If the Digital Economy Act comes into force next year as planned, record labels will finally get the chance to clamp down on those they suspect of file sharing.
Along with other copyright holders, record companies will be able to order internet service providers to cut off connections of the people they hold responsible for the calamitous decline in record sales. Unless, of course, the Liberal Democrats secure enough clout in the next government to repeal the legislation, as Nick Clegg has suggested. So maybe the record industry needs a plan B up its sleeve.
Especially so since research continually shows that those who download tracks for free also tend to buy music; so rather than persecuting these ne'er-do-wells, maybe a different approach is needed – one suggested by a recent event at record shops here and in the US. Record Store Day is the annual jamboree when artists and labels pull out the stops to support independent record shops. This year, collectors swarmed to snap up tasty exclusive releases, notably Blur's first single since 2003 and a previously unreleased track from The Rolling Stones. No wonder the goodies had vanished by the time I made it out – Rough Trade East reported 800 prospective buyers queuing before the store opened.
Judging by eBay activity over past days, some early risers were there to make a quick buck. Indeed, some shop owners also fell to temptation and have now been banned from future promotions, having failed to stock the special releases as promised. Yet as sales figures prove, regular music lovers were just as excited. Lured by performances from the likes of Laurie Anderson, Ash and Sweet Billy Pilgrim, the general public headed out in droves and were persuaded to part with their cash.
The Official Charts Company showed album sales were up nine per cent on the previous week and singles up 466 per cent, reflecting the bias of the exclusives towards limited edition 7-inchs. So well played, organisers – Record Store Day can now count itself alongside Glastonburyand the Mercury Prize as one of the musical highlights of the year. And it shows how the major labels, key to this year's success, should be selling their wares.
Take the 7-inch of the Stones track "Plundered My Soul", the unreleased number due to appear on a remastered Exile on Main Street. Those of us with vinyl copies of the double album, or even the mid-Nineties reissue, might balk at shelling out for the "deluxe edition" due out next month that features the new tracks, but would be happy to have a couple of the unearthed cast-offs as a single. Make it a numbered, limited edition if you must, but we don't need heavyweight vinyl or fancy packaging.
Just copy Parlophone's tactic for its release of Blur's "Fool's Day". The 7" simply came in classic paper bags that referenced the label's house style from the Sixties onwards. Similarly, there is a remix of Hot Chip's "I Feel Better" with vocals from US alt-country artist Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Bedroom DJs would want that on a 12" of danceable versions, but more sedentary fans drawn to the band's melodies would be happy with a simpler offering.
What Record Store Day shows is that if you give punters what they want, they will happily track it down. Of course, music lovers are always going to fall for the convenience of the download – MP3 players are more portable than a Walkman and a clutch of discs, while a hard drive takes up far less space than ugly CD holders. But throwing out the turntable is always going to be a tougher call, especially if there are some well-packaged, cleverly formatted offerings available.
New music from Blur or the Stones will always excite interest, so make it as accessible as possible and don't use it as bait to entice long-term fans to buy another copy of an album they already own. Quality music should be for life, not just for Record Store Day.Reuse content