Tony Wadsworth: Farewell Speech - BPI AGM, 2014

04 Sep 2014

The BPI’s Annual General Meeting took place on 1st September 2014.

The AGM was notable for the final appearance of Tony Wadsworth CBE as its presiding BPI Chairman.  Tony is stepping down from the post later in the year having served as Chairman for 7 years

Tony gave a stirring farewell address with a passionate defence of British record labels and the essential role they play.  In his speech he called on them to maintain their commitment to a creative environment in which new talent can thrive and that will help to develop the artists of tomorrow.  Tony urged labels to remain true to a vision that aspires to produce more icons of the calibre Kate Bush and Damon Albarn – both of whom he enjoyed a special relationship with when heading up the legendary Parlophone label and then with the EMI Group.

Fittingly Damon Albarn was on hand as the special guest to round off proceedings by presenting Tony with an honorary BRIT Award for the Outstanding Contribution he has made to the BPI and to the British Recorded Music Industry as a whole in over 30 years of service.

Here’s Tony Wadsworth CBE, Chairman’s Address in full:

“As you may know I have decided to make this my final year as BPI Chairman, after almost 17 years on the Council, and 7 years as Chairman.

“It’s been a period of intense activity for the recorded music business, underscored by radical change, especially in the period since 2007 when I took on the role of Chairman, and Geoff Taylor took on the role of CEO.  So as this is my final AGM as your  Chairman, I thought it worth reflecting on some of the changes that have happened over that 7 year period, and to consider where the industry finds itself today.

“Seven years doesn’t sound like a long time in the greater scheme of things, but a lot can happen in our business in that time span – I don’t need to remind you that it was only 7 years between The Beatles’ first and final recordings.

“In 2007, it was a very different industry to what we see today – after years of sales decline, we could not see the light at the end of the tunnel; there was an acceptance in many quarters that the growth of internet file sharing meant that recorded music would need to be free from now on; access to finance was a serious problem; EMI was about to be bought by private equity company Terra Firma, and it’s no exaggeration to say we were fighting for our commercial lives.

“The change in the digital landscape has been the single biggest story in the last 7 years for the commercial music industry.  Back then, digital sales accounted for just 5 per cent of our revenues – now it is more than 50 per cent.  The partners and platforms we are working with today had hardly got off the ground back then.  Spotify wasn’t even in beta testing,  MySpace was the top social network, and Facebook had only just opened their London office.

“Twitter came into being in 2007, and the SXSW music festival in Austin was credited with providing a tipping point in its popularity.  Today over 200m twitter users send 500m tweets a day.  Music services continue to be launched, and are subject to acquisition.  Back then, Last FM was sold for $280m – this year Beats was bought by Apple for $3bn.

“Music and technology are great partners when they work together, and music is as big a driver of technology growth and value as anything.  In the recent past, government advisers have sometimes fallen into the trap of seeing the protection of intellectual property and content as a barrier to the growth of technology.  I think that perception is changing for the better – creative content drives technology growth, but without support, investment and protection, it will suffer, and the industries that depend on it will suffer, and that includes technology.

“Back then, we updated the rules of the Singles Chart so that singles releases no longer needed a physical format in order to chart; this year we introduced streaming into the singles chart.

“So much of the talk at the AGM in 2007 – where incidentally the keynote was delivered by someone called David Cameron – was of the need for the government to help us persuade ISPs and technology providers that they share a responsibility in preventing mass larceny on the Internet.  The BPI was a strong and consistent voice in this fight, and we have helped sway public sentiment into acknowledging that creators need to be rewarded in the digital world as well as in the physical.  This year, we have a new agreement in place between creators and ISPs with financial support from the Government called Creative Content UK, which will go a long way to reducing the threat of online piracy.

“And you will recall that back then, the life of copyright for recorded music was 50 years. Today we have successfully convinced legislators to increase this to a period of 75 years.

“The best-selling album in the world in 2007 was Back to Black by the late, great Amy Winehouse, and for every year since then, bar one, the best-selling album in the world has been British.

“One thing that is pretty consistent over the period is the success of UK music overseas.  And our government-funded Music Export Growth Scheme launched this year is designed to build on our overseas success even further.

“So, the steady revenue decline that we were in the middle of back then, is looking like it is turning around, with a 1.9% increase in recorded music revenues in the last period.

“I am a great believer in the future of our industry – there has never been more demand for our product, and there has never been more ways available to the music fan to consume the music that we produce.  But the final piece in the jigsaw is that we can now see more ways than ever to monetise this demand.  So I think we find ourselves in a much better place today than in 2007.

“Labels have gone through a tough time.  Overheads and employee numbers have almost halved, all at the same time that the labels have had to reinvent themselves for a new market place.  Labels are the engine room, the major investors in talent, with money and resources and skills.  But the total pie that we are all sharing is smaller at the moment.  That’s why royalty cheques are smaller – not because the labels are spending it all on champagne and caviar, but because there’s less to go round.  The return to growth will produce greater returns for everyone.  It is more important now than at any other time that the artist community and labels work together in a collaborative, and collegiate way.  The artists’ share of the pie has, in fact, never been greater, and I applaud that (and so should artists and their managers).

“We work well together as an industry.  Through the umbrella body of UK Music, we are able to sit around the table – labels, artists, managers, publishers, composers, producers, collection societies, the Musicians Union, promoters, and so on, and thrash out issues and misunderstandings for the good of the industry as a whole, instead of shooting ourselves in the foot as sometimes happened in the past.  Let’s keep focused on that, and do everything we can to understand each other’s issues and continue to improve communication.

“Finally, I would like to talk specifically about record labels – something I believe passionately in and which I have worked in for most of my working life.  In some quarters, the record label used to be  seen as a thing of the past – something that was less relevant than it had been in previous decades.  The argument went that, with the advent of digital, “we can all do it ourselves”.  What I would say is that  the label has never been more important than it is today.  We are awash with content, everywhere we look.  There’s no shortage of people making music and films (mainly about cats) – we are all creators now, and that’s absolutely fine, but I would like to listen to some good stuff please.  And I don’t think I am alone.

“And this is where labels come in.  Labels trawl through the dross and the ordinary, and find the best artists and work with them to help them get even better.  Then work with them to present their music in a way which will cut through all the rest of the clutter and digital debris, so that the music fan can have the best possible experience and so that music creators can make a living.

“That requires skills, knowledge, experience, and money, and that’s what labels provide.  And it’s needed now more than ever.  Labels look very different today than when I started working in music.  They have ditched the old ways of working, tried new ones, ditched some of those, and continue to adapt and reinvent the recorded music business.  And that’s why labels will not only survive, but they will thrive as they see the business grow, as I believe it undoubtedly will.  And we all need that – not just for the sake of some sentimental attachment to the concept of the label, but for the sake of the whole industry – no artist ever played an arena or a stadium without first of all having had a hit record with a record label.

“The success of the record label ensures the continued success of the wider music industry.”

Tony Wadsworth CBE, BPI Chairman, 01.09.14

First published by the BPI here and reproduced by kind permission.

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