Music business denies slump

What do they mean by the 'Great Rock and Roll Dwindle'? Sales and exports are up, say label chiefs
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The Independent Online
MUSIC INDUSTRY executives last week hit back at claims that the country's record industry was in terminal decline, citing a boom in April sales following a record number of exports for the first quarter of the year.

Industry and national press have been awash with stories of what the New Musical Express described as the "Great Rock and Roll Dwindle" following the sale of Polygram to Canada's Seagram and the decline in the share price of the UK's biggest record company, EMI. The alarm bells were further raised by the founder of Creation Records, the record label of top Brit pop band Oasis, Alan McGee who claimed there is a recession in the industry and that "If anyone is telling you different, they're liars."

Industry statistics, however, tell a different story. While record sales declined for the last quarter of 1997 they picked up sharply in the first three months of this year , according to figures collected by the British Phonographic Institute (BPI), which represents the major record companies. The value of sales between January and March rose 7.8 per cent compared with the previous year, four points ahead of the retail prices index, and the trend is continuing.

"April was an exceptionally good month and in May there were some strong album releases," said a spokeswoman for the BPI, citing Massive Attack's new album Mezzanine and Garbage's Version 2.0 album.

The picture is mirrored on the export front with the total value of shipments of records abroad reaching their highest level ever at more than pounds 1.1bn. Imports also rose as retailers bought their albums from other parts of the European Union to cash in on the strong pound.

"We know there are lots of imports coming in which means the public are buying more records. What we don't have is a trend in place like punk or Brit pop for people to focus on," said Rob Dickins, managing director of Warner Music UK. "Alan McGee and the NME are seeing a decline in their musical world which is white guitar bands but that's only a small part of the industry," he added.

According to Jonathan Morrish, a spokesman for Sony: "The great thing the music industry has is the boy/girl thing. It is incredibly powerful and people will always come back to music."

Industry executives also shrug off suggestions that the digital revolution, by which consumers will soon be downloading records from their computers and copying them on to CDs, will eventually quash the major labels.

"The majors have to remember they don't sell objects, they license rights," said Jeremy Pearce, who heads the recently launched independent record label V2.

The biggest threat to record sales here and abroad is the general economic climate. The strong pound and the collapse of the Asian market, as well as the threat of recession in the UK, could still stifle music sales towards the end of the year, analysts said.