Touch my Spotify at your peril

welcome to Spotify

So Lohan Presencer, the Ministry of Sound CEO has joined the music industry orchestrated Spotify hate-fest and suggested that labels should “seize back the keys to the music kingdom.” He also wanted to “put on hold” current streaming services. Let’s summarise this early on for the easily bored (and you will be.)

One; it’s not his, his company’s or any other label’s bloody kingdom and two; it is the labels that did the streaming deals and it was MoS that “settled” with Spotify over their daft playlist issues. So.. er.. how about you “guys” just quit moaning?

Oh and three: MoS is a compilation album company that feeds off the creativity of others without (I wager) having to spend a huge amount on development of young artists and that is where my interest lies.

Every penny a label spends on their friends and employees is your future earnings!

I hear music often hours after its inception. I receive demos from young and talented people and all many of them want is to be signed by a label. There is talent and creativity in abundance but often it is not the finished article. I see why they obsess about “getting signed” and I don’t dismiss their ambitions. To me though, as the “record” business is rife with profligate spending of artists’ projected future earnings I do scratch my head and hope there is another way for them to progress. One where they don’t have to sell hundreds of thousands of CDs or downloads to recoup the spending the label has done on “their behalf”.

Wonga songa

Some labels are like pay day loan companies except the borrowings are secured against your future musical creativity. (This is more important than your house or your car or your debit card number.)

The “music kingdom” he speaks of is created by these young, gullible artists who drool at the thought of signing to a major without considering the huge amount of money it will cost them in earnings (if they make any money at all.)

It raises the financial bar for the artist. It’s simple economics. If you create any other kind of product wanted by a consumer you add up the costs of getting to market, weigh up the risks to your sales predictions and act accordingly. But in the music industry you have a project plan, a timeline, a bunch of people who should be in suits even if they’re not and a whole load of spending going on of YOUR FUTURE EARNINGS.

Corporate fodder

In the one size fits all world of the large label they just shove another hopeful into their tired, old, expensive and ever so slightly corrupt corporate machine and hope what comes out is a Beiber. If you’re not selling heaps (and why would you) after one album, you are dumped. Not because you were crap but because the level of spending done out of your future earnings will never be repaid. If they’d spent less on their corporate machine and more on developing artists at grass roots then everyone (including the labels) would win.

You only need to see the crass label’s chasing after the next young singer from Huddersfield (or wherever), or the next Adele, or every single band they sign having to sound like something successful on a competitor label. I remember well the rush to sign anything with a curled lip and some Northern vernacular when Artic Monkeys first bounced on to the music scene. Let’s not list the bands but they were all crap soundalikes.

Check back on the record companies that made a difference. They were not corporate machines. They spent money where and when they had to. (Apart from Tony Wilson, obviously he spent it on tables and arty record sleeves.) What they and he did (so well) was find talent, develop it, record it and then release to a world which they hoped would buy it. Sales and musical careers were made by chancers and entrepreneurs. Not accountants and corporates.

These successful and influential labels didn’t try to mould an artist in to something they were not. They celebrated the fact they were different and nurtured their creativity. They were often inept, ramshackle people and businesses but they created stuff and made things happen.

Streaming is fun right?

This Ministry of Sound guy thinks that music (record) labels should create a new place on the tinterweb to stream their tawdry compilations and let us, the consumers, pay for it. It was 1999-ish when Napster and others first started peer to peer sharing and since then almost all of the labels have missed the point… every, single, year. That is 15 of our earth years.

Think about how many board meetings they’ve all had in the meantime. How many industry gatherings did they sit on their gold thrones (paid for by the creativity of others) and in full Canute mode demand the tide to not come in. On pain of legal action.

The MoS CEO is now suggesting that they can stop the tide coming in by asking it to pay. Yes he wants to ask the tide to now pay itself to not come in. Forgive me here but is this guy running a UK compi-dance label/yoof focussed beer selling emporium or a provincial wool shop? (Apologies to provincial wool shop owners. Those of you that are still open have adapted to the fact that the bulk of your market died along with Seaside Special and Top of the Pops.)

home taping

Lost my back catalogue

When I filled my hard drive’s boots with all the old tunes that I loved in the early 2,000s I had already bought many of the tracks on CD over the years. But jewel cases turned out to be crap and CDs weren’t as durable as we were told by Tomorrow’s World. We had dogs. We had kids. We moved around a fair bit and our CDs stopped working and got lost. So I got what I’d already paid for back but that’s now gone the way of all digital flesh and someone is coming for my Spotify and I’m (as the Americans say) rather pissed about this.

Hail Vevo

The music industry’s answer to youtube (now part owned by er… google), Vevo, pulled in around $300 million in 2014. They were trying to sell it earlier in the year which kind of sums up the labels commitment to platforms. They are not interested and never have been. They’d like to turn the clocks back to a time where they had relevance and could sit atop the industry in control and milking it dry.

Think about this for a moment… how come Amazon sells truck loads of CDs and not the big record labels? Yep it’s because labels are crap at logistics. It’s not their business. It’s also because labels were too busy coining it instead of addressing a clear and present danger in their midst.

To be fair to Lohan Presencer from MoS he says in his Christmas Message that it has all been the fault of the record industry. He’s right there but his solution is backward looking and would thoroughly piss off a whole bunch of people who love music and are happy to pay for it. Including me.

Back to the future

In the late 1990s I had a business in the telecoms field and did a fair few bits of work in what was then called “streaming media.” We hoped in conference speeches and panel sessions for the day when internet speeds would allow a decent video and audio service to be delivered to the home. The mantra was content is king. It still is but unless you make content for traditional broadcasters or are a youtube sensation you don’t really make money.

We know what doesn’t work in music. 15 years of criminalising teenagers for getting the music they like for free doesn’t work. We know that torrent sites, peer to peer and the dark web will not stop any time soon people getting music, films and other video content for free. We know that even big artists with a great live, social media and video following don’t sell a fraction of what they used to.

But we do know that people in their millions are prepared to pay for a streaming service.

So “record labels” get over it

The music business model is dead. Spending money amongst your friends on ten artists and being happy that one makes you real money is over. Being bloated, lazy, paranoid, corporates ain’t going to work any more.

I’d love it if people still wanted to buy CDs but they don’t. They don’t have CD players for a start and it is just tough shit I’m afraid, so concentrate on the areas where they do want to spend and be nice to your customers.

To Spotify

Spotify is where I listen for pleasure (not work) for a fee of ten pounds a month. It has everything I want there apart from Taylor Swift obviously. And why did she dump Spotify and take all her cheesy country-ish back catalogue off it? Not because she was concerned about her art or young artists but because she, her label and their distributor saw an opportunity to publicise her new album and yes it worked for them. But does trying to destabilise music streaming services (the reasonably clear intention here) really help anyone especially at a time of transition?

So what is the transition from and to? I’m not a futurologist by training but it seems now the all you can eat cat is of the bag an artist has to make their money in other areas. Live, merch, syncing, streaming and making radio and TV pay a fairer price for using the music they create. All that requires a manager that gets it, an artist that’s engaged in non musical activities and some funding to make it happen. Big labels want to make big money so this is a problem for them.

Upsum thing

To sum up this part of my look at music industry. I implore labels and artists to think very carefully before they seek to destroy a growing streaming market. Consumers consume in the way that suits them at the price they think its worth. So support streaming and put that in the mix of future earnings.

I’d pay more to keep Spotify as it is because it is worth it. That is the message the consumer should be getting too or they’ll worry (like I do) that my old hard drive with a gazillion tunes on might need to come out of retirement and in truth I am not sure it is capable.

If it does it won’t increase revenues for artists or labels it will decrease them. My days of paying for music on CD or download are over and if that means labels die… in short… I just don’t care. I care about young artists and helping them to realise it is a different world today and one where record labels are an irrelevance and they need to stop thinking in the old ways about their careers.

Ministry of irony

One final thing… ironically during the writing of this I clicked a Ministry of Sound ad link on The Independent’s mobile site. It took me to iTunes where I found 64 tracks of music for £7.99. It is the Ministry of Sounds 2015 Annual.

I hope the 64 and more artists on that “Now that’s what I call dance music” type album are being paid properly for their efforts. With 64 tracks on one download album for £7.99 they’re not getting much are they?

I might make a playlist of it and post it on Spotify. Just because I can. You won’t be able to search for it though.

Next post will be how the BBC should be helping young artists more instead of just helping themselves.

Here’s something I wrote earlier too.

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