10 @ 10: What A 10 Years It's Been..!

12 Mar 2013

10 @ 10 – To celebrate our tenth anniversary, over the next 10 months, MusicTank is commissioning a series 10 of short essays from free-thinkers and experts-in-their-field who will tackle some of the perennial issues faced by the music business and ask them the $64,000 question: what does the future hold?

It’s been 10 years since MusicTank started.  That might not seem to be all that long on the face of it, however when you consider that this tumultuous period has seen the arrival of Apple’s iTunes Store and creation of a licensed digital music market; EMI being sold (twice); Virgin, Our Price and Woolworths disappear from the High Street; HMV enter administration; Live Nation and AEG dominate live music; Top of the Pops pulled from our television screens; the astounding popularity of music festivals; and the rebirth of the singles market, it becomes obvious  that this ten years – in particular – has seen the business of music transformed.  And it is still transforming.

We are very much about looking to the future, and wonder what the next ten years has to offer for this great industry of ours?  Is it likely to be doom and gloom, or is a much-vaunted revival of the music business on the cards?  Only one thing is certain: nobody knows.

Ten years ago, many believed that the writing was on the wall for the recorded music sector.  Now it seems that there has been a general awakening to the fact that music was not peculiar, and the wider creative industries have all come under pressure from the incessant march of technology.  We were just the canaries down the mine.

Coming May ’13: Jude Rogers, one of the UK’s most highly regarded music journalists (and a regular contributor to The GuardianThe Word, Red, Elle, In Style, the Observer, the New StatesmanThe Quietus, Redhanded Magazine) writing on the future of music journalism.

Equally, it is beginning to look as if technology might also provide some of the solutions to the problems that it seems to have created.  Streaming services seem to be the great hope as far as music consumption is concerned, but streaming services are still very much in their infancy.

Basing everything around the live experience was certainly seen ten years ago as being the probable solution to the dramatic drop in  recorded music sales.  However there now seems to be trouble on the horizon for large areas of the live music industry as well.  Partly driven by issues around ticketing, a topic that MusicTank has covered twice, and partly driven by the fact that the heritage acts, on whom the live industry has started to increasingly depend, are inevitably ageing and will shortly disappear, leaving a big hole at the top end of the business.

It seemed that disintermediation, the idea that nobody would need a record company middle-man in the future, was going to be part of the new business model; however there’s a growing recognition that record companies do indeed have a future and the route to market has not changed all that dramatically.  Again a subject that MusicTank has tackled in various guises, most notably with Tony Wadsworth’s 2011 report The Evolution of the Record Label.

The decline in print journalism has also had a fairly dramatic effect on the music business.  As the weekly volume of sales of the once hugely influential papers like the NME have declined, industry has had to look to other ways of promoting new and exciting music.  Blogs, online publications and social media have had a significant impact for anyone wanting to launch a successful media campaign and have broken down the power of some of the traditional gate-keepers, but risk being swamped by the sheer volume of output.

So what of the future?  How many of these recent innovations will still be around in ten years time?  Will popular music still be a crucial part of the population’s social agenda?

It seems that about every 20 years there is a major upheaval in the way in which music is consumed.  In 1963 the cassette was introduced, making it possible to tape your own songs and make your own compilations, leading to a major shift in the way in which music was consumed by potential buyers.

In 1983 the advent of the CD created a major market shift, and led to consumers buying their record collections all over again in this new and exciting form.  Unwittingly, it may have also led to a reduction in the amount of money and effort invested in the A&R process, because companies were able to reap huge profits for comparatively little outlay from their depth of catalogue.  In 2003, the iTunes Music Store made its appearance and digital music had well and truly arrived.  We have seen quite clearly the dramatic changes that have been made with the shift in the distribution methods brought about by the new digital music marketplace.

If this pattern continues true to form it would be logical for the next major shift in music consumption to take place in another ten years, in 2023.  The traditional gatekeepers may be being replaced, but in a society which is increasingly time-poor and with the sheer volume of content being directed at all of us, there is little doubt that there will be a need for more filters for the emerging product as time goes forward.

Could it be that looking towards 2023 the next big change in the way that music is consumed will be all about paying for efficient filtering systems to make sure that we are all delivered only the product that interests us and only the cream of the cream of that?

In the hope of shedding light on some of these topics, MusicTank is commissioning a series of essays to celebrate ten years of insight and analysis, for which we’re teeing up  a range of writers from across the industry to present their views of the future of the business and implications for the wider creative industries in general.

Personally, I am filled with a sense of optimism for the future of the music business, partly driven by signs of revival in the recorded sector, but also in the quality of the acts that seem to be emerging, particularly here in the UK.

The world has changed dramatically and any thought of the kind of British invasion that took place some 50 years ago both in the United States, or any other country is now unthinkable, because the world has become so much smaller and everything is so immediate.  However it does not mean that Britain cannot continue to punch well above its weight in terms of exporting our musical creativity.  Of course that will require the correct environment to be created, and recognition of the fact that the creative industries are an essential part of Britain’s future economic output. 

Whether the future is driven by creativity, or driven by technology, would seem to be the great debate going forward.  Hopefully what we will actually have is a future driven by both creativity and technology – with the recognition of the fact that the former feeds the latter.

Keith Harris – MusicTank Chair / Keith Harris Music / Director of Performer Affairs, PPL

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