Friday, December 6, 2013

The numbers of the beast

There was praise last week for Iron Maiden, one of Britain’s most successful small businesses. I don’t know if the band would consider this to be high praise or not, it speaks well of their brand growth and values but commerce and art have always made slightly odd bedfellows, never more so than in the business of making music.

Acts are often coy about the grubby details of money matters, as if they consider such things beneath them. You tend to only hear from them when they feel they’ve been wronged, it’s always their preference to be seen as the oppressed and downtrodden. It benefits most of them to be seen as reactionaries or the everyman figure; they clearly feel that this makes them more lovable.
It’s probably true of all of us to a certain extent. It’s vulgar to talk about money and whilst that never bothered the hip hop fraternity or footballers, to give two random examples, artists try to be more sensitive about such things.

This lack of trust and openness has always been a barrier to meaningful progress in the download age. The petulant rants of the anti-streaming brigade have created an almost impenetrable smokescreen which could make responsible music consumers uncertain of how to properly support the artists they love. The short answer (though the artist would never say it) is buy everything, in all formats. Sadly – for them – no one does that anymore.
Tired of being the artist’s favourite whipping boys Spotify has moved to clarify the business of streaming in a plain-English manner on their new Spotify Artists site. It makes for interesting reading though the ‘promised land’ – where everyone pays for their premium service – may still be some way off. When a business is this transparent though, allowing for acceptable levels of ‘spin’, it does tend to remove the bulk of the arguments.

Of course most artists would kill to have the worldwide audiences of Iron Maiden, to have the ability to find and grow fans in emerging or niche markets. It’s not as if Maiden were an overnight success, it took them years to get to a stable and sustainable level, most of which was achieved with the backing of a major record label of course. I think people still remember EMI that way.

What can other acts learn from them: consistency, flexibility, persistence? They’ve not been waylaid by line-up changes, tastes or trends that’s for sure. If the market and timing wasn’t right for them they were able to sit it out or go somewhere else where they were wanted. There’s a benefit from occasionally approaching your music and audience in a business-like fashion, build the brand and maintain the quality perhaps the rest will follow.

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