A number of years ago I met a prominent member of a then up and coming Irish band at a social engagement and had an interesting, if brief discussion with him about the then state of the industry he found himself in. Or, to put it more bluntly, as I drank my beer at a media launch I listened to this guy moan about how his manager, his booking agent, his record company, his PR agent, the radio stations, the other members of the band and a whole host of industry figures were trying to boss him around, tell him what to do and how to do it. Before he paused to take a swig of his beer, which is a man’s way of signalling for someone else to start talking, he asked me what I thought, and without giving it much consideration I said, “Hmm, I see where you are coming from but it seems to me that your ultimate boss is a teenage girl with twenty quid in the pocket of her jeans”. At this, said rocker turned pale, nodded to himself a bit and then went in search of another beer. When said rocker and his band were subsequently dropped from their label and broke up after taking their music into an ill-advised trip into the foothills of intellectualism, following a healthy period of plugging their songs on the kind of shows that were popular with that generation of teenage girls I formulated this off the cuff opinion of mine into the “Twenty Quid Chick Rule” and gave as its most perfect, successful operational example the single ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’ by the Police.
It's amazing how many bands lionise The Beatles and talk about wanting to make an album to rival ‘Sgt. Peppers’ and how few of them pick up on what you mean when you say, “Ah yes, but first you have to learn how to get hordes of screaming girls to faint at your concerts”. It’s also a funny little coincidence that the music industry is usually in rude health when there are a fair few bands out there making the girls in the audience pass out and hit the deck mid song. And yet, when there is a slump, industry heads seem to ignore all that screaming oestrogen and blame their woes on a variety of issues but most commonly on technology like home taping or as it is now known, MP3 file sharing. In an article on the future of the music industry by Stephen J Dubner which was published on his NYT blog, the following (extracts of the) expert views were given, mostly focusing on those pesky little MP3 files which flit around the internet like bats in Castle Dracula:
“My epiphany, if you want to call it that, was simply this: consumers of recorded music will always embrace the format that provides the greatest convenience.” Frederic Dannen, author of ‘Hitmen’.
“There is surprisingly little evidence to support the claim that file sharing has significantly hurt record sales”. Koleman Strumpf, professor of business economics at the University of Kansas Business School.
“The decline in record sales over the past year was entirely predictable. The technology that has wreaked havoc on the industry was developed 8 or 9 years ago, and, while certain features of it have improved, the individual elements that comprise it — an institutionalized standard for non-protected music files like MP3s, music search and swapping protocols, and rip/burn hardware — are not new”. Steve Gottlieb, president of TVT Records
“The short answer is that the Internet happened” Peter Rojas, founder of Engadget and co-founder of RCRD LBL, a free, online-only music label launched by Downtown Records.
Of these experts only one attempted to suggest that it was the consumer, not technology who had caused the prima faciae change in the fortunes of the music industry and he wasn’t an economist or a music label boss, he was a music maker.
“Without stating the obvious, the future is really in the hands of the consumer…while we’re still in agreement as a society that people want music, I’d say music is not as important now as it once was. Instant gratification has removed some of the demand. Music feels like it has become more disposable and cheap, with less staying power. As a result, it becomes a lot harder to commit to newer acts knowing they may not be around a year from now.” George Drakoulias, music producer
The consumer, that much put upon figure in the music business mix, the person who is expected to buy albums with one decent track on them, overpriced identikit merchandise and tickets to concerts where they are treated little better than barnyard animals by the promoter has awoken it seems and said, “Nope, I am not going to fund some coked up pop stars alimony payments anymore without so much as a word of thanks, respect or recognition. If they want me to buy their next release or go watch them on tour they are going to have to work as hard at making the music they are playing as I do to earn the money to pay for that music. Oh, and by the way, suing me for downloading a couple of tracks, that’s not on either.”
Eoghan O’Neill’s learned article on what is likely to happen when Radiohead launch their new download-only album on October 10th spent a great deal of space examining and explaining the technological aspects of the imminent launch but, at its heart, it made the point that everything had better go without a blip on the day of release otherwise there will be a lot of disgruntled consumers out there and this would not be good for Radiohead.
As far as I am concerned, the single most important thing that happened this year in music was MCD being taken to task by the National Consumer Agency over the farce that was the Barbara Streisand Concert, just a year after MCD were on the legal warpath against bloggers who had dared to suggest on internet discussion boards that Oxegen 2006 had not exactly been a glowing success from the consumer’s point of view. It was a clear sign that the teenage girl with twenty quid in her pocket had matured, she may now be married with kids and probably has a lot more in her purse than she used to, but her primacy in the business of music is, if anything, more high profile than ever these days and music industry types ignore her at their peril.More ...