Launching a new brand in the constant chaotic cacophony of the myriad of marketing messages is increasingly difficult.
So how can we be heard? Rather than fudge the figures as the music industry has started to do this week, we should embrace the opportunities offered by technology.
It has been an interesting week from discovering why the coffee we buy sometimes tastes like s#!t with suitable sympathy from Paddy Power to the Lions stopping the All Blacks juggernaut and Teflon Tezza being propped up by Trump’s Trade deal promises.
Last Friday, 7 July, saw the effects of the overhaul of the rules for the Official Singles Chart whereby artists will only be allowed to have their 3 most popular tracks – based on sales and streams – feature in the Official Singles Chart Top 100.
To coincide with my birthday, this was announced as being a present to help support new music and breaking artists. “The changes are designed to ensure the chart continues to be a showcase for the new hits and talent which are the lifeblood of UK music.”
So what is the background to this seismic change?
In the week after his death on 21 April last year, six Prince songs entered the top 100.
The last 12 months has seen several other artists with multiple tracks in the top 40 including Drake, Stormzy and Little Mix.
But it was the UK’s favourite busker-turned-megastar who is cited as the main reason for the change. March this year saw all 16 tracks from Ed Sheeran’s Divide album featured in the top 20 with nine singles in the top 10. In its opening week, the album sold more than the rest of the Official Albums Chart Top 500 combined. Four times more than David Bowie’s Blackstar – the fastest-selling album of 2016 (146,000 in week 1).
So what has been the effect of the new rules?
Last week, Ed Sheeran had eight songs in the Top 100. This week – after the changes were introduced – he has the maximum of three.
As a result, newer tracks have been artificially bumped into the Top 40 and there have been more new entries this week than any other in 2017.
An additional artificial adjustment to the rules is the introduction of a new streaming ratio for what the Official Charts Company describes as “older tracks which are well past their peak and in steep, prolonged decline”.
For those songs, there is a new formula being applied whereby 300 streams count as one sale (for newer songs, the ratio is 150:1). The longer a song has been in the charts, the faster it will fall out of the top 100.
So, if you don’t like the results the simple lesson is to change the rules.
As Mark Twain reminds us, facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.
Being more pliable makes statistics less viable.
So, does the end really justify the means?
Certainly financially there is much to play for. The music industry is a multi-billion dollar business.
It is why so often where there’s a hit there’s a writ.
Sailing the IP ship
For several years I have worked with companies and brands around the world helping them to maximise the return on their intellectual property rights. The music industry is one of the best examples of the myriad of ways that revenue can be generated from IP rights.
Each and every one of us has bought at least one album in several different formats from vinyl to tape to CD to digital download, in addition to swelling the coffers of the music industry through the purchase of concert tickets and merchandise.
A successful band has an extremely long shelf life – even those artists who have spectacularly fallen out with fellow band members have put aside their differences to reunite for yet another farewell tour attracted by the lure of filthy lucre.
Coming soon to a venue near you… The Alimony Tour.
From Band to Brand
The business is forever changing.
Shrinking record sales led artists and entertainment companies to consider wide-ranging deals that bring all activities under one roof, helping cross-promotion and boosting profit margins. More and more artists are entering into 360 deals where the brand not the band is key.
Madonna was the first artist to enter into a 360 deal with Live Nation granting the rights to all her future music and music-related businesses, including the exploitation of the Madonna brand, new studio albums, touring, merchandising, fan clubs/web sites, DVDs, music-related television and film projects and associated sponsorship agreements in return for $120m over 10 years. Notably, this ended her 25-year relationship with Warner Music, the record label that helped her sell 200m records worldwide.
Several other artists from Jay-Z to U2 followed suit.
The advances in technology have also enabled artists and labels to launch their own initiatives and open new revenue streams.
Now anyone can be their own broadcaster, record label or publisher.
The difficulty is in being heard. Helping people to find your product is an increasing challenge – especially where more and more brands and bands vie for our attention.
Music’s money making machine
The rewards for getting it right, however, are eye-watering.
According to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) – which represents the interests of 1,300 record companies from across the globe – the recording industry was worth (US) $15.7bn in 2016.
Global revenues came from a range of different revenue streams, from downloads to subscription and performance rights.
IFPI points out that “streaming has been the clear driver of this growth, with revenues surging by 60.4%". It continues: "With more than 100 million users of paid subscriptions globally, streaming has passed a crucial milestone. It makes up the majority of digital revenue, which, in turn, now accounts for 50% of total recorded music revenues.”
Physical format revenues declined by 7.6%, a higher rate than the previous year, which saw a decline of 3.9%. The physical sector still accounts for 34% of the global market and is particularly significant in leading countries such as Japan and Germany.
Performance rights revenue generated by the use of recorded music by broadcasters and public venues grew by 7.0% to (US) $2.2bn in 2016.
In the UK, streaming’s share of the singles market has grown to more than 80%.
In January 2016 there were approximately 600m audio streams a week. Today there are 1.2bn a week.
In the UK, latest industry data suggests that the core music industry made an estimated economic contribution – Gross Value Added (GVA) – of about £4.1bn to the UK economy in 2015 and supported 119,000 jobs.
Five of the world's top-selling music artists in 2015 were British (Adele, Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Sam Smith) and UK music generated £2.2bn in export revenues.
The total audience for live music in the UK was 27.7 million with 24 million attending concerts and 3.7 million going to music festivals.
The £4.1bn of music revenues in the UK market breaks down as follows: musicians, composers, songwriters & lyricists (£2bn); live music (£904m); recorded music (£610m); music publishing (£412m), music producers, recording studios & staff (£119m), music representatives (£92m).
The £2.2bn of UK export music revenues break down as: musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists (£946m); music publishing (£520m); recorded music (£360m); music representatives (£268m); live music (£57m); music producers, recording, studios & staff (£24m).
So what of new talent?
As in television, promoting new talent and creativity is a gamble. Budgets continue to be tight and the audiences more fragmented and therefore harder to reach. A business run by accountants tends to stick to the tried and tested rather than the innovative and risky.
While globally (US) $4.5billion was spent on artists and repertoire (A&R) and marketing in 2015 launching a new artist is increasingly difficult.
The success of reality shows is unreal. One of the reasons global gorilla formats such as X Factor, Idol and The Voice continue to ensure that the music industry got talent (geddit?) is that prime-time TV exposure provides zillions of pounds worth of publicity to support the launch of their careers. Every week we follow the contestants on their emotional roller-coaster to that magic money tree. Rather than 15 minutes of fame, benefits can be enjoyed for years.
Providing platforms for new acts is to be applauded.
New technology opens fresh opportunities and revenue streams
I’ve been involved in all aspects of the industry from content creation to distribution, managing sponsorships and licensing deals to putting on live acts at festivals and for corporate clients. I've had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest bands and brands on the planet. My childhood idols are now personal friends.
I’ve helped generate revenue from every possible source including from immersive technology and even holograms with industry veterans such as Bob Geldof.
In collaboration with Abbey Road Studios, we are now immortalising several artists. Using secrets and performance skills enhanced by my membership of The Magic Circle, our holograms look, sound and smell like the real thing – so believable it’s unbelievable.
Our holograms can perform everywhere live acts can perform as well as in several places other acts can’t reach. Audiences cannot tell the difference. From an artist’s perspective they always give a perfect performance, looking and sounding their best. From a promoter’s perspective, they are always guaranteed that the artist will show up and finish on time without the burden of a rider – the days of blue smarties are past….
Artists can continue to earn revenue from performances long after their Fenders have faded and their Gibsons gone and perform in territories never previously imagined all on the same night!
The technology can help create perfect partnerships with more and more artists collaborating – reinvigorating forgotten stars and enabling established artists to promote and perform with the new.
We can also resurrect artists by creating holograms from existing footage. Everyone has the opportunity to experience Prince, Bowie, Elvis, Sinatra and Pavarotti in concert and see the Beatles reunited.
The advances in new technology have also benefited other areas including in retail. For example, we recently produced a holographic display for Hamleys' window where gloved white holographic hands attracted attention and enticed passers-by into the store for Marvin’s Magic.
These technological advances help grab attention and ensure that brands can be heard and new artists and products launched without fudging the figures.
By pretending that certain sales and streams did not happen, the Official Singles Chart is distorting reality.
It’s like a politically correct primary school which ensures that everyone goes home with something on prize-giving day – even Little Richard who spent all his lessons nibbling his toe nails and knitting his nose hairs.
Applying the same logic to other areas would produce delicious albeit ridiculous results – for example if we were to limit the number of seats any political party could have, the House of Commons could be enhanced by the presence of the likes of Mr Fishfinger who stood against Tim Farron at the last election and Lord Buckethead and Elmo, both of whom stood against Theresa May.
The reality is that the official singles chart is supposed to indicate the biggest records of the week based on sales and streams.
As my old mate, Mike “Radio Royalty” Read, told me: “A chart featuring many genres is surely a boost to songwriters, singers and producers who want to make great music without feeling they constantly have to tailor their creativity towards the top 40. “
That said, Mike recognises that “by always changing the rules to the chart, it makes no sense of past and future stats ie the Ed Sheeran phenomena of charting so many singles can never happen again.”
Rather than bending the rules, it would make more sense and be a better reflection of reality if there were different charts for new acts in the same way as there are country music charts, dance, urban etc or simply have a separate streaming chart.
So pop pickers, until the industry decides to reflect reality – as with anyone else who tries to hide behind suspicious surveys, polluted polls or fictitious figures – we should continue to question everything!
The future lies not in fudging the figures but in embracing the exciting opportunities presented by new technology to launch brands and bands, reach new markets and open new revenue streams…
No champagne. No gain.
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