Page 1 of 2

The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 9:22 am
by Garth Cartwright
Adam and I have been debating on FB about the music industry. I read this yesterday ... sic-report
which, if you can't be bothered clicking, notes how £3.8 billion was earned in the UK in the last year by the music industry. It's not an in-depth feature but it does note that over 100,000 people are employed by the music biz in the UK and some 62,000 of these are musicians. It also notes that revenue from recordings fell again. I think it's fair to say that albums are on their way out - the vinyl revival is merely fashion - and CDs will surely not be manufactured in 2024. Sure, veteran artists like Leonard Cohen can still sell a lot of CDs to an audience aged 50+ but younger people don't consume their music via CD/LP.

Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone here had any thoughts on the music biz and its likely future? As a hack I can note that the music press is dying faster than the CD - NME now sells less than 10,000 print copies and exists mainly as a website, Q magazine will soon be joining Word in the dad mag graveyard, Mojo and Uncut survive by selling to the same veteran audience that Len Cohen and the Stones appeal to. Even newspapers are cutting back on their music coverage - I've lost my regular gig at the Sunday Times after they axed the section and editor.

Humans need music and will always make music. But things change quickly as to how they consume music. I was reading the sleeve notes to a CD of 60s Spanish pop and it noted that when the Beatles first album came out in Spain it only sold a couple of hundred copies as very few Spaniards owned a record player. By the 1990s the likes of Nirvana,Guns n Roses and Oasis could all release individual albums that would each sell over 20 million CDs. Alainis Morrissette sold 31 fucking million of her awful album! Even 50 Cent sold eight million of his debut! Now almost no one wants to buy CDs. Strange old world.

So: your thoughts, please. And does anyone know of a job going?

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:04 am
by Adam Blake
One thought I had that makes me a bit melancholy: where is the attention to detail that my generation grew up with? When I was a teenager I would pore over every record. I wanted to know who played what, who produced it, where it was recorded, when, how etc etc etc. This is what I absorbed instead of doing my physics or geography homework. It mattered to me infinitely more than...just about anything. And before I get the knee-jerk accusations of "nerd", I know that most of you were the same. That's why we're here. So where does that go? That thirst for knowledge about music.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:09 am
by NormanD
It's on the internet. A lot of my son's mates are all music heads, and between them know so much. They do pay attention to detail, and I've been in discussions about producers, arrangers, studios, writers, royalties..... In fact, the level of information that is around is immense, and it's being shared via internet forums and discussion groups. Maybe the proportion of interested people is the same now as it was back in our day but, from my experience (anecdotal, I know) it's still there.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:15 am
by Adam Blake
I am glad to hear it! When songwriter credits disappeared I knew something was up...

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:22 am
by Jamie Renton
Adam: today's young people (and I speak as someone who shares a house with 2 of them) have exactly same thirst for detail as we did and quench it non-stop via the internet (PS just saw norman's post, so I know I'm not alone in thinking this).

Garth: I don't know what to think. There's a lot of truth in your words, yet at the same time I'm aware that people have been prophesying the imminent death of the music biz as we know for about as long as I can remember. It's changing, that's for sure. But my suspicion is that it will slowly work out a way to meet demand and make a profit/rip us all off. Which doesn't help you find a job in the short term though (sorry).

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:55 am
by Adam Blake
As a musician I learned along the way that there's music and there's the music business - and they can co-exist without really having very much to do with each other. A musician like me can busk, teach, play in restaurants and bars, do the occasional session and scrape a living (in a good year). My colleagues in formerly signed bands have found that their royalty based income has more or less dried up and they sit on the sofa, smoking dope, wondering what to do with themselves. It's tough but it's true. Many of them were spoiled rotten in the 90s and now that it's over they are completely at a loss. Basically, as an old lag explained it to me: if you had an audience in the 80s and 90s, you still have one, you just have to reach them via cheesy looking 80s and 90s revival package tours (that pay pretty well). People in their 40s and 50s will go to those, make a night of it, relive their youth - for which they are happy to pay good money. But try making an album of new material? Forget it. Nobody cares. On another level, doing little gigs in and around town - play covers of famous songs, nobody listens, you get paid well. Play your own stuff, some people listen, you don't get paid. The choice is yours.

Thank God for the blues.

I am glad I got to wander around the world playing World Music with Natacha Atlas and, to a lesser extent, Cornershop (even Errol managed to get us a couple of gigs in Japan!) But I don't know if that would be possible now that the appetite for World Music seems to have diminished so much - or at least, that it would be possible on the same level (we stayed in some very nice hotels...) But music is like food, people will always want it. The music business, on the other hand...

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 4:33 pm
by Garth Cartwright
Ha! i just had lunch with one of your old muso mates who made it in the 90s, Adam, and he regaled me with stories of wasting fortunes in the studio and smoking so much weed that even during interviews he would take a break to go and smoke another one. Had to keep the "vibe" flowing!

If you got lucky in the music industry from the mid-60s to mid-00s you were very lucky indeed. That is, the UK, US, German, French, Scandinavian music industry - in NZ a local band could chart with a few hundred sales of a single so there was never much money around to support local talent and much hard graft to get gigs. I don't like Split Enz's music but must admire how determined they were to succeed when no one cared about them. Ambition is a pre requisite for success and the very ambitious - Madonna, Jagger, Dylan etc - seem to enjoy the biggest success.

Adam, you are correct about world music suffering possibly the biggest contraction of audience of all genres. I was in Berlin last week visiting Asphalt Tango - the Balkan Gypsy music label - and they were bemoaning how bad things had got in the last few years. Their major band Fanfare Ciocarlia can still tour internationally but fees are lower now that the Balkan Fever is over. And CD sales have shrunk.

Jamie, I agree with you: I do think something will work out so specialists like Ace - who do such great work - can survive alongside all the music that kids like. I just don't quite know how so far. Nobody does. But a few years ago people were predicting that the major labels would all wither up and die yet instead they have slimmed down and survived. Capitalism tends to adapt and I can't see something as big as the music industry fading away. Repositioning more like it.

Yes the youth love music just as we did when young. I was at a going away party for a friend recently and her 2 kids - 18 and 21 - had their mates DJ. Some of the tunes played were great and one, a rap tune, had all the youth shouting along and waving arms in the air. I wish i had done the uncle thing and said "who's that by? I like it!" Cos I did. But it was a party and I just enjoyed - as Cornershop might say - the "vibe".

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 6:41 pm
by AndyM
I've been buying fewer and fewer CDs in the last three or four years. I don't think I've bought more than half a dozen this year, though I still avidly read reviews in the surviving monthly mags. As to why, the answer (after a moment of two of introspection) is that I just think I've got enough! This house is full of hundreds of albums, so why add more ?

I'm not the kind of completest who gets a stiffy at the thought of "unreleased out-takes from Gnidrolog's legendary Dusseldorf sessions" or "pay money for a version of 'Waterloo Sunset' that has three different bass notes from the hit you know". And on the rare occasions I hear a new track by a new artist that I like, or read a review that catches my attention, I no longer fell much of an urge to buy it. Haven't felt that need much since (roughly) when Amy Winehouse died.

The scariest thing in this thread, by the way, is Garth's reminder of the success of the rancid Morrissette.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 11:17 pm
by Rob Hall
As a mere punter, with no particular axe to grind, my observations are as follows:

a) Yes, it's a good idea to keep in mind that 'music' is distinct from 'the music biz'. Further, it might be equally useful to keep in mind the relationship between 'the music biz' and 'showbiz'. Maybe the changes that we are observing are, in part, a blurring of the line between the two? Or maybe the line was never there at all?

b) Following on from a) there is the phenomenon of 'brandising': it's not enough to be successful in any single artistic sphere, in order to make serious money, you must exploit what exposure you have and create a brand that can be deployed across any number of markets. Louis Armstrong moved to Chicago; Elvis went into film. U2 did a deal with Apple.

c) Change is inevitable. Get used to it.

d) I still buy CDs, for lots of different reasons. Sometimes, because I like the band and trust them to deliver (Los Lobos); sometimes because I think they deserve what little support I can give them (Los Lobos, plus a handful of bands with whom I have personal contact); sometimes because young people have recommended them to me (Wolf House, Bonobo); sometimes because I hear something on the radio that piques my interest (Kindness, Lonnie Holley, Taylor McFerrin); sometimes through recommendations from online contacts (Polar Bear); sometimes because a compilation looks like someone else has done the job for me of putting together an hour's worth of listening pleasure (hello Ace Records and Late Night Tales). I buy more CDs than most people, but I enjoy it and it helps - in some small way - to support music and musicians.

e) I think, on balance, that crowdsourcing is a good model, but it needs further refinement.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 9:56 am
by Adam Blake
AndyM wrote:I'm not the kind of completest who gets a stiffy at the thought of "unreleased out-takes from Gnidrolog's legendary Dusseldorf sessions"

Your loss, your loss... (shakes head slowly)

I hardly buy any records these days. After suffering the humiliation of being pleased to find something, buying it, getting it home and realising I've already got it. I took this as a sign. Sheepishly (and quietly) confessing this to other collectors I learned that it is not by any means an uncommon phenomenon. Many rueful smiles of recognition. But I deplore the endless re-issue campaigns, the endless squeezing of the tit for that last drop of money. The current "Beatles In Mono" box is a prime example. Buy something you already have - AGAIN! The dredging up of unreleased material that was not deemed worthy of release at the time also drives me mad. Do I need to hear another Sandy Denny/Fairport Convention show from 1975 where the band was drunk? Oh, I don't mind hearing it, but do I need to OWN it?

The concept of owning recorded material is moot these days. When you can stream just about anything, why bother to own it? Of course, streams can dry up, but so can electricity. A couple of good sunspots and it's: Internet? What internet?

With that apocalyptic thought I better get on with the day.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:30 pm
by alister prince
I agree music is not the music biz, it's always been the case. As a consumer, I'm not too gloomy. I just ignore the dross deluxe cost you a fortune already got it, never wanted it reissue market. I still buy lots of CDs, including specialist reissues (Ace, Document, Fantastic Voyage etc). Not as many as I used to, but loads. One of the salient points of Lloyd Bradley's Sounds Like London is how the music biz has never understood (got) the essence of black music. For instance Grime was developed, popularised, marketed, by young people. They set up pirate radio stations, learned to DJ, created the music, released the records, the lot. Much of the other black music is the same, fuck the biz, let's do it. There's a whole world of stuff out there being created by committed, determined people. Thank god.
I don't have an answer for the musicians, maybe the inferences made by Adam and Garth that the good times were a little too good for some are right. I don't know. What I do know is that if the music's right people will listen. Chastity's gig on Wednsday was full, an ecstatic audience of mainly young people who'd gone to see a virtual unknown. That makes me smile.
All is not lost.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Sun Sep 21, 2014 5:58 pm
by MartinOwen
I am also a punter. I still pay for music. Last night I "got out more" and went to see this lady:

A night worth £12 of anybody's pension. This is amazing because I live in an inconsequential place on an unfashionable bit of the outer spiral of the galaxy.

The only time I actually buy physical media is at gigs or when I am in another country.

I do have a Spotify account and I use social media ( keep the recommendations coming guys) and Mixcloud to find new(to me) music. I also use LastFM that continues to deliver suprises -especially with seeds from music I have bought overseas. I am grateful to Cerys Mathews for introducing me to Hozier - and I can buy his music in dribs before the whole album is released.

There are three vinyl shops in Bangor- very useful in disposing of my cultural heritage to younger listeners - even though I thought we had done this in 2012:

There seems to be a festival within 50KM of home every other weekend from April to October. Some have big headlines like Beck, some are dedicated to obscure Welsh language indie bands.

So what's the problem?

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:26 pm
by Rob Hall
I think that part of the problem is that some entertainers seem to think that the world owes them a living: ... cord-sales

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Mon Sep 22, 2014 3:08 pm
by alister prince
Yes Rob, I agree. I don't know much about her or her band, but I remember lots of media coverage when she first appeared. 8 million plus records is more than a kick in the gob and if no money was made, perhaps that's something she needs to take up with her record label. Her initial success was instant and perhaps that's also part of the problem; in my experience the acts who tend to last are those who build up a career over time. They start touring small venues and it grows, hopefully. This not only hones their skills, it helps build resilience to the inevitable multiple downs that occur. It's unedifying to read about young musicians sniping at each other, it comes a cross as spoilt and whinging.

Re: The Music Biz

PostPosted: Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:15 pm
by Garth Cartwright
Thanks for all the posts - everyone has added a valued perspective and I find myself agreeing with so many of your points. Like Andy I have so little space for new CDs and LPs. Yet there are still things I get sent - 3 reissued Cymande CDs (I never before realised how strong they were!) and a Balham Alligators CD (always wanted to hear them!) that everyone on this forum would, I think, enjoy. I promise to write on both here later. I also buy stuff - when travelling or albums I would never get sent (jazz, classical, reissues of obscure artists, the occasional new artist I feel I have to own after checking on spotify etc). This means that at times I do culls of my collection. I once realised i had about a dozen Fela Kuti Cds yet I rarely listen to him. So I got rid of ten of them. Much as I love the Stones and Dylan I only have a few CDs by both. Etc.

I hadn't read the La Roux intv before and have to admit to being unfamiliar with her music - she does come across as your typical spoiled brat. But so do so many musicians. This discussion came about when Adam posted on FB country musician Vince Gill bitching that an iTunes download cost 99c (in the US) and he paid 99c for a single in 1960. A man so stupid that he cannot understand that 99c was worth a lot more 54 years ago should not be allowed to express his opinion. Especially one who got rich making corporate country music in the 90s. At the same time Gene Simmons whined that the internet had killed rock music due to file sharing (this was also shared on FB - but not by Adam). This from a man who had got rich out of selling awful trash to 12 year olds and never ever made any music of worth. Spoilt rock and country millionaires bitching on the internet about the internet just makes me shake my head in disbelief.

Humans have always made and consumed music. And they will continue to. Things certainly have changed in the last decade - Chastity Brown is touring only with a keyboard player; 20 years ago there's a good chance that record company support might have paid for a full band to back her. But who says that having record company support makes for better music? Back in the 90s when challenged on the high price of CDs the major labels used to say that so many of the artists they signed lost money they had to keep the CDs expensive of the artists who sold millions. Now it's much cheaper and easier to get your music out there. Getting it heard can be hard. And finding new blues and world music artists will likely be done via Youtube as labels are simply not going to have the funds to take chances on financing unknown artists.

But really strong stuff will find its way through. Muddy Waters, Bob Marley, Ali Farka Toure, Taraf de Haidouks and many others we love were only known locally for many years. But once their music got heard beyond their communities they won wide acclaim. I can't see this stopping. But earnings in the future will not be from selling lots of albums.