Monday, 28 January 2008

The dying breath of an industry attempting to secure brand loyalty

We're often asked to contribute to people's dissertations and research studies. Digital is the big thing at the moment of course. My view on it is ANY WAY you can buy Smalltown America stuff is great, be it direct from our store, direct from a band on tour or via iTunes etc. We're doing our best to service you in as many convenient ways as possible AND as I say in the interview below - only buy our products if you truly believe we deserve the money.

Our attitude when Jetplane was gigging heavily was to encourage tape trading and recording of all our live shows - the independent underground relies on the kindness of others to promote its messages and art. Thanks to Stef Purenins for posing the Qs>>

How has the internet helped your label so far?
The internet provides a record label or any small business with the means to do business with anyone, anywhere. If you have a product you can sell it, if you have a message you can promote it - it also allows for collaborative working on a scale previously impossible without a large team working in the same building.

How has the internet been a problem for your label?
The only issue with the proliferation of any network's users is that the network itself becomes difficult to navigate. Anyone can set up a myspace page and distribute links, it doesn't necessarily mean that they should. It simply means that a large portion of any record label administrator's day is to deal with a multitude of requests for your cyber attention. It also means that it is very difficult now for an artist to keep his or her 'powder dry'. As a case in point look to XL's Adele - over promoted before she even starts.

How do you foresee the internet helping your label in the future?
Online retail is fast becoming the largest component of our business, I predict that these sales will overtake tactile shop-based distribution by the middle of 2009.

How do you foresee the internet being a problem for your label in the future?
Piracy isn't an issue for a label of our size, we want people to talk about our releases and share our music; we actively encourage it in fact. We labour under the possible misapprehension that if you like our artists' music you will support them by going to their shows and support us by buying one of our products.

Has the sale of digital music files affected physical sales of releases on your label?
It has simply increased our market reach and become a new income stream - it has had no discernible effect on our tactile businesses - in fact, we have seen an upturn in gig attendances for all our artists over the last year.

What do you foresee happening to the music industry in terms of digital promotion and distribution, in the next 10 years?
Content is always going to the prime commodity in this industry. The music industry relies on a steady stream of new artists and new 'hits' to survive. I see the creation of 'Networking Engines' in which people's servers are used to aggregate not just their playlists and video favourites on social networking sites - but the entire usage of your complete machine. Marketeers will exploit this information accordingly in an attempt to extract a tiny trickle of money from us each day rather than 'chunks' of £10 pieces.

As the network expands, the net worth of music content will fall - artists will rely on volume sales of a few pence per stream or download rather than the big ticket item of the album sale. As the value of the content drops, the need for subscription based services will rise; people will view music procurement as a 'virtual' affair - collections will be housed remotely and vaults of CD/record collections (in the main) will give way to the subscription model described above.

As a result there will be a polar reaction in the underground and eclectic music genres; a push back to traditional formats and a brand niche of 'specialist' record collectors.

Traditional releases will still be available for the next ten years - after this they will become more and more a minority taste. Stores like HMV will downsize their physical footprint and become 'channels' for content rather than a high-street music warehouse.

What are your opinions on DRM (Digital Rights Management)?
It is the dying breath of an industry attempting to secure brand loyalty - it's a pointless affair, that will be eradicated sooner rather than later. Sony, Apple and the like should have focussed all their attention on researching the ultimate compression algorithm to digitise music lossless-ly at a fraction of the current filesizes, rather than attempting to hobble file-sharers. This would have placed them as market leaders in mobile content delivery, the big place to be over the next ten years.

Do you believe that independent record labels can survive the digital age of the music industry?
I feel that if your music is good then people will support you. Independent labels tend to have a maximum lifespan of five years, virtual technologies allow this life-span to increase indefinitely as the logistics of running a record label now are as straightforward as maintaining an email inbox. It's an exciting time.

Do you believe that the mp3 file will ever replace physical music formats?
MP3 as a compression format, will have it's day relatively soon. As discussed previously, compression algorithms will become the next 'format war' between online vendors. Owning records will become a quaint pastime in a few years. We don't really have stamps anymore when we go to the post office, we have virtual sticky labelling; it's the same sort of thing. It's too expensive now to produce tactile, individual content.

Do you believe the digital age of music distribution and promotion is creating a level playing field in the music industry?
No, corporations that have access to the largest marketing budgets will always have market dominance. However, the niche marketeers (like Smalltown America) will proliferate and the long-tail model of product distribution will come into being. There is money to be made, you just have to work hard for it.

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