New Year’s Resolution
As the end of the year approaches, many of you will, no doubt, be considering your New Year’s resolutions. I don’t usually bother (I have zero will-power!), but for 2012 I think I might resolve to unsubscribe from most of the music industry blogs and news sheets.
There are a few that are worthy of merit, (most notably MusicAlly, CMU and Record of the Day) but there are also many who have taken it upon themselves to play the part of a modern “Tokyo Rose” or “Lord Haw-Haw”. They seem to be determined to sap the morale out of anyone working in music (favourite headline; “It Just Got Worse !”).
Dreaming of a Return to the ‘90s?
2012 sees Kudos enter its 20th year of trading, so we were around during the pre-digital “Booming ‘90s”. However, you might be surprised to learn that 2011 was our Best Year Ever. In fact, we have just experienced our fifth consecutive year of double digit growth. We are now almost four times the size we were in 2006, and employ more than twice the number of staff.
The thing is, we are not “bucking the trend”, at least not in the independent sector. Many labels I speak to have experienced similar growth. So, why all the “Bad News” stories? I put it down to the big corporate behemoths who are struggling to cope with the new environment. They still represent a massive chunk of the market, and unsurprisingly, they cry the loudest.
The problem for the majors is that the marketplace is now far more meritocratic, and they can no longer control access.
In the “Good Old ‘90s”, we were very reliant on the high street music chains stocking and merchandising our releases to have any chance of success. If we had a physical CD release with crossover potential, we had to go, cap in hand, to the various chain’s central buyers. If we were lucky enough to be offered any support, it would be on the condition that we paid for their advertising, and bought racking space. In fact, we would often be frozen out of the high street chains altogether, especially during “Q4” (October to December) during which the majority of prime retail racking was reserved for Major Label releases. One particular chain would not even let us present new releases to them from October to the end of the year.
A Fairer Landscape
Fast forward to 2011, and not only can we ensure that all our releases are stocked at all the important digital stores, we even find our releases featured on the home page, of the Biggest Music Store in the World, Ever! without paying a penny for either advertising or positioning. iTunes and other key digital retailers are happy to get right behind our releases based purely on their own editorial criteria. If we can persuade them that our releases are appealing; that we have created enough public awareness, and that there is a good likelihood that a casual click on a brick might convert to a purchase, they will often take a punt.
It’s certainly NOT all doom and gloom in the physical world either. Every single title in our catalogue is always available at the worlds biggest physical retailer (Amazon), and those independent stores that are left in the high streets have rightly come to the conclusion that their success is based on their ability to provide a true, music discover experience. They have largely left the chart toppers to the supermarkets, and now concentrate on supplying great music to the true connoisseurs. Our releases no longer have to compete with the NOW series at Christmas for independent shelf space.
Better Prospects for New Labels
Another very positive characteristic of the “new” business compared to the “good old 90s” is that new labels seem to have lower “infant mortality”. It has been our experience that the survival rates for brand new labels have improved, largely as a result of the kinder economics of digital. Many new labels in the 90’s would only have had sufficient funding to release one, or two opening 12”s. If these releases didn’t re-coup their initial investment in the tiny sales window available, that was often the end of the road. Nowadays, the sales window is open ended. A release is available to buy and stream indefinitely, allowing labels to recoup their investment over time.
Bad News Stories
So, if we and other independents are doing well, why do I care what a bunch of naysayers have to say? Because, by specifically spreading misleading information, and by giving the impression that the whole industry is in terminal decline they can influence some of the decisions that effect how we do business in the future. This is why I felt it important to make our experience of streaming services public here and here.
I also feel this “talking down the business” starves our industry of the young talent it needs to move forward. Trying to recruit has never been harder. Many young bright graduates no longer see our industry as appealing. Some don’t even believe it has a future. Few things depresses me more than attending a trade show like MIDEM and seeing it full of middle aged men propping up the bar. We need more new blood coming through.
So, will the industry ever return to the heady days of the ‘90s, with its corporate jets and “fruit and flowers”? I, for one, sincerely hope not. The “new” industry provides infinitely more opportunities to enterprising independent artists and labels.
That is the news story that needs to be heard.