When the Music’s Over, Turn Out The Lights.
Well: the UK music industry seems to have almost completely gone, in the worldwide recession we are suffering / experiencing (depending on your point of view). The collapse of Woolworth’s (a high street chain of stores) recently in the UK has meant one of the most accessible ways of actually physically buying music on any high street in most towns in Britain has now gone.
The ONLY time I see CD’s these days, is if I go to Tesco’s (one of the leading UK supermarket chains) and to be sure Asda, Sainsburys and the other UK supermarkets also sell music in CD format too but it is almost an afterthought- music as “product”, along with the sliced loaves of bread! I don’t want to appear dated or as a Luddite, but music is still important to me, it is not just a lifestyle accessory to be branded along with any bullshit marketing campaign, that some fool at an Advertising agency deems “hip” to appear to a certain money spending demographic!
I personally can’t believe that say, Jimi Hendrix, is now used to sell some bullshit car, like a Peugeot or Honda or whatever. Some of the fault lies with the venality of those in control of the back catalogues. (And I don’t just mean the record labels).
I felt that as soon as music started to be cross-referenced or cross-collateralised into selling other “square” lifestyle or fashion products, I believe it started to lose whatever sacred aspect it was summarily possessing. This cross selling although a record label’s dream, immediately set in motion the decline of music as a mighty counter-cultural force.
When I was a kid, I hated “squares” and now they have repaid the whirlwind of being on the same level playing field as the rest of us hipsters. Everyone is “hip” now, or are they??
As Tower Of Power memorably sang “ What’s hip today, may become passé?” I always wanted to feel I was in a secret club, when listening to music and that’s as natural for any kid now, as it was for me. This is mine- I discovered it….?
I believe that is so much more difficult now as the mass media is so fast, someone farts in New York and I’m aware of it thru YouTube, minutes later.
While I type this, I am listening to “Save Our Children” by Pharoah Sanders (produced by the ubiquitous Bill Laswell), this is to remind me of music’s capacity to change my immediate inner and outer atmospheres and to bestow upon myself a certain remembrance of a deep, almost intangible God-like enfoldment not in terms of material gain aspects but a visceral and spiritual aspect to music’s mighty healing and regenerative powers.
I am also not a music snob, it could be anything I enjoy or hopefully will get to hear in the future; anything from Bill Laswell’s mid-to-late 1990’s recorded output to Marvin Gaye (the fantastic re-mastered double Deluxe CD editions – a perennial favourite) at Motown, Automatic Man’s 1st album on CD re-issue, to the Sly Stone re-masters, to Bobby Hutcherson’s Head On, to Mike Shrieve’s Spellbinder, I have to say I’m on a bit of a jazz journey at present! (But recently I was also listening to the little known and excellent Crack The Sky, Todd Rundgren, Love, the little known superb 60’s UK band The Move, Morrissey’s new CD, Lemar, a UK nu-soul singer and too many to list here!)
I hate the idea that the common “square“ is digging the same stuff as me, I feel sometimes that since listening to music since I was 9 years old that I’ve earned my listening rights, my unalienable rights to absorb many different types of music. As I get older, I am becoming more open to all music and the music I first discovered as a younger person, takes on a new deeper dimension.
Talking to friends I know that are in the music “Industry”, If you can call it that these days, there appears to be a feeling of desperation all around. Meetings may be called but without any money to back up the talking.
Musicians who maybe cleaned up (financially I mean!) in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s with the attendant rise in living standards due to sales, touring and publishing revenue, are now feeling the chill winds of recession, along with us “normal” folks.
The real low level of operational ability at the record labels is ridiculous, even now there are assorted wankers still pretending to have some power at the rapidly diminishing labels. Setting up “deals” that will never stand a chance of happening. The apparent demise of Sanctuary Records very suddenly, was a case in point, in the UK in 2007; it was yet another label to be swallowed by Universal. Woe, is the record industry.
In the UK, all the independent majors are almost completely gobbled up by the mighty multi-corporate conglomerates, such as Universal Records (Who now own Motown, Island and many others).
Many of the great entrepreneurial owners like say Chris Blackwell at Island must have seen the writing on the wall. Selling on before it became more of the free-for-all it has become today. Many of the other independent labels like Stiff, Chrysalis have long been absorbed in the gigantic all-conquering maw of the big corporations. But surely the labels that are always moaning about piracy and the downloading of their increasingly execrable “product,” are to some large degree responsible for the so-called lack of interest now in music.
Recent figures show that the music industry continues to blame downloading and all for it’s supposed continued woes. Many artists have been royally fucked by the recording industry, few are they that command exceedingly good royalty rates and usually there are the Stings of this world, that can take up to six or seven years to release increasingly mediocre albums.
Apparently, sales are UP in the UK for 2008 over the prior year (0.9% actually). Digital sales are up by 65% while actual CD sales are definitely down by approximately 3.25%, which is not bad during a crushing so-called worldwide recession.
The only way of getting signed these days in the UK, appears to be by the all-enveloping load of manure, that is Britain’s Got Talent or The X –Factor, both overseen by the increasingly powerful Simon Cowell, on both sides of the Atlantic. Over the pond you have the execrable American Idol (which our own Carlos Santana appeared on recently, with Karl Perazza in tow)
OK! So Randy Jackson was a well-known (ish) bassist (playing with Journey, among many others) but the sight of the mentally challenged Paula Abdul on the USA version, while in the UK, we have the loathsome ex-editor of The Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, an ass-kisser extraordinaire plus the plastic, botoxicity of the “other judge” Amanda Holden, beggars belief. The show in the UK has also featured Dannii Minogue, sister of Kylie, who also appears to be completely without brain tissue, an over-egged pseudo-personality who has little in the way of discernable personal talent.
The music industry or the entry level for aspiring acts has been reduced to the level of travelling carnival sideshow, a free-for-all freak parade, over which these non-entities preside. I have no problem with Simon Cowell making as much money as he wishes, great!! It’s just as a creative force he is negligible, a porous vacuum from which nothing of any import will ever emerge, or if it will, it will be a darned miracle, in spite of him.
How many more freaks can we see spewing out Nessum Dorma? How many more pretty boys fluffing out opera-lite to the masses? What amazes me is how much the UK public over here, swallows up this shit. The whole thing is a great scam in terms of its spin-offs for Cowell and company. The acts are usually tied into recording and management deals with Cowell et al. Many manage a single release, possibly followed by a CD album, and many simply sink without trace. Getting a chart position in the UK CD singles chart is NOT what it was anymore.
The actual sales figures can be quite low. It is hard to get verifiable figures due to the “confidentiality: aspects of the industry around sales and chart positions.
It has recently been reported there is a collapse in Illegal share filing and a rise for example in peer-to-peer sharing, such as the excellent Spotify over here in the UK for example. As yet I don’t believe you have that in the USA? However it seems that even Spotify is not on course with its revenue projections.
It is primarily marketed at present in Western Europe, although I believe it will be rolled out throughout the world further. Also an I-Phone application could be imminent. Although some acts like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin are not at present allowing their music to be represented on the platform, it is an excellent easily downloadable program for the computer that accesses millions of music acts and neatly gives you most of an act’s recorded output for free.
Santana is well represented for example, with most of the recorded output on the site including a prompt upload of the “new” Woodstock Experience double CD. You can order what you want with a click of a button and also get a premium service for about (US) $18.00 dollars a month. It has totally changed the way I listen to music, for starters it “keeps” it all in one place. I have an almighty collection of vinyl, cassettes and CD’s but was starting to feel pretty nuts about having to actually buy more stuff – it begins to take up way too much space!
So, it is an exciting but perplexing time for the music industry, where the main corporations have seemingly concentrated on aspects of hardware and peripheral devices in favour of actual recording and development of new artists. Many of the main
artists who happened in the 70’s and 80’s would not get the development that they received back then. U2 springs to mind as just one example. Development seems to be a thing of the past- Springsteen, The Police etc- would they have succeeded now? It’s ultimately hard to say but possibly extremely doubtful. Universal in a new move are to offer subscribers unlimited downloads inclusive of a monthly fee, perhaps we’ll see music packages offered in the same way as pay-per-view or HBO packages.
The music industry business model is in a big state if flux, as established methods of getting music out or released are seen as non-money making models. The recently acquired EMI by Terra Firma and their boss Guy Hands speak of the 360% business model or ad-revenue sharing, in which, in return for advances, the artist will have to give up revenue percentage on merchandising, touring and other cash flow streams, along with actual CD or other methods of music sales. 360% deals or models (as evinced by the Madonna/Live Nation deal) hope to share in all aspects of the artists’ career. If the companies weren’t fucking you already- they are certainly more blatant about wanting to do it now! They will be looking to the rights to the recordings but also touring receipts, the merchandising, etc, etc.
Record labels, historically complacent and greedy corporate monolithic structures – seemed unprepared for the digital revolution, stuff such as Napster. The entrepreneurial spirit has vanished, with many of the old guard gone or dead. Perhaps Clive Davis is one of the few older guards left in the business and even he got fired from Arista the label he nurtured at a high level for over two decades. A&R departments seem to be a past glory. With the result that talent was not being signed and being developed plus the corporations were over extended due to buying up record labels but not holding onto the talent that actually made them the ripe cherries financially they became
that was bought up by Universal etc.
They had all the financial overheads with little of the pizzazz and love of music that built companies like Atlantic, Stax, Motown, A&M et al in the first place. It lines up with the current economic crash as evoked by the huge banking houses worldwide that ever-rapaciously over extended and sold dodgy mortgage and sub prime packages with little acumen based on very murky business practices.
However, for most people (aspiring musicians etc) the best they can hope for nowadays is to get their (usually awful) music up on My-Space or You-Tube, these are free platforms but with no revenue applications. It’s a lot of bullshit really – these platforms have opened the door for a morass of people’s recorded junk which I guess at one time would not seen the light of day.
The geeks have inherited the earth or at least in cyber-space!
A new world awaits but perhaps for many these days (including the most talented), self released CD’s and a more realistic approach to getting your music heard is the staying position until a new paradigm is realised. It will be interesting to see that as usual this will not come from the increasingly top-heavy corporations with their out-dated pyramid style structures but will inevitably come from some bright spark dreamers with the same love for the art form that made it such a viable, seductive, deadly, pleasurable and financially thrilling ride for those who made it and for those who loved it as the music loving audience.
See an earlier post by colleague Ron Sansoe on dealing with
Malo’s publishing and his connections with the music industry.
© Jim McCarthy
Tags: Bill Laswell, Decline, Jimi Hendrix, Music Industry, Pharoah Sanders, Tower Of Power