Thursday, 26 February 2009

Another STA Q&A for Dissertation Writers

Thanks to Anisa @ Bruised Fruit for posing the Qs. Feel free to take anything you need from this Q&A.

File-sharing could be considered damaging but on the other hand some say that more people are listening to music than ever before. Do you think there is a way to fight against file sharing or should it be embraced and used for positive effect?

I think the whole subject is done and dusted, it’s clear that file sharing (and its supercedents that we are yet to see) is with us and here to stay. The challenge for large corporations is how they can go about monetizing this. I predict that the only way that this will happen will be from a royalty derived from the consumers internet subscription. The ISPs have to have the responsibility of delivering cash to copyright holders.

I think file sharing is damaging tactile and digital sales – but I’m an advocate of people hearing music and being able to try before they buy. If the music is good and you want to support the artist, it’s down to you to purchase a show ticket, t-shirt, CD or legit download. If you don’t do that – the artist will wither and die, essentially you strangulate their creativity by not putting your money where your heart is.

How do you believe record companies could use file sharing for their own gain?

Since the mid-fifties advertisers and marketing departments have leveraged youth, sex and music to shift product. Marketing departments are already manipulating web technology to track and place other products beside the downloads we make.

There is no conspiracy here; it’s simply creative economics. Know that every step that you make online is digitised and analysed either in a macro sense or a (possibly more malevolent) micro sense.

Your face book profile, the websites you visit and the downloads you make all inform advertisers and their clients about your leisure/time patterns. This is what they can use to sell you the big ticket items they really want you to buy.

I am crediting the record industry with more deftness of thought than they actually have. It’s a cash-poor sector now and they are desperately trying to catch up with technologies that are quickly outpacing even the brightest of minds.

Obviously CD sales are declining rapidly and there is no current sign of recovery, how do you think this loss of revenue will be replaced?

Live income is crucial to any artist now wishing to have a career in the industry – this is a correction that I personally applaud. I think music will be for the better now that fat cat artists have to get off their arses and play gigs. I had the time of my life at Prince at the O2. Faith No More can no longer rely on their back catalogue sales to run vanity projects – out on tour with you! Jesus Lizard out of retirement – all good!

Artists need to think of other ways of other ways to generate income from their art. Solomon Burke was banned from the Apollo Theater in New York for trying to sell pork chop sandwiches and magic popcorn with his face on the box at his shows. He tried to sell his crown, scepter and “King of Rock & Soul” title for $10,000 to James Brown. That’s the sort of stuff they need to be thinking about.

Do you think that there is one particular stream of revenue that can replace the loss of CD sales such as touring or merchandise etc?

It depends on the size of artist. Kaiser Chiefs will generate 90% of their annual income from live as they’re stadium-sized. The lower down the food chain you descend, the more fractious and evenly spread the income streams become.

What do you think of multiple rights better known as 360 deals? Will this be a successful way of record companies surviving?

I think it’s the last gasp of a dying animal. Record labels are not merchandising companies, tour bookers, set designers or website engineers. 360 deals are a corporate strategy mistake of the highest magnitude. They will rue the day they decided to try to grab income share from industries they have no expertise in, instead of concentrating on the song and generating hits.

The days of the conglomerate are numbered.

Do you think 360 deals could be damaging for artists?

Completely, they no longer have control over the ancillary aspects of their career (live, merchandise, online etc). Ultimately, this stunts their growth; disincentivises management teams and reduces income flowing through the business.

The 360 deals highlight the trend of promoting artists as a brand, is branding important for an artist?

All bands are brands unless you decide to make a record and bury it in the garden. Then you’re a fucking maniac, but could call yourself an artist I suppose. Once you decide to place a product on a shelf, branding is crucial to the artist’s success. In general, people do not want to associate their hard-earned with non-aspirational purchases.

Unless the brand is managed tightly and coherently, generally the product fails to shift an interesting number of units.

Personally, at Smalltown America we don’t care if the artist sells 50 or 50,000 copies – so long as the music is authentic and the band are nice people we will work the record as hard as we possibly can.

Lil Wayne’s newest album the Carter III sold a respectable amount of CDs compared to how the industry is declining. Seven songs that Lil Wayne appeared on were in the charts at one time and some people believe it is this and radio play raising awareness that made the album a success. Do you think being able to sample the album is important in the modern climate and is it indicating the end of the one-hit-wonder?

Radio is a key sales driver in the industry, I don’t know too much about Lil Wayne’s record – but I think that if you get bludgeoned over the head enough times with something eventually you give in. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a good record or not. It’s a kind of record label water torture… drip… drip…

In one respect I think customers deserve the chance to listen to a whole record before they have to part with any cash. Sites like Spotify offer the chance to do that in a pleasant environment.

Do you think that this level of awareness of a whole album means the end of albums being sold if there are not ten solid tracks. Are people more likely to buy the singles instead of a whole album now?

I believe in the art of record making conceptually; I don’t think that a single track tells the story behind an artists. Personally we push all our artists to make full length albums and we don’t see that changing. It’s like putting a single chapter from a Terry Pratchett book on sale and asking people to understand how the story is going to end.

People do like singles though – it’s a short attention span thing, our lives are much busier now.

Now that distribution and the market have changed, promotion is changing with it. How do you think the music industry will decide to promote its artists next?

Soon everything will be done online, even relationship driven jobs like radio plugging will have an online engine backing it up.

Many artists are now teaming up with other companies such as drinks or mobile phones or lending their songs to advertisements. What do you think of this kind of cross-promotion?

Personally, it’s a turn off for me because I’m a indie snob and I like my favourite bands to be unavailable, undecipherable and sometimes unlistenable. I think that for the right artists synergy with other industries is perfectly acceptable and totally necessary. Put it this way I’m not going to be cueing up to buy Nadine Coyle’s biography – but I’m reminded of their music when I see Girls Aloud advertising Nintendogs.

The use of online promotions is rising, do you see this as the future of music industry promotions or should radio, television and press still be considered?

Television captures the mind of a nation in a very influential way. People still foolishly (I included) believe that if something is on television it’s good and valid. Clearly that’s bullshit and it just depends how much money you have to spend advertising The Seldom Seen Kid.

At least with press (although purchasing power does have a bearing on editorial positioning) there is a journalist interrogating the work and there is a dialogue between record, critic and consumer/fan.

A campaign without a strong TV, radio and offline print campaign has no gravitas in the modern world. People still view online as an ‘easy win’.

As the head of an independent label do you see grassroots promotion as important in keeping costs down?

We do as much as we can in-house to avoid going under. I think people quickly make their mind up about whether they like the artist or not – we’re working hard now to push our artists to the forefront rather than the label’s name or our history.

Do you think lower-cost campaigns are going to become more prevalent in the market now?

Not really, the hits still need marketing budgets well in excess of 1 million GBP to get them to flip over into a global market.

I think there will be more indie labels though doing their own thing and much more regional activity.

Is grassroots promotion effective or do the big budget campaigns on TV, Radio and press still play a part in the promotion of artists?

Grassroots support lends authenticity to a campaign, personally I like to know that a band works hard on the road building audience numbers. It makes me feel connected to fans that might have seen the band in Southampton or Glasgow. The sense of community around a band for me is really important – you need to have that community first before you bolt on all the extra marketing stuff.

How do you think the future looks for record companies and the music industry as a whole? Do you think it can survive?

Major record companies as we now know them will shift into a new space, they are copyright holders and content producers. They will task themselves with delivering content directly to your television set and work in league with broadcasters, ISPs and Media Player Manufacturers to ensure that their stars are placed on the first button of your remote control.

Indies will proliferate over the next 3-5 years and this will be the furnace of creativity. These labels will become more niche, bespoke and release smaller and smaller quantities of product by more and more specialised artists.

In the middle ground will be the aggregators, who will consume independently generated product (and some major stars) and digest this for us; they will mostly exist online and offer customers a subscription based service to watch, hear and own their particular brand of genre lead content.

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