Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Music business 2014: as you were

When it comes to music news and analysis, the only thing that changes are the names acting the eejit, making out like bandits or losing the run of themselves

We can expect many stealth album releases in 2014 a la Beyoncé

Fri, Jan 3, 2014, 09:35


The mood is always contemplative in the first week of the new year. The excess is now sadly behind us and the payback for that excess is still unfortunately ahead of us.

Those of us who trade as hacks are trying to stop spinning, having spent the last few weeks first looking back and then looking forward with such vigour that we honestly don’t know which way we’re now facing. Assuming the Janus position seems the right thing to do.

Those hacks on the music and music business beat will be waiting for the big stories to drop. After a year which was bookmarked by stealth album campaigns from David Bowie and Beyoncé, we’d appreciate a bit of notice if anyone is planning stuff in the coming months.

Even a day’s advance warning is sufficient to get a 600 word piece together on what’s happening and why it’s happening. Yes, we have those pieces on hold anyway, but it would be good to get a heads-up.

Of course, we can expect more stealth album releases. Both Bowie and Beyoncé have shown how such campaigns can work to the advantage of an artist with an audience, so many others will try to seek the same edge. It won’t, of course, apply to The Edge of U2, a band whose forthcoming album will be pushed, plugged and promoted with all the subtlety of a classic Harvey Norman ad as directed by Michael Bay.

One incoming development which has also been flagged in advance is increased competition in the streaming sector. If 2013 was the year when everyone either used (if you were a music fan) or bitched (if you were a fabulously rich rock star) about Spotify, 2014 will be the year when there’s as competition as cribbing for the Swedes to contend with.

The first three contenders into the ring are Beats Music, YouTube Music and Pono Music. All will be hoping their unique selling points – curation, video subscriptions and audio quality respectively – will give them a slice of the market. Forget any other format right now because streaming is the real go-to sector for music consumption and growth.

As Spotify have shown, though, the new arrivals are going to need deep pockets, patience and luck. Moreover, the progress of these services may also help to answer the question of supply and demand. As long as investors have money to throw around, there will be lots of me-too services aiming for the same market. It’s far easier to copy and paste what someone else has done than come up with a brand new idea.

But is there really room and demand for all these different services doing basically the same thing? It’s really hard to see how playlists curated by Trent Reznor or some other big star seduced by the power of Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre, for instance, or a service which trumps audio quality for digital music can dramatically eat into Spotify’s market share. The attention might help to grow the overall market, but none of these prospective newcomers possess what it takes to land a knockout punch on Spotify’s jaw.

In terms of new music tech plays, the jury is out and checking their smartphones. A whole host of music-based start-ups arrived on the scene in 2013, but it remains to be seen who will actually stick around and will still be in business five years hence.

It’s also hard to work out what these newbies are after: is it to get customers and revenue or simply persuade an investor to open their wallets? If it’s the latter, they should be prepared for massive pressure from their new patrons to grow and scale their business very quickly. If it’s the former, the founders need to ensure the product will actually attract a paying audience. There were a lot of really nice and smart services – not products – in the marketplace in 2013 but few you could see an audience paying good money for.

Elsewhere, the live music sector continues to truck along. There have been various attempts by outsiders to shake up this market, but the status quo prevails. In fact, the only change of disruption here will come from within.

It’s worth keeping an eye on what the biggest player in the game will do next. When you’re an operation as big as Live Nation, it’s all about volume and acquisitions rather than innovation and change. Certainly, Live Nation’s playbook in the Irish market in this regard will be worth watching, especially their close dovetailing with Denis Desmond, MCD Concerts and Festival Republic.

And, along the way, you can expect more of the kind of stories which made it into the dispatches in 2013. When it comes to music news and analysis, the only thing that changes are the names acting the eejit, making out like bandits or losing the run of themselves.