Why the music industry must keep its eye on the prize

Majors and indie labels alike must ensure that talent rises to the top in the fractured world of music marketing

The music industry lives in paradoxical times. There has never been so much consumption of music, so many people to whom it is a necessary and daily part of their lives, and there’s never been a time when so much exciting new music is getting created.

Yet the industry is depicted as being in its death throes, and every defection by a Prince, a Radiohead or a Madonna from the ranks of the majors is seen as the beginning of the end, rather than an admirably modern and lateral approach to a successful career.

The internet has brought its problems. The web has massively increased consumption while decreasing revenues, and has proved elusive to monetize. These are not the record industry’s problems alone, and solutions will emerge, not least as bigger and less vulnerable industries such as Hollywood, miraculously untarred by the brush that has painted the major record industry black, bring their might to bear on the problem that the purchase of copyrighted works has become a voluntary occupation.

Which is hardly fair, but not new. We all taped music when we were younger, but now it's easier and faster, and better quality. The industry clearly needs legislative help here, and in turn it needs to contribute a liberalisation of attitude to allow fans to copy and share music for personal purposes, while revenue streams for music makers are created from those that profit from such activities. What it does not need is what the Government is currently proposing: an uncompensated legal right to copy music.

The peak days of the turn of the century may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the business of making music is not viable in the future – if we want great new music to continue to be brought to us, it has to be. For every Prince who can do without a record label, there are a thousand new artists who need that expertise and investment.

Amazon and iTunes have brought brilliant consumer offerings to the market, and provided great value, appealing, and informative ways of discovering and buying music. Services such as the Album Club and last fm have brought us new ways of being informed and advised.A new generation of independent stores, led by the wonderful new Rough Trade East, can and will lead you to musical nirvana with knowledgeable advice and recommendation.

Between them and the supermarkets lie the specialist chains that have created the CD boom. Whereas Rough Trade will stock maybe a quarter of the national top 50, and make a success out of exposing music outside that space, and supermarkets just sell the hits, these stores risk falling into noman’s-land. They won’t beat Tesco on price, nor Rough Trade on specialist knowledge and range, but they can revive by bringing music back to the front rather than relegating it to the back, by employing staff who have a knowledge of what is out there, and through great presentation and marketing.

The major labels are in economic transition, and it’s hard for them. However, they are not corporate devils, and are largely still populated by bright and creative people who care about music.They are suffering from having been the kings of the jungle at a time when the other animals became empowered.

The best of them are brilliant marketing and packaging corporate machines for popular music, as Sony/BMG have proved with Leona Lewis, and Universal with Amy Winehouse. Where they fail is where they try to be what they are not, and attempt to buy credibility through their artistic associations. Fans are not that stupid, and those artists who aren’t prepared to be aggressively and commercially packaged, marketed, promoted and sold should stay well away.

The scale of the record industry is now back to what it was in Prince’s 1999 (a level we all loved at the time ). What has changed is that the big are no longer so big, and we have the long tail. As the industry commentator Bob Lefsetz said: “People still want music. In prodigious amounts. They just don’t all want the same thing. So, if you’re operating on a smaller level, there’s still a market out there for you. Don’t overspend, know it takes time for people to catch on to you. And know that being as big as The Beatles, even the Backstreet Boys, is presently an impossibility.” Good advice.

Which brings me to the part of the market that I live in, the independent sector. This is clearly also under threat, not least from the same quarters as the majors, although having more committed fans means less unpaid-for music, but also from the majors themselves, as their quest for market dominance threatens everyone else’s ability to get music in front of fans.

But this sector is naturally better suited to today’s more splintered market, and sends wave after wave of new hopefuls over the top into the facing guns. While many fall, some prosper, and those that do can make us fall in love. The sector is aided by the majority of artists who want to express their art on their own terms while not playing the corporate game, and don’t necessarily care about huge numbers.

HMV’s critics’ poll of polls at Christmas showed these 10 albums as the best of the year:

1. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver

2. M.I.A., Kala

3.Radiohead, In Rainbows

4. Klaxons, Myths of the Near Future

5. Battles, Mirrored

6. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

7. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare

8. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

9. Justice, Cross

10. Burial, Untrue

Every one of these is a record that deserves exploration; seven out of 10 are on independent labels, every single artist started out life on an independent – proof that great music is alive and well and living, on the margins and sometimes in the mainstream, on independent labels.

Now look at the 10 best sellers of the year:

1. Amy Winehouse, Back To Black

2. Leona Lewis, Spirit

3. Mika, Life in Cartoon Motion

4.Take That, Beautiful World

5. Westlife, Back Home

6. The Eagles, Long Road Out of Eden

7. Kaiser Chiefs, Yours Truly, Angry Mob

8. Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare

9. Timbaland, Shock Value

10. Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad

Notice the difference?

Finally, the critics’ top tips for 2008:

1.Adele

2. Duffy

3. The Ting Tings

4. Glasvegas

5. Foals

6. Vampire Weekend

7. Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong

8. Black Kids

9. MGMT

10. Santogold

Wonder which half of the draw (if either) each of those will have fallen into in a year’s time...

One of the beauties of what we in the record business spend our lives doing is that each year there’s a new and different bunch of great artists and records, and whether you like what other people like, or what no one else likes, you can listen to and enjoy what comes along. The 30 or so artists above all merit attention; you’re bound to love some of them.

The future of the industry relies simply on the ability of those within it, directly and indirectly, to tempt you to do exactly that, and on the willingness of those in power to put new artists in front of you.

Martin Mills is the chairman of the Beggars Group of record labels

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
artVoted for by the public, artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried