Reworking the music business by the sea
I wonder what Steven Stelfox would have made of The Great Escape and the music business’ new realities. You’ll know Stelfox if you’ve read Kill Your Friends, John Niven’s blackly humorous and outrageously over-the-top novel about rampant egos, fear, disgust, …
I wonder what Steven Stelfox would have made of The Great Escape and the music business’ new realities. You’ll know Stelfox if you’ve read Kill Your Friends, John Niven’s blackly humorous and outrageously over-the-top novel about rampant egos, fear, disgust, loathing, lust, hedonism and mayhem in the record industry of the mid-Nineties.
When he’s not stabbing other executives in the back and ingesting humongous amounts of drugs, Stelfox is to be found jumping from one music conference to the next on the chase of the next big thing.
That was the record industry of the time, a business where the fear of missing out on acts to rival companies led to insane deals, ridiculous expense account claims and inevitable massive financial losses. While it didn’t really matter at the time as the profits from the CD boom continued to roll into the coffers, few realised that a new era was just around the corner.
That new era has now well and truly arrived. The 300 or so acts playing various venues around Brighton during The Great Escape would prefer to see festival bookers and venue promoters rather than label A&R men at their gig. They know that the days of mega-bucks record deals are over for all but that one percent of new acts. They realise that money from record sales alone is not going to ensure a sustainable long-term career in music and see record contracts as just one slice of the pie and a small one at that.
You can see more evidence of how much the industry has changed in the various strands and threads running through the convention programming. From a rake of panel discussions on DIY routes for bands to a keynote interview with festival promoters Michael Eavis (Glastonbury) and Rob Da Bank (Bestival), the Great Escape focuses on what’s important to the industry now and to come and the record side of the business is down the agenda. There’s nothing to be gained from rehashing old arguments or restaging lost battles.
Some records, though, are still in demand. In his annual presentation, PRS music business economist Will Page looked at the Adele effect and how she accounted for 39 per cent of the top 10 albums sold in the UK in 2011.
Page also pointed to the 95 rule, where five per cent of titles generated 90 per cent of demand, with the other 95 per cent of releases accounting for just ten per cent of demand. Furthermore, comparing data over a ten year period, Page and his researchers discovered a 35 per cent drop in the number of albums selling between 100,000 and 750,000 copies. While the number of million-selling big hitters remains constant, it’s harder and harder for acts to break into the 100k-plus realm.
That depressing fact, though, was probably not on the minds of acts playing at the Great Escape in an effort to win friends and influence people with chequebooks. If I was one of the latter, I’d have put AlunaGeorge (slinky, futuristic pop and r’n’b) and Pond (Australian band with Tame Impala connections and an Irish hook-up via Tipperary-born guitarist Joe Ryan) at the top of my shopping list.
Other acts to impress over three days and nights of binge-gigging and cycling up and down Brighton’s dastardly selection of hills included Gross Magic, Swim Deep, Devin, Lulu James, Seasfire, Eagulls, Perfume Genius, The Black Belles, Milagres, Milk Music, BIGkids, French Films, Oliver Tank, Nils Frahm and Halls. Expect to see some of those acts at a venue or on a festival stage near you in the next couple of months.