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The State Of Play


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The Times They Are A Changin'...

Time to baton down the hatches is an understatement.

The Music industry has been struggling for a long time, but too many pundits that was no real surprise. In many ways the major labels have written their own obituary, and the minor and indie labels haven't done much better. The labels, that for so long provided an investment opportunity for bands, moved away from long term investment some time ago, preferring to milk what they had and to get quick hits where they could. The resulting prolonged short term investment in most groups left us with many bands unable to develop and grow, and for their fan base to do the same.

Some how along the way fans became more transitory, less loyal. Build in the more generally adopted mercenary approach of society cultivated in the 80s, nurtured in the 90s and a Music industry focused on exploiting every avenue they could for the minimum of investment, and their lack of vision or even common sense regarding the online music industry and digital downloads is it any wonder that our industry has ended up a poor shadow of itself.

Perhaps it was always destined to be so, but that we should all be complicit architects of the demise of music as a viable career makes it somehow sadder.

Recession

OK, we all know this one is going to bite hard across the board, but in recession the arts are always hit hard, and long. Some sales may have been up (reported download sales) but at the same time the sales of physical media has plummeted. Overall the total pot has shrunk significantly on the previous year. Yet still many in the industry are more focused in painting over the cracks than taking a long hard look and actually addressing the problems within the industry.

From previous recessions we can expect them to plummet further. Live gig opportunities will reduce, and the terms that venues and promoters offer will change. On a bright note for performers equipment costs will go down, but at the same time we are likely to lose many brand names too, especially small or custom manufacturers. Music education will suffer greatly too with many private tutors with less pupils and many colleges and schools reducing expenditure on media courses, going against a trend of recent years.

More musicians will move to semi-pro from pro, and semi-pro to enthusiast. Simple figures say that there will be less money to support an ever growing number of artists. Get used to the words "Cut Back".

The rigid rules of yesterday will be re-written.

Like many I look around and point the finger of blame but the truth is I am as responsible by the fact I let the erosion happen, as did we all to some extent or another.

Time also to watch out for the sharks selling you hope in a box. They too will be desperate for money and perfectly happy to exploit your vulnerability. Be Careful!

What Can We Do?

Recent supposed "fan friendly" album releases have been typical of the approach of the industry for years - more of a PR exercise than anything of real worth. So what can we do?

Well if there has ever been a time to be creative about how we conduct our business, it's now. Certainly we can learn from both the good and the and of the past, but I think the melting pot of major, minor and indie labels and publishers, artists and writers and the online industry may just forge some surprises. We may not recognize the industry that emerges after this recession.

There's no quick fix this time. The shit has well and truly hit the fan.

Personally, I think panful or not the business needs to switch back to longer term investment in a broader range of bands artists and writers. Without them there is no industry. Likewise the fans need to be nurtured, for without them there is also no industry. More blue sky investment too, fresh ideas create the markets of the future.

Flexibility is needed. Creativity is needed. Dedication is needed.

Sink or swim it's time labels and publishing houses really invested their time and money in the grassroots of the industry. It's all very well picking cherries but if you don't feed the plant the cherries get smaller and eventually the plant will simply die.

As an individual musician I too cannot be complacent. I have to be active in the change, contribute, and try and have a positive effect on the outcome. The online industry does present unparalleled access to fans, unfortunately so much good music is buried beneath the depths of teenagers with mobile phones recording themselves singing the latest hits badly, or posting tunes created with songwriting tools for dummies, or their first tune on the guitar after a month of playing as if they were finished works. While all those may have their place the lack of discernment or options offered to members and visitors alike by online sites is leaving artists trying to move up a mountain in an avalanche.

Artists are too fragmented. Too many remain unrepresented by any body or union, and lack the sense to realize that their strength is in working together for mutual benefit Too many don't value what they don't know. The celebrity culture encouraging a lottery chance "short-cut to fame" replacing a realistic plan.

All that said, now is the time for opportunity. A time for fresh ideas both musical and business. A time to re-mold the industry we have at present.

Quite how we find the energy or stamina does seem an elusive proposition.

Rant over. For now.

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