I was speaking to a music exec last week – don’t worry, this isn’t quite another copyright rant – and he told me the industry lobby group the BPI had a policy of putting a negative spin on all sales news, because piracy was supposed to be killing the industry… And, if it didn’t appear that way, they wouldn’t get the laws needed to tackle piracy and create a sustainable future for recorded music.
But, my contact feels, this policy could be self defeating. The persistent negative slant could put off talent and investment.
A second contact from the industry tells me the indy sector is booming, but this message never gets out. The fact the message never gets out is again part of an orchestrated policy to bury good news and hype-up the bad.
My second contact is frustrated that the digital crossover sector gets no recognition despite the buzz it’s creating in some quarters.
I’m being told the internet has fuelled a renaissance of the small label record producer. It’s well known the internet provides a low-cost distribution model, but this alone doesn’t make the self-styled, self-recorded, self-produced and self-promoted band a viable model.
A Tumblr page is no substitute for promotion, it’s a backstop. The artist or band still needs promoting to DJs and online channels, and often the most effective way of doing this is to sit down and play it to them; despite the internet!
The web offering – whether it’s Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter – itself needs nourishing, or the feed just gets lost in the ever-increasing background noise. Fans need a helping hand to root-out even the most talented bands and artists.
And then there’s the business side; licensing, registering with collecting societies, clearing any samples or songwriter royalties. Even the most organised and business-focussed bands would struggle to do all this and make the music.
So we have a new generation of musicians turning to a new breed of music publisher, where signing fees and advances are a rarity. Instead, the new publishers are out to give [what they claim to be] a fair return on each sale (minus, of course, promotion and other fees – we’ve all got to eat and pay the mortgage).
But I digress – a lot! The gist here is I’m being told there’s a lot of good news in the British music sector, but it’s being swamped by a cynical agenda driven by those controlling large back-catalogues. Indy labels have nothing to be gained from extending copyright, yet the majors – so I’m told – are already looking at a 90-year protection term despite having just won the extension from 50 to 70 years.
The rub for the independents comes when the gloom-laden publicity agenda of the majors starts to impact their own business. What self-respecting bank or angel investor would pump money into a business we’re all told – at regular intervals – is being “decimated” by piracy.
Yes, the term “decimated” is being used by industry press monkeys, see here and here, despite the Latin origin meaning “reduce by one tenth”. The irony being that the strict meaning is probably an accurate portrayal of the state of the sector as a whole, a 10% hit not being so bad considering the prolonged recession.
If good news doesn’t start to reach the ears of lenders and investors the death of the music industry could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with overly cynical press and lobbying, not piracy, delivering the fatal blow.