Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are We Losing Our Interest in Music?

Music itself has never been more valued by the business world, with marketers desperate to exploit its commercial worth. Mobile-phone manufacturers are scrambling to be able to offer users the chance to watch the best music videos on the move, and the promises of the new iPhone take it a step further offering the optional widescreen view as well.

Big companies are pouring sponsorship money into live music venues and festivals in the hope that the feelgood factor of a favorite band will help to enhance perception of their brand. Advertisers have come to recognize the benefits of a recognizable soundtrack. Yet the unstoppable advance of digital downloading means that the financial model on which the music industry has been built is crumbling. Hopes that legal downloads would compensate for the fall in sales of CDs were hit by a slowing up in growth last year, which is yet another red flag that one would assume the record industry would care about.

Revolution is not too strong a word to describe the changes introduced by MySpace. There's no better example of this than Enter Shikari, a St. Albans band who have been so successful in building support online that they have been able to shun all approaches from the record industry. In November, with a fan base estimated at 40,000, they sold out the Astoria, one of London's best-known venues. By releasing singles on their own, as downloads, they are able to take a far higher share than if they had signed a contract. That said, the vast majority of bands marketing themselves on MySpace are not making any kind of living. Hence the emergence of other websites, such as and, dedicated to helping unsigned bands to make money.

Just as the industry is itself in turmoil, so the artists are having to rethink how they operate. That means a greater focus on live performance and gathering revenue from merchandising. One example being Ozzfest, which is being held free this summer, being referred to as "Freefest".

"We're reaching the same point we did years ago when kids no longer wanted to pay for overpriced CDs," said Sharon Osbourne in a statement. "As a result, they found alternative ways of getting music. That's what's happening with summer touring in this country: It's out-pricing itself." The corporate sponsors are taking care of the costs, but at the same time none of the bands playing Ozzfest are going to be paid, even though they had in previous years. It'll be interesting to see who agrees to play when they are basically going to have to pay to be there, and then they'll need to rely on just merchandise sales and perhaps exposure.

Diversity is seen as the key to survival. Companies like Sony BMG are convinced that branching out into areas such as television, advertising and sponsorship will create new opportunities and potential earnings for its artists. But then again things like American Idol that feed winners straight into the arms of Sony for a record deal that is arguably not as good as one they could have gotten on their own after being the first runner up.

MySpace, Ozzfest, music on TV, DRM, and new technology are all going to affect our interest in music over the next year, and we can all hope the industry plays their cards in our favor...wait, who are we kidding? They'll have to.

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