This article started out in a slightly different form a year or so back but on reading this article a week or so ago it struck me that actually now is as pertinent a time as ever to talk about it. The article I’ve just linked to is news of the earth shattering news that starting now major labels are going to be making tracks available on iTunes et al at the same time as they're being played on the radio!. I saw Trevor Nelson on the BBC Breakfast news a few days back talking about this like a whole new step of evolution had been discovered “Why are you so bloody excited!?" I yelled at the TV through mouthfuls of Chocolate Crave cereal (officially my new favourite breakfast cereal in case your interested) “90% of labels already do this and it makes no fucking difference”. Which is true. I recently ran a comparison on the number of click-throughs and plays and purchases from a friends blog in Austria versus the NME.com website (both of whom had written about the same artist) and found that actually the blog post was far more beneficial to me in terms of people checking out said artist. The problem for me comes back to the playlisting approach to Radio 1 and the likes which is far too industry dictated to ever be an actual representation of what the public want to listen to / are actually listening to. The crossover between radio and record labels is something I have been thinking about for a while now though so if you forgive me here's my hypothesis on what would be a far more interesting development. Now: In a piece filled to the brim with supposition and predication lets start with a fact: The record business (or more specifically the “CD selling” business – the two are not one and the same) cannot continue the way it is. There is no way around this fact; as more and more labels fall by the wayside or drastically scale back their operations, the death rattle can be heard a long way off. Torrents, filesharing, “the Ipod generation” and mp3 blogs are just some of the reasons bandied around by the industry as reasons for declining sales figures – yet as music becomes more and more ubiquitous in our daily lives the marketplace is bigger than ever. So how can this be capitalised on? Before we address this, lets throw another fact into the mix: Music is still a huge business – live tours, merch, ad syncs and the likes, all prove there is money to be made in music (what art-form touches on as many walks of life as music? Does a book soundtrack your trip to Tesco’s?) but the problem is that focusing on maintaining existing revenue streams through the Judicial system (as opposed to seeking out new ones) is proving to be a losing battle as legislation progresses at a vastly slower rate than the technology. Ultimately – and finally this penny seems to be dropping - the time is surely upon us to realise that the genie is out of the bottle. If all the money and time currently invested in fighting the pirates was spent developing new technologies and new solutions to the problem, as well as focusing on retaining existing customers who are prepared to pay for music, the industry would surely be much better equipped for the future. Lets face reality for a moment – an individual who habitually downloads music illegally isn’t going to awake one day and say “I see the error of my ways. From this day forth its pay all the way for me” – lets look at the same problem in a different context - how would you feel if you got used to free tea and coffee in the works kitchen and then one day was told you had to pay for it? Even though a larger stash of tea and coffee of equal quality with extra unreleased (outside of Japan) beans included, was right next to it for free (you just have to brew it while no one is looking?). Sure it's crass to talk about music this way – as nothing more than a consumer commodity - but - as sad as it is - aside from a dwindling minority, clutching Smiths 12”s to their chest and frequenting the Barfly four times a week, that is exactly what music is becoming, as dispensable as a cheap t-shirt. A part of a consumer experience that has a neat sideline in enhancing your identity to boot. (Indeed despite any economic arguments one of music's enduring non tangible qualities, is the ability to instantly define a nascent individuals position within society by way of a few chords and a grungy looking t-shirt) All of this has led many to thinking that a new plan is needed. We need a new label, with forward thinking ideas, a great reputation for content, famous names, a high profile and importantly (given the current flag waving climate for home grown enterprise) British. Ladies and gentlemen it is then with great pleasure I introduce to you the future of the music industry: “BBC Records” That’s right; The BBC records. Is there another organisation anywhere in this country with the clout, talent, budget and reach to draw a line in the sand and lead us to a new land? I think not. As arguments continue to wrangle as to the funding of ‘Auntie Beeb’ (why the hell are we paying a license fee and then a digital subscription as well?!) it's not completely out of the bounds of possibility to imagine a world where its cosy existence has the rug pulled from under it and has thus launched a search for alternate methods of funding its ongoing survival. Assuming then the current grumbles snowball into a huge public uproar leading to the corporations funding being cut, and within ten years potentially the BBC has to compete commercially with the other networks it is logical that the company will need to begin investigating new revenue streams. While television advertising alone could probably sustain the ship for a long time to come, it is my thesis that it's radio network provides the ideal infrastructure to support a BBC record label. Lets look at the infrastructure of a large multinational label. Chances are that operating within that are a number of subsidiary labels all operating within their own remit to their own distinct demographic (a lot like the way for instance Radios 1,2,3 1xtra etc all operate) here we have the vast majority of the population pre-segmented and already engaged on a daily basis. So without having to spend a penny on focus groups, marketing and the likes you have the nation at the end of your arm. Which brings us to my next point - what is the key promotional tool at the disposal of all record labels? The one that can make or break an act – Radio. Whole careers have been launched by radio support of one single so it makes sense that with its reach into virtually every home in the UK (and indeed around the world) the network would give it an unrivalled position in the marketplace with more than enough clout to take on the other majors. Sure there would need to be some kind of regulation on the content going out on the airwaves to ensure some equality and integrity but devoid of public funding and the associated scrutiny, the company would be free to use the network as its own in house marketing arm. Indeed even on a regional level the company would be able to successfully divert funds into developing artists at a local grassroots level (a far cry from the ongoing London centric attitude of the industry at large). All underwritten by the new found ability to have tracks instantly available for purchase. Indeed you could set up hotlinks in the iPlayer to mean downloads are literally one click from your hard drive. Of course, it could be argued that the net result of this would be a dilution of the BBC brand’s values but by the same token it also retools two tired business models into a sleek 21st Century multimedia operation. This would elevate the company above the sludge of UK commercial radio and place them in direct comparison with the likes of New Yorks CBS (Still dubbed “the Tiffany corporation” all these years after Bill Paley established its place as the US premium provider of network content) In terms of recognition – sure, in the record arena EMI is a prestige brand (it hasn’t become a major label by mistake) but is it a brand that has the same authenticity and reputation for quality the world over like the letters BBC does? Not a chance. (this is after all, the label that has slipped from being home of the Beatles to the home of erm… Alphabeat) You could travel from the slums of Rio to the suburbs of Moscow and I would wager most people would recognise the name BBC. The question would linger of course as to whether or not the move would ultimately see just another revolving door of industry staff fleeing from label to label and repeating the same mistakes over again, but I don’t even see that there would be a massive requirement for personnel. In essence radio DJs and A&R men aren’t that dissimilar – both are viewed (both by the public and themselves) as ongoing cultural gatekeepers with their fingers on the pulse of public taste but let me ask this - who do the public look to, to inform their tastes? Someone they know and trust.… A faceless A&R man or Chris Moyles? Sure he likes the sound of his own voice and yes on a personal level I would be deeply mistrustful of anything to come with the seal of approval from a man who recently recorded a song featuring but two lyrics (Barrack and then Obama) but tell me this – how many A&R scouts and record label bosses wake up to the personal seal of approval of 16 million people every single day? DJs and labels have a bit of a history at the BBC anyway – John Peel famously launched his Dandelion label from his show (although his business plan seemed to neglect the actually selling records part) and more recently Steve Lamacq launched the careers of the likes of Elastica with his Deceptive imprint and while not immediately jumping into things there are flickers of interest from the current crop: Huw Stephens for one consults for a number of indie labels while the mighty Fierce Panda, lest we forget (once home to Keane, Supergrass, Coldplay etc) was spawned from the offices of the NME and developed in the back rooms of XFM… It all just fits too nicely to ignore – the label groups are already divided and audiences already formed – Radio One would be the flagship label, laden down with Top 40 success stories and chart hugging megastars while Radio Two offers up a credible “AOR” roster designed to fit in nicely into the designer Ikea CD racks of its “elder” audience. 1 Extra and 6 Music would head up the urban and alternative rosters respectively while even Radio Three could be kept afloat as a prestige Jazz / Classical label (indeed funded by the big hitters in the group the label could even be run as a loss leader to preserve the music’s presence in modern society thus continuing to provide something of a cultural service) Add to the existing kudos and audience, an unrivalled advertising platform and celebrity overlords and it's quite a package.
Chris Moyles this man has a package
Sure it's not exactly what the corporation was set up to do but these are modern times and the broadcasting arena is as Darwinian as any other sector of commerce. With record labels and broadcasting networks both fighting harder than ever for position in a crowded market the synergies to be had in combining the two are surely too good to miss. And rather than being a complete U-turn, the development would represent more of a diversification for which all involved would be well applauded. How many of the jobs currently being shed at the world service, the Asian network, and especially regionally could have been saved by commercialising their operation in this way? I reckon quite a few. Of course all of this is predicated on a seismic shift in remaining public funding which many feel will never be lost but ultimately there could be blood in the water - when jobs are being lost and businesses closed, many are asking why should the public at large be paying to support some of these “stars” staggering salary anyway. That’s without even considering the extra burden currently being borne by the population to bail out a series of (similarly diseased) banks – surely the decision to cut public spending on the BBC and begin generating tax revenues and stimulating economic growth in the UK (and abroad through exporting artists signed on Worldwide deals) would be warmly appreciated far and wide? In short - The challenges facing the BBC and others in the broadcasting sector are not too dissimilar to those facing the heavy hitters of the music industry – adapt or die off. What better way then to ensure the ongoing preservation of both by combining forces under the giant umbrella of 21st century capitalism. With the (self proclaimed) title of “Saviour of Radio One” already under his (sizeable) belt, it could be only a few short years before Mr Moyles can add “Saviour of the music industry” as well. All of this preamble and supposition brings me (in no way and indeed via a crunching gear change that would make my terribly driving sister shudder) to the point of this weeks record club – Icelandic act Sin Fang. Sin Fang Sin Fang (aka Sindri Már Sigfússon) is the lead singer of one of my favourite Iceland bands seabear, has an enviable beard (which I'm really rather taken with!) and is currently readying a dazzling new album for Morr Music. The track featured here this week is a track called 'Always Everything' which is a wonderfully hypnotic blend of lo-fi functionality and a subtle ambition that belies it. The track motors along atop a series of loops before breaking down alternately into hushed acoustic sections and gang vocalled crescendos. It's one of the most effortless pop moments I’ve heard in a while and I really hope you like it. You can check out the track below: Much Love The Lazy Boy x