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Big George's Big Mouth

Music Industry Comment
Published February 2007

This month Big George examines the cut of the music industry's new clothes...

Last month I took a poke at the establishment and, unsurprisingly, they didn't like it up 'em. Which is good, because the way I see it, when you rattle the elite it shows that they know there's a change in the wind. But what is this change, exactly? That's what we're going to speculate about in this month's column.

We live in interesting times, where just about everything is possible, but the reality is that most of it is out of reach. It's the best of times and the worst of times — never has recording been so accessible, but never have there been so many losers in your way. The going's getting pretty tough, so you'd better get... OK, it's a cliché, and so far this article has been cliché ridden, but actually clichés are a fairly accurate appraisal of the way things are.

The music industry is in free-fall and the way things have always been done will soon no longer apply. The only constant will be an unquenchable desire for new and relevant music. Where that music comes from, how it's delivered and the size of its audience is not just open to question, it's there for the taking!

Twist & Shout

The days when four lads from Liverpool could shake the world are as remote as the days when almost every person on the planet knew who the world heavyweight boxing champion was. So let's start by tearing up the site map.

Pressing, Distribution and Retail are all aspects of commerce which will very shortly be permanently confined to the past. The mere fact that the majors have these elements of the business sewn up is a pressure on their dominance that will continue to weaken them (whether they admit to it or not). Yes, they have the ability to over-supply over-hyped product to an increasingly underwhelmed consumer by stocking mega racks until the sale-or-return date kicks in, or it's discounted in the mega sale, before being transferred to the mega bargain bin, until the dead-stock skip arrives to transport it to a mega-landfill!

Then there's Royalties and Rights, an ever-shifting battleground being fought over in lawyers' offices across the globe, with everyone vying for the biggest cut. There ain't a producer around that clears every sample they use — only the ones they know they can't get away with. And how long will the eco-warrior, hunger-hating superstars continue to allow half the money that is collected to leave the industry and go into the pockets of corporate business and their high-earning portfolios?

And finally... downloads. This is, without doubt, the foggiest industry smoke-screen to get lost in. The old guard didn't see it coming. In fact, they dealt with the ramifications of its arrival like amateurs (unlike the amateurs they hounded, who acted like innovators in a jealous world of self interest), and they're currently alienating almost their entire customer base. Having said that, it's easy to give your music away free — if anyone wants it. And if you want to get onto the download gravy train there are any number of faceless 'facilitators' out there who, for a not-exorbitant fee, will put individual tracks of yours up for sale, so that you and your Mum can buy them.

The Bloomin' Obvious

Currently, there are twice as many Myspace sites on the web as there are people — well, that's what it feels like — and all boasting a trillion friends each. On a personal note, I too have a Myspace account, for now, but I'm proud to say that I have no friends whatsoever! And regardless of the fact that I believe it's a bubble about to burst, I take the point that we live in the 21st century and it's as essential to have a Myspace site as it is to own a computer. But not everyone who owns a PC will become Bill Gates (or, for the Apple elitists among us, Steve Jobs). So before you delude yourself into thinking that a few groovy pictures, a home-made video and a blog are your ticket to immortality, WAKE UP! Discount the Sandi Thom spin, the Lily Allen connections and the Arctic Monkey graft (and, man, did they ever put the effort in to become internet icons): Myspace will not be your holy grail. It's the modern-day business card; nothing more, nothing less.

Having said all that, there is one process that can make the machine accelerate to turbo-nutter speed in your favour. And, try as they might, the powers that be can't control it, they don't own it, and frankly they're losing their edge on it after decades of misjudgment and moronic monotony. In the quest for sales, market share, notoriety and fame, there's nothing to touch this single, most important factor for success, in every genre. And we'll be looking at it in great detail next month. D'you know what it is yet? One word... PROFILE!