Leading article: Dance to a different beat

Share

It has been another seismic week in the music industry. Radiohead's new album went on sale online, allowing fans to name their own price to download it. Meanwhile, Madonna ended her association with Warner Music to go into partnership with a live music promoter. The major record labels must be feeling rather queasy. Already caught up in a firefight to protect sales amid the downloading revolution, they are now abandoned by artists whom they have turned into global forces.

For all the opprobrium that is heaped on big record companies by disgruntled artists and fans, the major labels deserve a little sympathy. They have played an important role over the past century of the industry's existence. They have nurtured talent and taken popular music to a mass, global audience. But the rot set in when they could not resist profiteering from the invention of compact discs in the late 1980s, forcing people to buy their record collections again at inflated prices.

This was the root of the breach of trust with the public that persuaded many people that it was justified to copy music illegally. Their second big mistake was adopting an ostrich-like response to new technology. Rather than seeing musical downloads as an opportunity to broaden their consumer base and generate new revenue streams, the record labels tried to pretend that it was not happening. Then, in a panic, they gave away music in newspapers and magazines, devaluing their product. It is almost a textbook lesson in how not to run an industry.

It would be foolish to write off big record companies. They still own the rights to massive back catalogues. And recent mergers mean that four labels – Universal, EMI, Warner Music and Sony BMG – control a formidable 70 per cent of the international music market. Reports of their demise are rather exaggerated. There is still an artist development function for them too. Some bands may want to manage their own affairs, but others will want to concentrate on the music.

Yet there can be no disguising that a new reality has dawned in commercial music. More control is flowing to artists. And it is not just big, established acts such as Madonna and Radiohead that are benefiting. Emerging acts have a new freedom too: witness the rise of the Klaxons or Arctic Monkeys. Power has shifted irreversibly to artists and consumers. And that can only be a good thing for music.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

General election 2015: Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence