EMBRACING CHANGE is, as we all know, Blairspeak for this is going to hurt get used to it. Whatever weasel words we use, change is constant and inevitable.
The record industry has been slower than most to recognise this. After fat decades of high prices and massive margins, sales of records in general, and singles in particular, are in freefall. And it has been hard to muster much sympathy for this cartel, which has cheerfully fleeced consumers and producers for years.
With no recording or promotion overheads and manufacturing costs under a pound why does the Beatles White Album still sell in America for £16? And why, come to that, does the identical album from the same record company cost £24 over here? Because, gentle reader, the industry can get away with it.
But not for much longer. Sales are declining, shareholders howling with rage and executives desperate for something to blame other than their own relentless pursuit of short-term profit. According to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the cause is piracy.
Certainly cheap print and duplication technology now mean that criminal gangs from Shanghai to Hackney can press counterfeit CDs of chart artists that are indistinguishable from the real thing. This is piracy all right every counterfeit represents one less legitimate sale. But by piracy the BPI also means anyone who has ever made a compilation tape for his mates. Those naughty, irresponsible consumers are criminals too.
But then record companies and retailers have far more to lose from illicit copying than the artists whose work is supposedly being stolen. Most modern albums sell at around £10, which the dealer and record company divide between them. The label passes on £1 or so for the performer and writer to share, but recording and promotion costs (£20-£200,000) must come out of the performers share.
The figures are approximate, but the fact remains: few band members today ever see a penny in record royalties. It makes little difference to them whether fans own legal or illegal copies of their music.
That may be why some, such as chart-topping Glaswegian band Franz Ferdinand, actively welcome file-sharing. Last week the singer Alex Kapranos said: File-sharing has really helped us. When we played a gig in New York for the first time, people there already knew our songs and were singing along. The internet is like the radio a way of hearing new songs, then going to a shop to buy them.
The golden age of record sales is over as surely as the days of packed cinemas on every high street. The film industry itself has survived the rise of television and VCRs, which movie moguls claimed would be its death blow. Cinemas closed, jobs were lost, studios went under. Nevertheless film is still very much with us.
There will always be a demand for albums that fans can hold in their hands. Offer top-quality sound with premium packaging, and true enthusiasts will gladly pay top dollar. As with cinema, it is an unbeatable experience. The record industry is not about to disappear anytime soon.
Neither is digital downloading. But if you make it cheap, legal and convenient the world's surfers will beat a path to your portal. Apples iTunes music store swept to pre-eminence in the States by selling individual hits at 99 cents. At that price, how many of us could be bothered to fiddle about with dubious free download sites?
Until recently consumers in Europe didnt have the choice. The iTunes store remained barred to us while managers, lawyers and record execs wrangled and dragged their feet each holding out for a greedier slice of the Apple cake. Some were simply stalling for time while they cooked up half-baked recipes of their own.
Even now the indie labels home of much todays most interesting music have failed to grasp the nettle and sign up. As a result demand remains unsated and illegal downloading remains the only online option for obtaining their music.
So heres a suggestion for any teen genius out there with a staggeringly original No 1 hit up their sleeve: record it for nothing on a PC, put it online as a free download and tell all your friends.
A UK No 1 currently requires costly promotion to achieve just fifty thousand sales. Yet if your free song really is the next Rock Around the Clock, or Anarchy in the UK several million people will be listening to it within a week. Such is the power of word of mouth.
And how will you make money? The same way as most recording artists. Thanks to the Performing Right Society, you will get paid every time your song is played on radio, featured on TV, used in an ad or included in a movie. Music publishers will fall over themselves offering you fat advances. Fan club merchandise, DVDs and endorsements will produce serious money. And with your name known to millions, will your London debut be at the 12 Bar Club or the Albert Hall? Go figure.
That said, not all record companies are the same and not all artists are the next Elvis. Most need guidance, finance and, above all, marketing to bring them to the attention of the public which is what a decent label does best.
In the past 18 months, EMI and others have begun offering artists an alternative to the traditional record contract. Give us a fair slice of your total income, they say, and we will use our knowhow to propel you to stardom. In time, selling records may end up as the least important part of the record business.
And if that isnt embracing change, I dont know what is.
Tom Robinson is a BBC 6 Music presenter and a songwriter whose hits include 2-4-6-8 Motorway
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