In a recent piece, Low Sales Week Ushers In Universal Music Cuts, Wayne Russo made the following comment,
“Universal is getting ready for the day that an album will enter the charts at number one with 10,000 copies sold . That day seems to be approaching sooner than later.”
In 2010, one of the main stories in the music business was dwindling sales numbers for the biggest hits. We all know album and single sales have been in a nosedive for some time, but the sales of the top acts, the ones with the most major label support and marketing were slower to collapse. But, now that even the biggest hits are posting record low numbers (a recent Taylor Swift hit was the lowest selling number one ever in the US), the industry is facing even more consolidation and cost-cutting.
It’s a situation I’ve been pondering as I wonder whether to attend this year’s Music Matters 2011 conference. As much as I enjoyed last year’s conference, the focus was a little too often oriented to the big end of the industry. Now that fewer and fewer opportunities are in the hands of the major labels, it will be interesting to see how these kinds of conferences change and adapt. Certainly MIDEM looks like a very different kind of conference to what it was a few years ago and the new kid on the block, Rethink Music (a Berklee and MIDEM joint venture) looks even more exciting.
I’m not as confident now as I was a few years back that the current situation is good for independent musicians. It is still hard to get traction, support and exposure for new music. So called “viral” breakthroughs are few and some of the most high profile ones already had support and PR behind them from the outset.
Moreover, lower sales at the top of the business also mean fewer opportunities downstream for studio owners, session musicians, arrangers, orchestrators and the like. And, now we are seeing declines in the film and gaming industries, revenue streams will dry up even further.
Of course, there are things independent musicians can do to be more effective. It helps to have a decent strategy (Musician Strategies – 10 Keys to Success), learn to use social media (Seven Rules for Effective Social Networking For Artists) and not rely on MySpace (Thanks, but no thanks).
“Maybe it’s your space– it’s not my space. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s space anymore. In a new record of corporate bungling, within what seemed like only months of having purchased Myspace for $580 million, Rupert Murdoch had turned the once-essential site into the most awkward, slow, cumbersome, ugly, ad-heavy and useless social network of them all. Then, over the course of several years, after several revamps and corporate upheavals, the wizards who were going to make Myspace the hub of the music world actually managed to make it worse. At this point, any A&R guy faced with the prospect of having to search through Myspace to source talent should receive hazard pay. The time it takes to load, the number of pop-up ads, and the generally ghastly design make it a mind-numbing experience (and most A&R’s minds are pretty numb already). Plus, it’s just not cool.”
Last year I dove into the world of photography and quickly realised how much better organised that industry was for small operators. Maybe it’s because the average photographer and smaller studio has always had to operate as a creative business. Musicians can learn a lot from photographers (and other similar businesses, like graphic design) in terms of how to run a small business.
If you are serious about getting your head around the new realites in the music business, then I’d strongly recommend sitting down with Andrew Dubber‘s free e-book, The 20 Things You Must Know About The Music Business Online. I’m adjusting a lot of what I do online based on Andrew’s suggestions, something that will become increasingly apparent from next month.
Not that I have the answers, because really I don’t. But, what I’m realising is that, when it comes my music business, it comes down to a brutal question. If, tomorrow, the major record labels ceased to exist, how long would it take for me notice?
Right now, it might take a while…