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Wednesday
Jun012011

Remake Remodel - The Major Labels Speak

Amongst the busy chatter of digital DIY dudes and galloping gurus it’s easy to forget that there is a major, multi-million dollar music industry that already exists.  That’s because we seldom hear from the major players outside the sanitized propaganda sheets of Billboard and Music Week.

But this week we can read their views in a Music Tank report by ex-EMI head, Tony Wadsworth.  It’s not free, though, which is a good indication of the unapologetic content.  It’s worth viewing, check out how at http://www.musictank.co.uk

For me the omissions speak volumes: there was no real appraisal of Youtube as a primary source for pop music.  And there was no mention of the new generation who have grown up getting and expecting free music, or how their money can be used to help develop the artists who will eventually replace the old gits who languish under the title ‘legacy’.

Overall, the mood of the report is upbeat and particularly supportive of the labels who are happiest to push the 360 degree deals and/or the partnership or ‘joint venture’ (JV) deals.  There’s some interesting appraisals of the influence supermarkets have in the new world order and encouragement for the labels who are busily hiring people from other connected sectors to enable the 360’s (merchandising/placement etc).

The report doesn’t really address artist’s concerns thrown up by the changing situation, beyond a mention of some ‘grumbling’ about packaging charges and the authors seem to think that the lot of artists hasn’t particularly changed in relationship to major deals, which, perhaps, shows a telling lack of empathy.

But what it does stress is the continuing need for the industry to be the major investor in new artists.  In fact, it recognises that the recording companies are the only investors of note, which I agree with.

Read as a balance to some of the more loonily optimistic views seen on this site and its sister at Hypebot, it’s a sobering portrait of an insecure industry, continuing to do what it knows best (exploit musicians for all it’s worth) whilst cherry picking some slightly out of date internet visions to indicate it exists in the same century.

None of you will be surprised that it’s last instruction for the industry on a short wish list at the end reads (& I don’t think I’m giving away too much here):

“legislation to curb online piracy has to be swiftly implemented”

 

Tim London

Reader Comments (3)

It’s not free, though, which is a good indication of the unapologetic content.

Actually, I think it's a better indication that even great ideas don't spread if you lock them behind a paywall. At US$75 (the minimum subscription price), it more or less guarantees those ideas won't be heard outside the major label echo chamber.

June 1 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

"....And there was no mention of the new generation who have grown up getting and expecting free music."

Time to re-educate.

June 1 | Unregistered CommenterVersus

Goodbye Music Tank

I was a big fan of Music Tank, until now.

I have no problem with IFPI and BPI having their say although I strongly disagree with their logic and their behaviour. They are clearly important players so I wasn't surprised to see Tony Wadsworth writing a report for Music Tank. Music Tank has often leaned towards the industry somewhat... but usually with an objective view.

My problem with Music Tank can be summed up entirely in Keith Harris' foreword to Tony Wadsworth's Remake, Remodel: The Evolution Of The Record Label.

Here's what Keith Harris said, and why I am disappointed.

"There has been much talk in recent years, mainly uninformed, about the death of the record company, and in particular, many gleeful pronouncements about the decline of the major labels."

The major labels are in decline, and whether one is gleeful or not that is a fact. They have declined in revenue, manpower, market value and market share over the past decade. This opening statement suggests such talk is wrong because it is "mainly uninformed". I have tried to read some other meaning into this paragraph but I can only see it as a riposte to criticism of the Majors. He goes on...

"Although it is clear that the recorded music sector is not the whole of the music business and that the live sector has flourished by comparison in recent years, it has seemed to me that it would be very difficult to remove the level of investment that has been made by the labels from the music business ecology without inflicting a fatal wound to the whole of the music business. The big live acts do after all need to be nurtured and developed somewhere."

"A fatal wound to the whole of the music business"? Hyperbole aside that is simply a ridiculous thing to say. Big acts are often nurtured and developed within the industry but I see little evidence that the Major record labels themselves have ever been much involved. As Harris himself admits, live music is thriving while Major label investment has dried up.

"A unique opportunity presented itself when I realised that Tony Wadsworth, a former EMI Records Chairman, who knows the industry inside out, would be available to compile a report giving a detailed overview of the future of the record company. Although currently Chairman of the BPI, Tony has no current affiliation to any one label."

Tony Wadsworth may know the old industry inside out, or at least EMI and the BPI, and he may not be affiliated to any one label but he is beholden to all of them. That is what the BPI does.

"As the industry goes through revolutionary change, it struck me that a detached overview from such a well-respected industry figure could be a valuable document in the reconstruction of a recorded music sector which has been battered by the advent of a series of disruptive new technologies. Tony’s access to a series of very senior music industry figures, and first-hand knowledge of the complications of running a major label provide a very useful insight into the problems of recent years, as well as a glimpse of the changes that point towards a much healthier future on the horizon for recorded music."

I'm sure Tony is an honest and intelligent man but he cannot be detached. He is Chairman of the British Phonographic Industry which represents the Major labels (and other big labels and big label interests). He cannot be detached. This report is co-written by Music Week, the mouthpiece of the traditional music industry, so "detached" is a completely inappropriate adjective.

Keith Harris apparently dismissed the "death of the record company" in his opening paragraph but now turns to the "reconstruction of a battered recorded music sector". I fail to see how either is true, or relevant to the Majors. The Majors don't represent "record companies" or "the recorded music sector" per se. They represent a particular, declining sector of the corporate recorded music industry. Record companies and recorded music at large are doing OK, it is the Majors who have a problem.

Finally we are promised the whole "point[s] towards a much healthier future on the horizon for recorded music." By now it is clear what Keith Harris means is a healthier future for the Major record labels.

I won't go into the Wadsworth report itself, it's is exactly what you'd expect. The loser here is Music Tank. I can understand them talking up their report; I can understand them commissioning it; but I can't understand them falling hook, line and sinker for the Majors' version of history and their prescription for the future of music (more Major label involvement!). The Music Tank link will shortly disappear from my front page to be replaced by a more objective source of industry comment. It's a shame, I thought they were really good once.

June 3 | Unregistered CommenterRob

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