I'm celebrating my 15th year working in the music industry this year. It's been a great career, taking me from one day hanging out at gigs with Radio 1 DJs, setting up press conferences with The Rolling Stones and escorting Stevie Wonder backstage at the BRIT Awards. It's been a pretty exciting ride so far.
When I entered the industry at the age of 25, I remember one journalist telling me how I'd arrived 15 years too late and that the high times of champagne, first class travel and Rolls Royces was over. From where I stood though, it all still looked pretty glamorous and cash rich, send a courier for this, take a bunch of music hacks out for dinner and stick it on expenses, fly to New York for a meeting, the old days still seemed to be lingering on. My best ever weekend in the job consisted of flying to New York for a huge event at Madison Square Garden, upgraded to first class on Virgin both ways, an amazing room in a Schrager hotel, dinner with Elton John and Woodie Allen, meeting Bill Clinton, an aftershow party featuring Paul McCartney, Dan Aykroyd, Sheryl Cole and Jim Carrey jamming away and a limo back to the airport, before landing straight back into work on Monday morning.
Things have changed considerably even since then and most notably, the model for the music industry has been spun on its arse. People will no longer pay £10 for a CD, but will pay £100 to go to a gig. Record companies sadly still waste too much money signing the wrong acts, because all the execs are too scared to put their neck on the line in case they lose their job, expense account and parking space. A&Rs sit watching YouTube, looking for the next act to fill their roster and still pass up great act after great act, before saying 'well who would have seen that coming?' - just about everyone apart from you being the answer. Azealia Banks is a great example, she would have never been signed the traditional way, by courting label execs down to live shows and self releasing. No-one seems to have the vision to see these things coming. The power more than ever before is with the kids.
The most noticable change in the industry has to be how bands are promoted. Labels are waving their hands in the dark, without a clue how to reach their audience, it really is a whole new world of online weirdness out there... gone are the days of promotional campaigns, radio supporting records and bands three months in advance to the single dropping, the MTV generation is over, music on television is an afterthought and the preserve of pay and display TV channels. Labels don't have scooby how to make it work because there are no defined paths anymore. Gotye's Somebody track got millions of hits on Youtube and is an undeniable hit record... championed in Australia, it broke worldwide and became a global number 1. Azealia Bank's 212 had the word 'cunt' in it, a killer beat and so much attitude it became an online hit through word of mouth.
The problem is that even though the major labels, Universal Music, Warner Music and Sony Music are trying their very best and developing their own online teams, portals and outlets, even that just isn't ever going to be a) cool or b) surefire enough to guarantee enough people are going to be influenced enough to buy. I was pleased to read on the front of Music Week this week that Simon Raymonde from Bella Union is championing the idea of an online music tv show, which I believe is the future and an idea i've also harboured for some time. The appetite for music amongst young people is stronger than ever before, they love music. Radio is as popular as ever and the rest of their time is spent online, looking and talking about whats cool. So bring it on, let's get some serious channels for bands and artists to occupy and that will give labels more of a chance to reach the buying audience. We also need more radio stations, in the UK for new bands we have 6 Music and Radio 1. If you dont get on them and in with the little clique of djs and producers who hold the keys, you can forget it. I'd love to see more stations like Amazing Radio rising up. In the States where radio is less regulated there are so many opportunities to break new bands and give emerging acts some airtime. In the UK there is too much emphasis on being cool, rather than being good. Online there are loads of music blogs, basically music enthusiasts raving about their favourite bands, but even though the main newspapers and music mags have their online portals, this area needs more resources to really make a difference.
I'd love to speak to guys at the major labels about what their strategy is, because I just feel they're wandering around lost, trying to figure out where their audience has gone and how to reach them in a world where its easier than ever to get music out there, but harder than its been before to be heard.