Tag Archives: The Music Business

We will only have a functional digital music economy when artists, labels and web services can all agree on what services are viable as revenue streams and which ones are primarily promotional channels. Too many of the arguments over royalties seem to stem from a blurring of the two.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments


In yet another post on the state of the music industry, Steve Lawson muses on the oft-repeated statistic that file-sharers spend more on music.

Are we part of the ongoing viability of their music practice, or not? There are lots of ways of being that, far beyond blunt figures about where we get hold of particular recordings from (and a whole lot of material on BitTorrent isn’t available to buy anywhere anyway), but are we part of the healthy future for disintermediated music, or are we just trying to see how much we can get away with? Cos I’ve got no interest in the people in the latter group… Music has given me far too much in my life not to want to give back…

What we don’t know (and there may not be any way of telling) is the extent to filesharing changes not just how people will spend on music, but what sort of music they will buy. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they’re spending less on heavily-promoted “mainstream” music much of which doesn’t live up to the hype. But instead they’re spending more on artists not signed to the major labels and their subsidiaries who don’t benefit from huge promotional budgets. Quite a bit of this is direct sales from artists, which frequently don’t show up in official statistics; the disintermediation of which Steve Lawson speaks.

If this is true, it would explain why so many of those who shout the loudest against the evils of filesharing are not artists, but marketing types and execs who have the most to lose from disintermediation. These people always claim to speak on behalf of artists, even though independent artists can speak for themselves. Is this just because nobody really cares if the likes or record pluggers have to seek alternative employment?

No that I condone people who download huge amounts of music without any intention of paying for a note of it. But I’ve never bought into the argument that the sky is falling, and the only way the “creative industries” can be saved is to give the big labels and studios unchecked power to shut down any parts of the internet they don’t like. As Bloom.fm’s Oleg Formenko said on Twitter, piracy is what happens when there are no legal alternatives at prices the market is willing to pay.

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Mr So & So launch album fundraising scheme

From the Prog Magazine blog:

Mr So & So, have just launched an ambitious fundraising campaign on the Pledge Music platform. The band are seeking to raise £20,000 to fund their fifth studio album Truths, Lies & Half Lies, as well as a live DVD and a short European tour.

The band have already written nine tracks for the successor to 2009’s self-released Sugarstealer album, including Apophis and You’re Coming Home, both of which have been aired at recent live shows. “This will be a much darker album and a lot weightier than Sugarstealer. The reason that we are trying to raise so much money is so we can at last have a production that really shows off what we can do,” explained guitarist and band co-founder Dave Foster.

Interesting that they’re going down this road rather than the pre-order model that’s now well-established in the progressive rock scene ever since Marillion’s fan-funded “Anoraknophobia” a decade ago (And whenever a more fashionable band does the same thing, always remind them Marillion did it first!). Although it’s a variation on an established theme, it probably goes to show that there’s no longer a one-size-fits all business model for all bands any more.

The amount of money they’re aiming for says far more about the economics of the music business than the frequently inflated numbers you’ll hear from the major labels. I think we can guarantee none of that twenty grand is going to be spent on “flowers and chocolates”.

As for the album title, it’s a very appropriate one for those corporate sock-puppets who are still trying to insist that you can’t record a decent-sounding record without a six-figure advance from a major label, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

As for Mr So & So, they’ll be playing at the Cambridge Rock Festival at the beginning of August, sharing the Sunday bill with Mostly Autumn, Touchstone and Don Airey, on a weekend that also includes Heather Findlay, Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Halo Blind, Stolen Earth, Caravan, It Bites and Kyrbgrinder. If you love real music played by real musicians rather than over-hyped corporate music, you really ought to be there.

Mr So & So’s Pledge Music page can be found here.

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Prog-gate “The Prog Corruption Blog”

I really try to steer well clear of backstage politics in the Prog world. But sometimes things happen on public forums that leave me no choice.

There has been something of a ruction in the community over a mysterious blog calling itself the “Prog Corruption Blog”, which claimed to “try to address corruption, scamming, vote canvassing and poll rigging in the world of Progressive Rock Music as dedicated and professional artists are forced out of popularity polls and charts by PR driven outfits“. There was but a single post, which made the claim that the reader’s poll in Classic Rock Presents Prog had been rigged in favour of Panic Room and The Reasoning, two bands recently signed by Esoteric Antenna. The whole thing reeked of an agenda, and read like the work of someone with an axe to grind against either the bands, the label, or both.

I learned of this blog from a link posted in the comments on another post in this blog, I immediately bought it to the attention of CRPP and two of the bands because I felt they needed to know. To say that there was then a significant sewage/ventilation device interface incident would be an understatement. Certainly some of those parties considered the contents of that blog libellous, and there was talk of lawyers.

A few hours later, after a number of angry comments including some from a member of one of those bands, the entire site disappeared.

If you read the whole thing before it got taken down, it was less an attack on the CRPP Poll, and more a direct attack on the professional integrity of two bands and their record company. There was also an implied personal attack on Panic Room’s frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder, suggesting that she did not deserve the Best Female Vocalist of 2011 award because the band “had played no more than half a dozen pub gigs”. (Obviously untrue, we’ll get to that later)

It’s now being suggested that the author writing under the false name of “Beverly Myers” is in fact male. I’m not going to argue with someone with a Master’s degree in psychology on that point. It’s notable that the (probably male) author adopted a voice that read like a crude caricature of 1980s hairy-armpit feminism to make his dubious points. I now believe he has a misogynistic agenda – not only are two of the bands female-fronted, but the record company is also run by a woman.

Given that the author has lied about his identity, nothing else can be taken at face value. The whole thing is full of distortions, half-truths and outright lies which cannot be put down to mere poor research. It should certainly not be dismissed as “a bit of harmless internet fun” – it’s a clear and deliberate attempt to damage several people’s means of earning a living. It’s already diverted a lot of their time and energy away from creating and promoting their music towards countering these malicious lies.

One of the bands has also dropped hints that they have strong suspicions as to the identity of the perpetrators (note the use of the plural here). While I don’t want to speculate on their specific identity, it does feel like the work of a fan or maybe even a member of a prog band made up of ugly blokes who’s bitter that the record label had passed over their dated 80s-style neo-prog in favour of two bands in question. That would put the sneering references to “bands fronted by pretty girls”, “beauty contests” and “they aren’t proper prog” in to context.

Somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this by a long way.

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Chris Squire – The Simon Cowell of Prog?

Sometimes it’s not always evil record labels who behave badly towards others. Fans of Yes know how singer Benoit David stepped aside due to voice problems, and his temporary replacement Jon Davidson of Glass Hammer became permanent.

Benoit David’s press release does give the impression he’s been treated rather shabbily.

I was then pleased to learn that Jon Davison would be my replacement as he is an accomplished musician with a fine voice.

I subsequently learnt, from a band member’s interview, that I had officially left Yes and that my departure was permanent.

Now, I did like “Fly From Here”, and even gave it a favourable review. But now they’re giving every impression that they’re in it solely for the money.

I nearly went to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon last November. But the date clashed with The Heather Findlay Band at The Brook in Southampton the same night. Despite having tickets for two other dates of Heather’s tour, I decided I’d rather see a band playing for the love of music than a bunch of has-beens who were only interesting in topping up their pension funds.

I think I made the right decision. When it comes to art vs. commerce, Chris Squire is on the same side as Simon Cowell.

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Delain Fall Victim to Cloth-Eared Bean Counters

Some people question why I frequently describe the major labels as being run by cloth-eared bean-counters. It’s because of things like what’s just happened to Symphonic metal band Delain.

You finish your album, and then you don’t know when the release is. But you know that fans are waiting for it. We were so satisfied with the album, and also our producer was satisfied. But some executive nut-case just doesn’t get it, and decides: “Well, let’s not release it.” Other people do get it, and right now, they are talking about how and when to release it. It’s a nightmare! We don’t have control over it, and at the moment, we can only wait.

It’s an old story. Delain were signed to Roadrunner, who got taken over by Warners. Who, if their head-in-the-sand attitude towards digital licensing is anything to go by, show every sign of being the most clueless of the majors. As so often happens with this sort of takeover, Warners fired many the people who the band knew and trusted, and now they’re sitting on the record. Maybe they haven’t got anyone left who knows how to market a band the major label probably would never have signed in the first place. Blogger Ronnie Soo has even speculated that they want to re-mould the band’s singer Charlotte Wessels as a radio-friendly pop star, and ditch the band.

This sort of crap happens a lot with the majors. They give every impression they’re run by marketeers and accountants who’s most significant characteristic is that they are not passionate about music. Yes, this sort of thing has always gone on, but in the days of social media when bands can communicate directly with their fanbase, it’s harder for labels to pull this sort of dick move and get away with it.

This is why I had some serious mixed feelings when I heard that two bands I know had recently been signed. I hope and pray that the bands knew what they were doing, and scrutinised the small print of the contracts carefully, so that they and their fans never get shafted the same way.

Some bands forget that “The guy they trust” in the label when they sign might not be around for the duration of the contract, especially if the label they signed to gets eaten by a bigger one. I’d advise any band signing a record deal (and their lawyer) to work on the assumption that, however friendly the label guys seem, they *will* try to screw you, and make sure the contract is watertight. In the worst case they need the option to walk away without the label being able to hold their record hostage.

Hopefully Delain will be able to release the album, and find a label they can continue to work with. Sadly, and cynical as it may seem, if Warners are really only interested in nothing but money, it’s in their interest for Delain to split up rather than sign to another label. Less competition.

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Ryan Dancey, Still Wrong

This article on the future of the Role-Playing Games industry, specifically Dungeons and Dragons, contains a completely ridiculous quote from Ryan Dancey

Kids stopped playing with trains, and the businesses that remained dedicated to hobbyists who got more disposable income as they grew up, until the price of the hobby was out of reach of anyone except those older hobbyists. Eventually, it became a high-end hobby with very expensive products, sold to an ever-decreasing number of hobbyists. As those folks die, the hobby shrinks. That is what is happening to the tabletop RPG business.”

Ryan Dancey knows nothing about the model railway hobby.

He reminds me of the record label executives trying to defend a dying business model in the music industry – like Dancey, they’re marketing types who only care about selling “product”, and aren’t interested in actual creativity. Dancey was notorious a decade ago for a master plan to drive all games other than D&D out of business, spouting nonsense about “Network externalities”. If he’d been working for a model railway company he would have made his mission to destroy N gauge and 0 gauge in order to make 00 more popular.

It seems to me that there are a lot of parallels between the RPG industry and the cottage industry end of the music business. It’s all about creative types taking advantage of massively reduced barriers to entry to product things that can be sold direct to the customer, and using the Internet to build communities around those products. This is bad news if your career, like that of Ryan Dancey, is based on marketing things that others create – they don’t need you any more, and the viability of their businesses in a fragmented market often depend on them not having to share their revenue with you.

The irony is that one of the things fuelling the cottage industry is the Open Game Licence, which Ryan Dancey himself was responsible for…

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Don’t Buy the Pink Floyd Box Sets

I see there’s a shock-and-awe advertising campaign for the reissues of the classic 70s albums by Pink Floyd.

Yes, an album like Dark Side of the Moon is all-time classic which has stood the test of time and has finally emerged from the long shadow cast by of Punk to take its rightful place in the British Rock Canon. But let’s face it, if you really cared about the album, you’d already have it on CD, right?

September has been one of the best months for new progressive rock releases I can remember for a long, long time. In the space of two weeks there have been new releases by Dream Theater, Opeth, Anathema, Matt Stevens, Steve Hackett and Steve Wilson. That’s one hell of a lot of new music, and you can have all of it for the price of just one of the ridiculously overpriced “Immersion editions” that you’ll probably only ever listen to the once.

I realise the target market for these things is the middle-aged bloke who stopped caring about new music when he got married and had kids decades ago, and now in the throes of his mid-life crisis is desperately trying to reconnect with his long lost youth. He’s probably never even heard of Opeth.

Don’t be that guy. Don’t buy the box sets. Pink Floyd really don’t need your money. And EMI certainly don’t deserve it.

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Yet Another Music Biz Rant.

Sometimes I wonder if there are people out there who really believe there are no ways to find new music apart from either listening to Radio One or surfing MySpace completely at random. Just read this commenter in a thread about the failure (so far) of digital music products.

I know this sounds trite but it would really help if the big music companies did their job as “gatekeepers” and keep the mediocre music away from the masses. What ever happened to quality A&R departments? With the proliferation of cheap music sequencing programs, horrible club DJs and radio that is beyond unbearable, quality control is more important than ever!

It’s actually worse that that, Big Music is actively keeping far better music away from the masses. They’re pretty much only interested in the lowest common denominator music that follows a small number of proven formulas that they know how to market. And with more and more discerning music fans having made their excuses and left the mainstream, Big Music is increasingly left with the people who can’t or won’t seek out new music for themselves.

I personally think the gatekeeper/elite tastemaker model is fundamentally broken anyway and deserves to die. For better or worse, the Internet has fragmented the market, allowing artists in niche genres to market their music directly, bypassing that small and corrupt clique of gatekeepers and tastemakers.

Such artists rely on fan-to-fan recommendations to build an audience rather than on Big Music’s shock-and-awe advertising campaigns. Perhaps the role of new digital music startups ought to be to encourage that sort of thing, rather than prop up the dying major label business model? The thing about independent artists in niche genres is their business model depends not so much of gaining the largest possible audience, rather on minimising the number of middlemen between them and their audience. Digital startups are new middlemen, they’re only of any use to artists if the value they add is more than the cut they take. And they’re only any use to music fans if they act as a sort of smart filter, perhaps using some kind of wisdom-of-crowds approach to filter out the stuff that falls below the Sturgeon threshold.

Don’t expect the major labels to support such a thing – While they claim to speak for up-and-coming artists, the reality has always been that they’ll do their damnedest to marginalise every new artist except for the small minority that they choose to sign.

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mFlow’s 20p-a-track Sale

Music streaming and downloading site mFlow has been having a January sale.  For a few days, they reduced the price of all downloads to 20p a song, or 20p x the number of songs for the whole album.  It’s resulted in something of a feeding frenzy; I think I bought ten albums altogether; and judging by the steady stream of credit notification emails I’ve been getting, many others have been doing the same thing.  20p for a song or two or three quid for an album is well within impulse-buying territory in a way a £7.99 album is not.

My purchases included a couple of lesser back-catalogue albums I’ve only got on vinyl from Rainbow and Blue Öyster Cult, a few albums I’d passed on when they came out, such as a couple of recent Marillion live albums, and “After” by Scandinavian metal artist Ihsahn, which I decided to check out since it had appeared in several people’s end-of-year lists. I flowed on track from that with the words “This album is so awesome I feel guilty for paying only £1.60 for it”, and promptly got three 20% commissions for further sales!

Since I’ve seen both The Reasoning and Mostly Autumn coming up in my credit notification emails, I do wonder how artists feel about their work being sold for such low prices – I do remember one RPG writer I won’t name being not at all impressed to find one of his works in the remaindered bin at Stabcon a few years back.  But surely any revenue is better than none, and gets there music heard by people who might not otherwise have listened.  From such beginnings, fandom can start, if the music is awesome enough.

It does make we wonder what the rational price for MP3 downloads ought to be nowadays.  This year I’ve paid everything from that £1.60 for the download of the Ihsahn album, to well over double the price of a regular CD  for the pre-order special edition of “Go Well Diamond Heart” by Mostly Autumn, and I really can’t say that either was not a “fair” price.  In one case I was taking a gamble on a completely unheard-of band, with only Dom Lawson’s word for whether it was any good, and the other was a fan pre-order for an album which would not have been possible to record otherwise.

Time will tell what sort of pricing strategy labels and artists will take in the future.  It may well be that with universal “always on” internet connections we’ll all move towards streaming anyway.  But I think the days of pricing album downloads so as not to undermine CD sales are almost certainly numbered.

What does anyone else think?

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