Keith Harris: The Charts - A Race to the Bottom...?

21 Nov 2011

Credits: mikecogh@flickr

I am intrigued by the rowing back from on-air, on-sale by record labels seeking a higher chart entry.  In recent weeks I have taken to asking at various music seminars I’ve attended, particularly those aimed at young people wanting to get into the industry,  if anybody knows what is number one in the charts in that week.  Very few attendees ever seem to know, or probably even more importantly…care.  I know that from a marketing point of view inside our shrinking industry there is a value in having a high chart entry, but to the outside world that value is diminishing rapidly.  Surely this is a race to the bottom with companies vying to pip each other to the post in a race that matters less and less?  I think that it would be very helpful if the industry was to re-focus its attention on trying to help the public to find that music that really matters – music that the public will really care about.

This is going to need a real change of mindset.  First of all we are going to have to pack the whole industry with people who really care about music.  Experts in all genres, people who can tell something that is exceptional from something that is only good.  In the modern world it is relatively easy to make music which is either quite good, or even good, because the technology has made recording to a decent standard so much easier than it used to be.  The result of this is that there is more than enough good music out there.  Even someone who did part one economics like me knows that having a glut of a product suppresses the value.  What is still scarce however, is music which is truly great and scarcity pushes the value up.

In order for this new approach to work we need people who are listening to music and watching artists in a much more critical way.  Of course this will be a subjective process, but as an industry we are going to have to be more arrogant about giving the masses what they want and we will have to be brave enough to promote music which we feel has real merit, which they don’t yet know that they want.

That bravery is going to have to extend to the media – we need programmers, producers and presenters who don’t feel the need to immediately run to look at the Facebook or YouTube numbers to decide whether or not music has merit and don’t ask first about how much the marketing budget is or what label it’s on.   We need journalists who have the courage to buck the trend, and call a turkey a turkey when they see it, however unfashionable that might make them seem.  We need people who understand that when you say “new” music, the adjective does not necessarily mean “good” music, it seems too often those words get confused in this context.

All in all we need an industry full of people who care and understand enough about this business of ours to back the right horses, and to restore some kind of value to the music which reaches the ears of the purchasing public.

Keith Harris – Chairman, MusicTank / Director Performer Affairs, PPL / Keith Harris Music Ltd

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