan. Others are quite fresh releases – Janelle Monae, King Krule, Willis Earl Beal.

In some of the above cases – notably Elvis, Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire – I’m contradicting an argument I frequently use about ‘old artists’. In this argument I point out (often just to myself) that you/I probably own their best recorded material, do I really need to hear or own any more?

The truth is that artists can evolve and sometimes surprise us, not always in a bad way. As Elvis Costello is an artist I have followed from the early days, I’m likely to adopt a ‘completist’ attitude to his work – I own almost all of it, so a little more can’t hurt. That this album is a collaboration with The Roots , who I also like, is reason enough – particularly since I’ve now heard it and was impressed by its excellence.

That’s the key difference between now and the past, easy access to listen to the newest music. Both Elvis & Janelle’s album were streamed by The Guardian and the latter is now up on Spotify as are King Krule, Willis Earl Beal, Savages and The National. I can – and probably will – listen to them before I make a buying decision where once I would’ve had to rely on reviewers.

Whatever the argument is about what Spotify pays out, which I may have done to death, this has to be an advantage to the music industry. I’m not nearly rich enough to buy all of the ten CDs I’m interested in, Spotify at least enables me to establish which I buy now and which are suggested to family as Christmas gifts.
 
If I wanted to twist the argument I could be annoyed with the industry for opening the floodgates at this time, knowing full well that they are obsessed with the ‘final quarter’ – the period that defines their success, or otherwise.

Despite the many advances in retail, broadcast, consumption or whatever, the recorded music industry is fixated with the fact that they sell the bulk of their wares in the final quarter. The statistic is continually propped up by the fact that labels hold important releases for that quarter.

Once again the recorded music industry finds reasons to make us happy – great artists producing great material – but also frustrates us by releasing it all at the same time and rendering it impossible/unlikely for us to buy it all. Again I’m transposing my own thoughts into general belief – the probability is that I’m among the few who have this list of ‘wants’, I’m also among the few still buying CDs but I am of the few who will be responsible for saving this industry with such purchases. The industry needs to respect the few.

1 comment:

Adam Bowie said...

You're not alone. I've never understood the rationale for releasing everything at the same time. I suppose record companies are sitting there thinking that although a rival may have their big release coming out in a couple of weeks' time, their artist is streets ahead, and therefore will sell more. And maybe the industry would entirely crumble were it not for the gift market at Christmas? I'm not sure.

But I do feel like I've been through a fallow music buying period, and now everything's coming at once.

And there are competing products for my leisure pounds. The summer blockbusters are coming out on DVD. Major authors are having their books published. The big computer games have to be on sale in the fourth quarter. Oscar-fodder (i.e. "good" films) clog up cinemas.

Everyone's chasing the same money at the same time. And surely that's not smart?