Friday, November 20, 2015

(The Big Disrupt) Music: why “will _______ save the music industry” stories need to die

With the release of Adele’s long awaited “25”, there’s been a rash of stories about whether both can save or revive the ailing music industry and while “25” is likely to sell millions of copies, be assured that the music industry will still be in need of saving.

Stories about what or who will save the music industry miss the crucial point that nothing and no one will save the music industry outside of the music industry itself. These stories can talk about the release of “25” supposedly “breaking the music industry” but all “25” looks set to do is break the bank account of Adele and her record label XL recordings.

To be sure, “25” selling millions of records will represent a win for the music industry in an age where a great deal of artists struggle to make it into six figures but that win stops where Adele and XL recordings ends and the rest of the music industry begins. Adele’s sales can’t heal or even mask the slow decline of the industry that has struggled in the digital era and that trend looks set to continue for the same reason windows 10 can’t and won’t save the PC.

There been plenty of words expended on stories that saw music streaming companies like Pandora and Spotify as the music industry’s savior but a closer look has revealed that Spotify and Pandora are anything but. This isn’t particularly because Spotify and Pandora aren’t honest brokers, it’s that Spotify and Pandora are neither large enough nor even inclined to pull it off. Music streaming companies have been great for the music industry as they’ve discouraged music piracy by providing a much better experience for music fans and consumers to find and explore music. They also provide data for artists and labels to get a read on their audience but if Spotify and Pandora plan to stay in business, that’s about as far as they can go regarding saving the music’s industry’s skin.

However, despite music streaming companies being a force for good in the music industry, they’re a key factor as to why the music industry needs saving in the first place. XL recordings still make millions from Adele’s last album “21” and looks like it’s about to earn another payday with “25” with Sony and retailers forecasting the album to sell more than a million copies in the first week. However, even XL aren’t safe from music streaming companies such as Spotify eating into cd sales and downloads with the label reporting a significant fall in turnover and profits with their turnover falling to £26m from £37.4m and their profits slipping to £7m from £12.3 million[1].

Very few majors never mind independent labels have artists selling millions of records which make the long term contraction of the music market more pronounced as far as their bottom line is concerned. This affects artists as the vast majority don’t make money from their music and are largely of the opinion that they’ve been shortchanged by music streaming companies (particularly Apple and Spotify) and their labels.

The reason why we even see the explosion of “will ______ save the music industry” stories is because the music industry has lost total control over how its core product is consumed and distributed well before Napster and a pushy Apple CEO came along. In sum, an album selling well is great for artist who created, the label that backed them, and the retailers and platform who’ll make a killing but for obvious reasons, a commercially successful is not enough to save an industry.

[1] A. Lawson, 2015, XL Recordings profits hit by falling CD sales despite success of Jack White,

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