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Never Mind The Box Set: The Album Post-iTunes

20th May 2010 @ 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Venue: The Basement, PRS for Music, Copyright House

INTRO: The album – the recordings business’ main unit of currency – ain’t doing too well.  Faced with a double whammy of illegal downloaders and those who have adopted a pick n’ mix attitude to purchasing, there’s been much talk of the inevitable demise of this bedrock of the recordings business. Still whilst the likes of Ash and Radiohead may have turned their back on the format, there are just as many who are trying to find ways to revitalise the album.

New digital formats such as iTunes LP and Bach’s MusicDNA are bundling the music with a whole host of additional content, record stores, both on- and offline, are striking deals with labels for exclusive bonus material, and vinyl continues to defy the doom mongers with a whole new market in deluxe, expensive editions booming and labels such as Warp offering free downloads or bundled CDs with vinyl purchases.

This debate will look at what the recordings industry can do to revive the album’s flagging condition. Kicking off proceedings, Sony Music‘s Head of Consumer Insight Mark Uttley and VP Communications & Artist Relations Emma Pike will present findings of the Future Business Research Group’s first ever industry-wide segmentation of the British music buying public.  So get ready to meet the Digital Dabblers, the High Spending Pirates, Physical Fanatics and Generation Free.

And with the help of strategy consultant Keith Jopling, we’ll take a peek at non-music brands such as Lego, Filofax and Marvel comics, each having successfully reinvented themselves in the face of oblivion.  We’ll also hear from HMV’s Gennaro Castaldo who will help represent the views of major music retailers, many of whom have been clamouring for years about the need for more product innovation.

From the sensible to the extreme we’ll hear from those who believe that technology, design, and marketing can provide a shot in the arm to the format that gave us ‘Dark Side of the Moon’‘Nevermind’‘OK Computer’ and ‘Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em’, and hear from those who have turned their back on the album altogether.

NOTE: 19.05.10.  Due to late indisposition of Stuart Batsford, artist manager & label owner and former retail & product consultant, panellist Keith Jopling will keynote this event.


TOPIC: Whilst singles sales have enjoyed a relative boom in recent years, album sales – the bedrock of the recordings business – continue to head south faster than a flock of migrating geese.  Rubbing salt in the wound is the fact that not only are album sales dropping but the average price has dropped to around £8, a double blow which many labels are struggling to come back from.

So where does that leave the album in 2010, in an age of digital pick’n’mix how can we convince the public to shell out for a product they’ve come to expect is in most cases just a few singles padded out with filler.  Many would argue that the rise of iTunes and its ilk has heralded the death of the format once and for all and despite the protestations of the likes of Pink Floyd, modern music consumers just aren’t interested in digesting an entire opus in one setting.

Whilst the likes of Radiohead and Ash have sworn off the format, embracing the public’s undimmed appetite for purchasing single tracks as and when they please, just as many would argue that, though its pulse is faint the album’s condition isn’t terminal just yet.

Leaving aside the actual quality of the music itself, there have been several recent attempts to reviltalise the album format with some notable successes.  Just last week Warp Records announced that they would be joining the short but distinguished ranks of labels who are giving away MP3s or CDs with vinyl editions, a policy that stands to shore up their core support.

Beyond that sensible policy, many are looking at ways of making the album more desirable. iTunes’ LP format, though slow to catch on, has been seized upon by many as a possible solution for the format’s woes who would echo the recent praise heaped upon it by Rhino’s SVP of global sales and digital David Dorn.

This bundling of extra content, lyrics, cover art and the like, is also the driving force behind the recently announced MusicDNA file.  A potential rival to LP, MusicDNA was launched at Midem to much fanfare and its combination of additional rich media and intelligent metadata has excited many within the industry looking for a more desirable replacement for the MP3.

The unlimited shelf space of the digital world has enabled innovation in the physical worlds  – with labels increasingly keeping their back catalogue alive with re-mastered editions, anniversary editions, special bonus discs complete with studio outtakes and demo versions.

Taking things to the extreme, the Vinyl Factory has proven that people are not just willing to pay for music but pay a premium price when they’re getting something special.  Their deluxe editions of albums by the likes of Hot Chip, The XX, Pet Shop Boys and Massive Attack come lavishly packaged with art prints, heavyweight vinyl, bonus discs and in the case of the Monkey, box set hardback books.

Needless to say these limited editions come at a price (£255 for the Monkey Box set) but one that their target market appears willing to pay and, jumping on the bandwagon, this year’s Record Store Day will see a whole host of acts releasing special editions to catch the record buying public’s imagination.  Indeed many DIY artists have figured out that any loss of revenue from sales volume can be countered by cutting out the middlemen completely and engaging their fans directly through the Internet.

At the next MusicTank we’ll be looking at just what the recordings industry can do to revive the album’s flagging condition.  From the sensible to the extreme we’ll hear from those who believe that technology, design, and marketing can provide a shot in the arm to the format that gave us ‘Dark Side of the Moon’‘Nevermind’‘OK Computer’ and ‘Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em’, as well as hear from those who have turned their back on the album altogether.

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